Woman enjoying yoga with her friends after getting fit with hearing aids.

We generally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing specialist. It’s a private, personal matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when regarded in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also understand it as a public health topic.

That just means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an effect on all of society. We should think about how to handle it as a society.

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

William just learned last week he has hearing loss and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to mess around with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the guidance of his hearing professional). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; it’s been difficult for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.

He also stops venturing out. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to try and keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.

Over time, these choices add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His social separation is costing him relationships. His friends might think he is ignoring them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue

While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), everyone else is also impacted. William doesn’t spend as much at local shops because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. His health can be affected as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs then get passed along to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects those around him rather significantly.

You can get an idea of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.

How to Handle Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health problem can be addressed in two simple ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated properly (typically via the use of hearing aids), the results can be quite dramatic:

  • Your relationships will improve because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • It will be easier to participate in many social activities if you’re able to hear better.
  • You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the difficulties of your job.
  • Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good health, both physically and mentally. It makes sense, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.

It’s just as important to consider prevention. Information about how to safeguard your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in many public health commercials. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even result in hearing loss.

You can download apps that will keep track of noise levels and alert you when they get too loud. One way to have a big effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. When we change our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly impact public health in a good way.

And everyone is helped by that.

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