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

We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing professional. Private. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to recognize it as a public health issue.

That simply means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an effect on all of society. So as a society, we should consider how to deal with it.

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the guidance of his hearing specialist). Williams job performance, sadly, is being impacted by his hearing loss; 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 just too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William isolates himself.

These decisions will accumulate after a while.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning as the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His relationships are struggling because of his social separation. His friends might think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. This puts further strain on their relationships.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Problem

While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on an individual level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic position), they also have an influence on everyone else. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local stores. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. Overall, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those costs go to the public. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him rather significantly.

You can get a sense of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.

How to Treat Hearing Loss

The good news is, this particular health issue can be addressed in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (typically via the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

  • The difficulties of your job will be more easily dealt with.
  • Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
  • Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so it will be easier to participate in many day-to-day social facets of your life.

Promoting good physical and mental health begins with dealing with your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.

Prevention is just as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.

You can download apps that will keep track of sound levels and warn you when they get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often via education) is one way to have a big impact.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. We can significantly affect public health once and for all when we adjust our thinking about preventing hearing loss.

And everybody is helped by that.

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