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

Normally, hearing loss is considered to be a problem that affects our personal life. It’s an issue that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your health. Personal. And on an individual level that’s true. But when considering hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health topic.

That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an impact on society as a whole. So as a society, we should think about how to handle it.

The Cost of Hearing Loss

William just found out last week he has hearing loss and against the suggestion of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a bit before looking into with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this affects William’s job efficiency; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time following along in meetings, etc.

He also spends lots more time at home alone. There are just too many layers of conversation for you to try and keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.

These decisions will have a cumulative effect over time.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be caused by hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Overall, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it has a ripple effect throughout the entire economic system.
  • Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. They may be getting the wrong idea about his attitude towards them. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?

While on an individual level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William might be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. William doesn’t spend as much at local stores because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be performed by his family. As a whole, his health can become impacted and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed along to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him quite significantly.

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

Dealing With Hearing Loss

The good news is, this specific health issue can be addressed in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (normally by using hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:

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

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

Prevention is equally as important. Information about how to safeguard your hearing from loud harmful noise can be found in numerous public health ads. But even everyday noises can cause hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.

There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a huge effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.

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 dramatically impact public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.

And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.

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