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. Private. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health issue.

Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. So as a society, we need to consider how to deal with it.

The Cost of Hearing Loss

William just learned last week he has hearing loss and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the guidance of his hearing specialist). Williams job execution, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.

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

These decisions will have a cumulative effect over time.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This quantity of lost income is just the beginning of the story because it ripples through the entire economic system.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. They could be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Problem

While on an individual level these costs will definitely be felt (William may miss his friends or lament his economic position), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local stores. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will need to be carried out by his family. Over-all, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s without insurance, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him rather 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.

How to Treat Hearing Loss

Luckily, this particular health problem can be addressed in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is managed properly (typically via the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

  • Your relationships will improve because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • You’ll have an easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so it will be easier to participate in many everyday social aspects of your life.
  • Your risk of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.

Prevention is equally as important. Public information strategies aim at giving people the insight they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even cause hearing loss.

There are downloadable apps that can keep track of ambient decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. One way to have a huge impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

In some states they’re even extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy based on strong research and good public health policy. We can considerably impact public health once and for all when we change our ideas about preventing hearing loss.

And everyone is helped by that.

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