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

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

Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that affects society overall. We should think about how to deal with it as a society.

Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost

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 affected by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.

He also spends a lot more time at home by himself. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he self isolates instead of going out.

After a while, these decisions accumulate for William.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level of lost income is just the beginning of the story because it has a ripple effect throughout the entire economic system.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are struggling because of his social separation. His friends could think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like insensitivity or anger. This puts additional strain on their relationships.

Why is it a Public Health Concern?

While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also influenced. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local stores. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. Over-all, his health can become affected and can result in increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed along to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, those around William are impacted quite significantly.

Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you will have a sense of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.

Dealing With Hearing Loss

The good news is, this particular health issue can be managed in two simple ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is managed properly (normally by using hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:

  • You’ll be able to hear better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many everyday social aspects of your life.
  • With treatment for hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your chances of several linked conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
  • Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships improve.
  • The demands of your job will be more easily managed.

Encouraging good mental and physical health begins with treating your hearing loss. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

It’s equally important to think of prevention. Insight about how to protect your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in many public health ads. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even result in hearing loss.

There are downloadable apps that can monitor ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a huge impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

Certain states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. We can significantly impact public health once and for all when we adjust our ideas about preventing hearing loss.

And everyone is helped by that.

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