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

Generally, hearing loss is looked at as a challenge that impacts our personal life. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing specialist. It’s a private, personal subject. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health issue.

Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. We need to consider how to deal with it as a society.

The Cost 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 advice of his hearing professional). Williams job performance, sadly, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time keeping up in meetings, etc.

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

Over time, these choices accumulate for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it has a ripple effect throughout the entire economic system.
  • Social cost: William misses his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends might think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming tense because of this.

Why is it a Public Health Concern?

While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William might be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local stores. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will need to be done by his family. His health can be affected overall and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs then get passed down to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss affects those around him quite significantly.

Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you can get an idea of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.

Treating Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health problem can be managed in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is managed properly (typically by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

  • With management of hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your chances of several connected conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
  • It will be easier to engage in many social functions if you can hear better.
  • The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.
  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.

Treating your hearing loss is one way to promote good health, both physically and mentally. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

It’s just as important to think of prevention. Information about how to protect your hearing from loud harmful noise can be found in numerous public health ads. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.

There are downloadable apps that can monitor 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.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

In some states they’re even expanding insurance to cover hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we alter our thinking about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically impact public health for the good.

And everybody is helped by that.

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