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

We normally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s an issue that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your health. Private. And that’s true, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when regarded in a larger perspective, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also understand it as a public health issue.

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

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, 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 hard time following along in meetings, etc.

He also stops going out. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.

With time, these decisions add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some 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. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, as that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William misses his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends might think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea about his attitude towards them. This puts additional stress on their relationships.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern

While on a personal level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may be having a difficult time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local retailers. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be carried out by his family. His health can be affected overall and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him rather profoundly.

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

How to Manage Hearing Loss

Luckily, this particular health issue can be treated in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated effectively (typically by the use of hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:

  • The demands of your job will be more easily handled.
  • Your relationships will improve because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • You’ll be able to hear better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many daily social areas of your life.
  • Your risk of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with management of hearing loss.

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

Prevention is equally as important. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.

There are downloadable apps that can monitor background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. One way to have a big effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Some states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. 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 adjust our ideas about preventing hearing loss.

And everybody is helped by that.

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