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

Usually, hearing loss is thought of as a challenge that influences our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. Personal. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when regarded in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health concern.

Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. So as a society, we should think about how to handle it.

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and against the advice of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.

He also stops venturing out. It’s just too difficult trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.

These choices will have a cumulative effect after a while.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be a result of hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Combined, 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, because that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social separation is costing him relationships. His friends might think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern

While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), everyone else is also impacted. William doesn’t spend as much at local shops because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. His health can be affected overall and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed along to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, those around William are effected quite profoundly.

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

How to Treat Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health problem can be managed in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (normally by wearing hearing aids), the outcome can be fairly dramatic:

  • You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to participate in many daily social facets of your life.
  • Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
  • The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.
  • Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with management of hearing loss.

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

Prevention is equally as important. Information about how to safeguard your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in numerous public health commercials. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, like using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.

You can download apps that will keep track of sound levels and warn you when they 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 changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. When we change our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically affect public health for the good.

And everyone is helped by that.

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