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 a problem that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. It’s a personal, private subject. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to recognize it as a public health matter.

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

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to mess around with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing professional). Williams job execution, unfortunately, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.

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

These decisions will accumulate over time.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose around $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 whole economic system.
  • Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His social separation is costing him relationships. His friends could think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue

While on an individual level these costs will definitely be felt (William may be having a hard time socially and economically), they also have an effect on everyone else. William isn’t spending as much at local merchants 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 as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those costs go to the public. 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.

Managing Hearing Loss

The good news is, this specific health problem can be addressed in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is managed effectively (normally by using hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:

  • Your chances of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with treatment of hearing loss.
  • You’ll have an easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
  • Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • It will be easier to participate in countless social functions if you can hear better.

Encouraging good mental and physical health starts with dealing with your hearing loss. 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 information they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But common noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even lead to hearing loss.

You can download apps that will monitor sound levels and caution you when they get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

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

And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.

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