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

Ordinarily, hearing loss is considered to be a challenge that influences our personal life. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing specialist. Personal. And on an individual level that’s true. But when considering hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also frame it as a public health issue.

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

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really need to mess around with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this affects William’s job performance; it’s harder for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.

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

Over time, these choices 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 result in a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it ripples through the entire economic system.
  • Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends may think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.

Why is it a Public Health Problem?

While on a personal level these costs will definitely be felt (William might miss his friends or lament his economic position), they also have an influence on everyone else. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local shops. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be done by his family. His health can be impacted overall and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, people around William are impacted quite profoundly.

You can get a sense of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.

Dealing With Hearing Loss

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

  • With treatment for hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your risk of several linked conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
  • Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships improve.
  • You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the difficulties of your job.
  • It will be easier to engage in many social activities if you can hear better.

Promoting good physical and mental health begins with dealing with your hearing loss. It makes sense, then, that more and more medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.

Prevention is equally as important. Public information campaigns seek to give people the insight they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.

You can download apps that will monitor sound levels and warn you when they get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a huge effect.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Certain states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. 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 affect public health in a positive way.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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