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

We tend to think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. It’s a personal, private subject. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health concern.

That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an effect on society as a whole. So as a society, we should think about how to manage it.

The Cost of Hearing Loss

William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a bit before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job execution, sadly, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a hard time keeping up in meetings, etc.

He also stops venturing out. It’s just too stressful trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates instead of going out.

These decisions will have a cumulative effect over time.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This quantity of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it ripples throughout the whole economic system.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social separation is costing him relationships. His friends could think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts further strain on their relationships.

Why is it a Public Health Problem?

While on a personal level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may be having a hard time economically and socially), everyone else is also influenced. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local shops. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be impacted as a whole and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those expenses go to the public. And so, people around William are impacted rather significantly.

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

How to Manage Hearing Loss

The good news is, this particular health issue can be managed in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated properly (normally by the use of hearing aids), the results can be quite dramatic:

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

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

Prevention is equally as important. Information about how to protect your hearing from loud damaging noise can be found in many public health ads. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even lead to hearing loss.

There are downloadable apps that can monitor ambient decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a big effect.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s an approach based on strong research and good public health policy. We can dramatically affect public health once and for all when we alter our thinking about preventing hearing loss.

And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.

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