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

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

That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an impact on all of society. So as a society, we should consider how to handle it.

Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost

William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to mess around with any of those hearing aids right now (against the recommendations of his hearing professional). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; it’s been difficult 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 challenging trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William isolates himself.

These decisions will accumulate as time passes.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is just the beginning of the story because it has a ripple effect through the whole economic system.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His relationships are suffering due to his social separation. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. They might be getting the wrong idea about his attitude towards them. This puts added strain on their relationships.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue

While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William may miss his friends or lament his economic situation), 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 have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. Over-all, his health can become impacted and can result in increased healthcare expenses. If he’s not insured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him quite profoundly.

Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you will have an idea of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.

Dealing With Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health issue can be treated in two simple ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is managed effectively (normally by wearing hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:

  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many day-to-day social areas of your life.
  • Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • The difficulties of your job will be more easily dealt with.
  • Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.

Prevention is just as important. Insight about how to safeguard your ears from loud harmful noise can be found in numerous public health commercials. But everyday noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even lead to hearing loss.

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

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

In some states they’re even extending insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy based on strong evidence and good public health policy. When we change our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly affect public health in a good way.

And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.

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