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

Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. We need to think about how to deal with it as a society.

Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost

William has hearing impairment. He just found out last week and against the suggestion of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a bit before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, sadly, is being affected by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.

He also spends lots more time at home by himself. It’s just too challenging trying to keep up with all the levels of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.

Over time, these choices accumulate for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, as the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. They might be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue

While on a personal level these costs will certainly 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 stores 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. As a whole, his health can become affected and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those expenses go to the public. And so, people around William are effected quite significantly.

Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you can get a sense of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.

How to Handle Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health problem can be managed in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (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 connected conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
  • Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
  • The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.
  • It will be easier to participate in many social activities if you’re able to hear better.

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good health, both physically and mentally. It makes sense, then, that more and more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.

It’s just as important to think of prevention. Public information strategies seek to give people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can cause hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.

You can get 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 via education.

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 considerably affect public health once and for all when we alter our ideas about preventing hearing loss.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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