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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 health. It’s a private, personal matter. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when thought about in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to recognize it as a public health issue.

That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be viewed as something that has an impact on society as a whole. So as a society, we need to consider how to deal with it.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

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

He also spends a lot more time at home by himself. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William isolates himself.

These choices will add up as time passes.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some unemployment can be caused by hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social separation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems distant. It can seem like insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?

While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on a personal level (William might be having a difficult time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. William isn’t spending as much at local shops because he has less money. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. As a whole, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those expenses go to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him quite significantly.

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

Dealing With Hearing Loss

The good news is, this particular health problem can be treated in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (usually by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
  • 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 demands of your job.
  • You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to engage in many day-to-day social areas of your life.

Encouraging good mental and physical health begins with treating your hearing loss. It makes sense, then, that more and more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.

Prevention is equally as important. Information about how to safeguard your hearing from loud damaging noise can be found in many public health advertisements. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.

You can download apps that will keep track of sound levels and warn you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a big impact.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

In some states they’re even extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. We can significantly impact public health once and for all when we adjust our ideas about preventing hearing loss.

And everybody is helped by that.

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