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

We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. 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 discussing hearing loss in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health matter.

Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. We should think about how to handle it as a society.

Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost

William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a bit before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job execution, regrettably, is being impacted 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 much more time at home by himself. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to try and keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself instead of going out.

These choices will accumulate after a while.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a consequence of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Overall, 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 is missing his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends may think he is ignoring them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern

While on a personal level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William might miss his friends or lament his economic position), everyone else is also influenced. William isn’t spending as much at local shops because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will need to be carried out by his family. His health can be impacted as a whole and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s without insurance, those costs go to the public. And so, those around William are effected rather significantly.

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

How to Manage Hearing Loss

The good news is, this specific health problem can be addressed in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (typically through the use of hearing aids), the results can be quite dramatic:

  • The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.
  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.
  • With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your chances of several linked conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
  • You’ll be able to hear better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many day-to-day social areas of your life.

Promoting good mental and physical health starts with treating your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.

Prevention is equally as important. Insight about how to safeguard your hearing from loud damaging noise can be found in countless public health ads. But everyday noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.

You can get apps that will monitor sound levels and alert you when they get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

Certain states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. We can dramatically affect public health once and for all when we alter our thinking about preventing hearing loss.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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