More often than not, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It develops so slowly and gradually that it’s generally undetectable, and moreover, the majority of family physicians do not consistently screen for hearing loss at the yearly physical examination.
Considering these two facts, it’s no surprise that most people first find out they have hearing loss by being told about it from close friends or relatives. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s most likely already relatively advanced. Since hearing loss gets worse over time—and cannot be totally recovered once lost—it’s imperative to treat hearing loss as soon as possible instead of waiting for it to get bad enough for people to notice.
So when and how often should you get your hearing tested? Here are our suggestions:
Establish a Baseline Early
It’s never too early to get your first hearing test. The sooner you test your hearing, the sooner you can create a baseline to compare future tests. The only method to ascertain if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with earlier examinations.
While it’s true that as you get older you’re more likely to have hearing loss, consider that 26 million people between the age of 20 and 69 have hearing loss. Hearing loss is prevalent among all age groups, and exposure to loud noise puts everyone at risk regardless of age.
Annual Tests After Age 55
At the age of 65, one out of every three people will have some level of hearing loss. Seeing as hearing loss is so common around this age, we suggest annual hearing tests to assure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and practically undetectable. However, with yearly hearing tests, hearing loss can be diagnosed early, and treatment is always more effective when carried out earlier.
Assess Personal Risk Factors
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “approximately 15 percent of Americans (26 million people) between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to noise at work or during leisure activities.”
If you have been subjected to loud work environments or activities such as music concerts or sporting events, it’s a good idea to have your hearing tested. It’s also a good idea to get a yearly hearing test if you continue to expose your hearing to these conditions.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we noted earlier, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first noticed by others. You should set up a hearing test if someone has suggested it to you or if you encounter any of these signs or symptoms:
- Muffled hearing
- Difficulty following what people are saying, especially in noisy settings or in groups
- People commenting on how loud you have the TV or radio
- Avoiding social situations and conversations
- Ringing, roaring, hissing, or buzzing in the ear (tinnitus)
- Ear pain, discomfort, or discharge
- Vertigo, dizziness, or balance problems
Don’t Wait Until the Damage is Done
The bottom line is that hearing loss is prevalent among all age groups and that we all live in the presence of several work-related and everyday risk factors. Given that hearing loss is hard to detect, gets worse over time, and is best treated early, we highly recommend that you get your hearing tested regularly. You may end up saving your hearing with early treatment, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.