Most of the time, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It forms so slowly that it’s commonly undetectable, and on top of that, the majority of family doctors do not consistently test for hearing loss at the yearly physical exam.
Bearing in mind these two facts, it’s no surprise that most people first realize 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 very likely already relatively advanced. Because 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 soon to consider 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 assess if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with earlier exams.
Although 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 common among all age groups, and exposure to loud noise puts everyone at risk irrespective of age.
Annual Tests After Age 55
At the age of 65, one out of every three people will have some measure of hearing loss. As hearing loss is so common around this age, we encourage annual hearing tests to assure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and essentially undetectable. However, with annual hearing exams, hearing loss can be discovered early, and intervention is always more effective when implemented earlier.
Evaluate 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 continuously expose your hearing to these conditions.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we explained earlier, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first noticed by others. You should set up a hearing test if someone has recommended it to you or if you experience any of these signs or symptoms:
- Muffled hearing
- Trouble following what people are saying, especially in loud 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, irritation, or discharge
- Vertigo, dizziness, or balance problems
Don’t Wait Until the Damage is Done
The bottom line is that hearing loss is common among all age groups and that we all live in the presence of several work-related and everyday risk factors. Considering that hearing loss is hard to detect, gets worse over time, and is best treated early, we suggest that you get your hearing tested regularly. You may end up saving your hearing with early intervention, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.