Most of the time, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It develops so slowly and gradually that it’s commonly undetectable, and on top of that, the majority of family physicians do not consistently test for hearing loss at the annual physical examination.
Taking into account 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 family members. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s most likely already relatively advanced. Because hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be totally restored once lost—it’s essential to treat hearing loss at the earliest opportunity rather 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 get your first hearing test. The earlier you test your hearing, the earlier you can establish a baseline to compare later tests. The only method to ascertain if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with past exams.
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 being exposed to loud noise places 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 degree of hearing loss. Given that hearing loss is so prevalent around this age, we recommend yearly hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and practically undetectable. However, with annual hearing exams, hearing loss can be spotted early, and treatment is always more effective when carried out earlier.
Consider Personal Risk Factors
As stated by 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 exposed 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 environments.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we noted previously, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first noticed by others. You should schedule a hearing test if someone has suggested it to you or if you experience any of these signs or symptoms:
- Muffled hearing
- Difficulty understanding 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 prevalent among all age groups and that we all live in the presence of several occupational and everyday risk factors. Seeing that hearing loss is difficult to detect, gets worse over time, and is best treated early, we 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.