It takes the average person with hearing loss 5 to 7 years before getting a professional diagnosis, despite the reality that the warning signs of hearing loss are very clear to other people. But are those with hearing loss just too stubborn to get help? No, actually, and for a few specific reasons.
Maybe you know someone with hearing loss who either denies the condition or declines to seek professional help, and even though this is without a doubt frustrating, it is very likely that the indicators of hearing loss are much more clear to you than they are to them.
Here are the reasons why:
1. Hearing loss is gradual
In the majority of scenarios, hearing loss unfolds so slowly that the impacted individual simply doesn’t notice the change. While you would recognize an instantaneous change from normal hearing to a 25 decibel hearing loss (described as moderate hearing loss), you wouldn’t perceive the smaller change of a 1-2 decibel loss.
So a slow loss of 1-2 decibels over 10-20 years, while resulting in a 20-40 total decibel loss, is not going to be noticeable at any given moment in time for those affected. That’s why friends and family members are nearly always the first to recognize hearing loss.
2. Hearing loss is often partial (high-frequency only)
The majority of hearing loss instances are classified as high-frequency hearing loss, meaning that the affected individual can still hear low-frequency background sounds normally. Even though speech, which is a high-frequency sound, is difficult for those with hearing loss to comprehend, other sounds can usually be heard normally. This is why it’s typical for those with hearing loss to say, “my hearing is fine, everyone else mumbles.”
3. Hearing loss is not assessed by the family doctor
Individuals suffering with hearing loss can attain a mistaken sense of well-being after their yearly physical. It’s common to hear people state “if I had hearing loss, my doctor would have told me.”
This is of course not true because only 14% of physicians regularly test for hearing loss during the annual checkup. Not to mention that the principal symptom for most cases of hearing loss — trouble understanding speech in the presence of background noise — will not present itself in a tranquil office environment.
4. The burden of hearing loss can be shared or passed on to others
How do you address hearing loss when there’s no cure? The answer is straight forward: amplify sounds. The issue is, even though hearing aids are the most effective at amplifying sounds, they are not the only way to achieve it — which those with hearing loss quickly identify.
Those with hearing loss often turn up the volume on everything, to the detriment of those around them. TVs and radios are played exceptionally loud and people are made to either shout or repeat themselves. The person with hearing loss can manage just fine with this method, but only by transferring the burden to friends, family members, and colleagues.
5. Hearing loss is painless and invisible
Hearing loss is mainly subjective: it cannot be diagnosed by visible examination and it usually is not accompanied by any pain or discomfort. If those with hearing loss do not perceive a problem, chiefly due to the reasons above, then they more than likely won’t take action.
The only method to correctly diagnose hearing loss is through audiometry, which will determine the specific decibel level hearing loss at several sound frequencies. This is the only method to objectively determine whether hearing loss is present, but the challenging part is of course getting to that point.
How to approach those with hearing loss
Hopefully, this entry has generated some empathy. It is always exasperating when someone with hearing loss refuses to acknowledge the problem, but remember, they may legitimately not understand the severity of the problem. Instead of demanding that they get their hearing tested, a more productive strategy may be to educate them on the components of hearing loss that make the condition virtually invisible.