More often than not, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It occurs so gradually that it’s generally undetectable, and on top of that, the majority of family physicians do not regularly screen for hearing loss at the yearly physical exam.
Bearing in mind these two facts, it’s no wonder that most people first find out they have hearing loss by being told about it from friends or relatives. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s most likely already relatively advanced. Considering that hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be totally recovered once lost—it’s critical to treat hearing loss at the earliest opportunity 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 establish a baseline to compare future tests. The only way to ascertain if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with earlier exams.
Although it’s true that as you become 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 degree of hearing loss. Because hearing loss is so common around this age, we recommend once-a-year hearing tests to assure that your hearing is not worsening. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and virtually undetectable. However, with once-a-year hearing tests, hearing loss can be diagnosed early, and treatment is always more effective when carried out earlier.
Assess 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 an annual hearing test if you consistently expose your hearing to these conditions.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we noted previously, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first detected by others. You should schedule a hearing test if someone has recommended 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 Harm 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. Considering 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 might end up saving your hearing with early treatment, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.