It takes the average person with hearing loss 5 to 7 years before seeking a professional diagnosis, in spite of the reality that the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are apparent to others. But are those with hearing loss simply too stubborn to get help? No, actually, and for a couple of different reasons.

Perhaps you know someone with hearing loss who either denies the problem or refuses to seek professional help, and while this is undoubtedly frustrating, it is very likely that the indications of hearing loss are much more apparent to you than they are to them.

Here are the reasons why:

1. Hearing loss is gradual

In the majority of cases, hearing loss comes about so slowly that the impacted individual simply doesn’t experience the change. While you would notice an immediate change from normal hearing to a 25 decibel hearing loss (defined as moderate hearing loss), you wouldn’t notice the smaller change of a 1-2 decibel loss.

So a gradual loss of 1-2 decibels over 10-20 years, while generating a 20-40 total decibel loss, is not going to be noticeable at any given moment in time for those afflicted. That’s why friends and family are almost always the first to notice hearing loss.

2. Hearing loss is often partial (high-frequency only)

The majority of hearing loss examples are categorized as high-frequency hearing loss, meaning that the impacted person can still hear low-frequency background sounds normally. While speech, which is a high-frequency sound, is strenuous for those with hearing loss to follow, other sounds can usually be heard normally. This is why it’s commonplace for those with hearing loss to say, “my hearing is fine, everyone else mumbles.”

3. Hearing loss is not addressed by the family doctor

People struggling with hearing loss can obtain 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 routinely screen for hearing loss during the annual checkup. Not to mention that the foremost symptom for most cases of hearing loss — difficulty comprehending speech in the presence of background noise — will not present itself in a quiet office setting.

4. The burden of hearing loss can be shared or passed on to others

How do you treat hearing loss when there’s no cure? The solution is simple: amplify sounds. The problem is, while hearing aids are the most effective at amplifying sounds, they are not the only way to accomplish it — which individuals with hearing loss promptly identify.

Those with hearing loss regularly turn up the volume on everything, to the detriment of those around them. Television sets and radios are played excessively loud and people are made to either scream or repeat themselves. The individual with hearing loss can get by just fine with this strategy, but only by passing on 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 assessment and it normally is not accompanied by any pain or discomfort. If individuals with hearing loss do not recognize a problem, mainly due to the reasons above, then they probably won’t take action.

The only way to correctly diagnose hearing loss is through audiometry, which will determine the specific decibel level hearing loss at numerous sound frequencies. This is the only way to objectively determine whether hearing loss is present, but the hard part is needless to say getting to that point.

How to approach those with hearing loss

Hopefully, this essay has manufactured some empathy. It is always frustrating when someone with hearing loss refuses to recognize the problem, but remember, they may legitimately not perceive the magnitude of the problem. Instead of demanding that they get their hearing tested, a more reliable strategy may be to educate them on the elements of hearing loss that make the condition essentially invisible.

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