In most cases, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It develops so slowly that it’s usually undetectable, and on top of that, most family doctors do not regularly test for hearing loss at the yearly physical exam.
Bearing in mind these two realities, it’s no surprise that most people first realize they have hearing loss by being informed about it from close friends or family members. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s very likely already relatively advanced. Considering that hearing loss gets worse 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 earlier you can create a baseline to compare future tests. The only method to assess if your hearing is becoming worse is by comparing the results with previous tests.
Although it’s true that as you grow older you’re more likely to have hearing loss, keep in mind that 26 million people between the age of 20 and 69 have hearing loss. Hearing loss is widespread among all age groups, and being exposed to loud noise puts everyone at risk regardless of age.
Yearly 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 typical around this age, we advise once-a-year hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and essentially undetectable. However, with yearly hearing exams, hearing loss can be discovered early, and treatment is always more effective when carried out earlier.
Consider 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 noted earlier, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first observed 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
- Difficulty 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 Harm 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 occupational and everyday risk factors. Seeing 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.