It takes the average person with hearing loss 5 to 7 years before getting a professional diagnosis, in spite of the reality that the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are transparent to others. But are those with hearing loss just too stubborn to get help? No, actually, and for a few different reasons.
Perhaps you know someone with hearing loss who either denies the issue or refuses to seek professional help, and even though this is unquestioningly frustrating, it is very conceivable 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 most cases, hearing loss comes about so slowly that the afflicted person simply doesn’t experience the change. While you would notice an swift change from normal hearing to a 25 decibel hearing loss (characterized as moderate hearing loss), you wouldn’t notice the minor change of a 1-2 decibel loss.
So a gradual loss of 1-2 decibels over the course of 10-20 years, while generating a 20-40 total decibel loss, is not going to be detectable at any given moment in time for those impacted. That’s why friends and family are virtually always the first to observe hearing loss.
2. Hearing loss is often partial (high-frequency only)
The majority of hearing loss cases are classified as high-frequency hearing loss, indicating that the impacted individual can still hear low-frequency background sounds normally. While speech, which is a high-frequency sound, is strenuous for those with hearing loss to understand, other sounds can usually be heard normally. This is why it’s quite common 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 struggling with hearing loss can obtain a false sense of well-being after their annual 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 yearly checkup. Not to mention that the main symptom for the majority of cases of hearing loss — trouble comprehending speech in the presence of background noise — will not present itself in a calm office atmosphere.
4. The burden of hearing loss can be shared or passed on to others
How do you remedy hearing loss when there’s no cure? The solution is straight forward: amplify sounds. The issue is, while hearing aids are the most effective at amplifying sounds, they are not the only way to achieve it — which people with hearing loss quickly identify.
Those with hearing loss frequently 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 individual with hearing loss can get by just fine with this approach, but only by transferring the burden to friends, family members, and co-workers.
5. Hearing loss is painless and invisible
Hearing loss is mainly subjective: it cannot be diagnosed by visible investigation and it normally is not accompanied by any pain or discomfort. If those with hearing loss do not recognize a problem, chiefly because of the reasons above, then they likely won’t take action.
The only method to appropriately diagnose hearing loss is through audiometry, which will calculate the exact decibel level hearing loss at several sound frequencies. This is the only method to objectively determine whether hearing loss is present, but the hard part is of course getting to that point.
How to approach those with hearing loss
Hopefully, this essay has generated some empathy. It is always frustrating when someone with hearing loss refuses to accept the problem, but keep in mind, they may legitimately not grasp the severity of the problem. Rather than demanding that they get their hearing examined, a more effective strategy may be to educate them on the components of hearing loss that make the condition practically invisible.