More often than not, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It occurs so slowly that it’s frequently undetectable, and moreover, most family physicians do not routinely test for hearing loss at the yearly physical examination.
Bearing in mind these two realities, it’s no wonder that most people first realize they have hearing loss by being informed about it from friends or relatives. But by the time people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s likely already relatively advanced. Given that hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be completely restored once lost—it’s critical to treat hearing loss as quickly as possible rather 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 earlier you test your hearing, the sooner you can create a baseline to compare later tests. The only way to determine if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with previous testing.
Although it’s true that as you become 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 exposure to loud noise puts everyone at risk irrespective of age.
Annual Tests After Age 55
At the age of 65, one out of every three people will have some amount of hearing loss. As hearing loss is so prevalent near this age, we advise annual hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and essentially undetectable. However, with annual hearing exams, hearing loss can be diagnosed early, and intervention is always more effective when implemented earlier.
Review 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 exposed to noisy 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 continue to expose your hearing to these environments.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we noted previously, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first discovered by others. You should set up a hearing test if someone has suggested it to you or if you encounter 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. Seeing 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 intervention, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.