More often than not, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It develops so slowly that it’s usually undetectable, and moreover, the majority of family physicians do not regularly test for hearing loss at the annual 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 likely already relatively advanced. Seeing as hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be fully recovered once lost—it’s imperative to treat hearing loss as soon as possible 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 earlier you test your hearing, the earlier you can establish a baseline to compare future tests. The only way to determine if your hearing is worsening is by comparing the results with prior testing.
While 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 common among all age groups, and being exposed to loud noise places 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 degree of hearing loss. Given that hearing loss is so prevalent around this age, we advise once-a-year hearing tests to assure that your hearing is not worsening. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and essentially undetectable. However, with once-a-year hearing exams, hearing loss can be identified early, and treatment is always more effective when implemented earlier.
Evaluate 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 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 an annual hearing test if you consistently 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 detected by others. You should set up a hearing test if someone has recommended it to you or if you encounter any of these signs or symptoms:
- Muffled hearing
- Trouble 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, discomfort, 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 work-related 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 intervention, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.