It takes the average person with hearing loss 5 to 7 years before seeking a qualified professional diagnosis, despite the reality that the warning signs of hearing loss are transparent to other people. 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 issue or declines to seek professional help, and despite the fact that this is no doubt frustrating, it is very possible that the indications of hearing loss are much more obvious to you than they are to them.
Here are the reasons why:
1. Hearing loss is gradual
In most instances, hearing loss appears so little-by-little that the afflicted individual simply doesn’t perceive the change. While you would perceive an swift change from normal hearing to a 25 decibel hearing loss (defined as moderate hearing loss), you wouldn’t detect the minor change of a 1-2 decibel loss.
So a slow loss of 1-2 decibels over 10-20 years, while creating a 20-40 total decibel loss, is not going to be noticeable at any given moment in time for those affected. That’s why friends and family are nearly always the first to observe hearing loss.
2. Hearing loss is often partial (high-frequency only)
The majority of hearing loss instances are categorized as high-frequency hearing loss, which means that the affected individual can still hear low-frequency background sounds normally. Even though speech, which is a high-frequency sound, is challenging for those with hearing loss to comprehend, other sounds can usually be heard normally. This is why it’s commonplace for those with hearing loss to claim, “my hearing is fine, everyone else mumbles.”
3. Hearing loss is not attended to by the family doctor
Individuals suffering with hearing loss can obtain a false sense of well-being after their annual physical. It’s quite common to hear people say “if I had hearing loss, my doctor would have told me.”
This is of course not true because only 14% of physicians consistently test for hearing loss during the course of the annual checkup. Not to mention that the primary symptom for most cases of hearing loss — trouble understanding 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 remedy hearing loss when there’s no cure? The solution is straight forward: amplify sounds. The issue is, even though hearing aids are the most effective at amplifying sounds, they are not the only way to achieve it — which individuals with hearing loss promptly find out.
Those with hearing loss frequently crank up the volume on everything, to the detriment of those around them. TVs and radios are played excessively 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 pain-free and invisible
Hearing loss is mostly subjective: it cannot be diagnosed by visual examination and it usually is not accompanied by any pain or discomfort. If people with hearing loss do not recognize a problem, mostly due to the reasons above, then they most likely won’t take action.
The only way to accurately diagnose hearing loss is through audiometry, which will determine the exact decibel level hearing loss at multiple sound frequencies. This is the only method to objectively determine whether hearing loss is present, but the challenging part is needless to say getting to that point.
How to approach those with hearing loss
Hopefully, this article has created some empathy. It is always exasperating when someone with hearing loss refuses to recognize the problem, but keep in mind, they may legitimately not recognize the severity of the problem. As an alternative to commanding that they get their hearing examined, a more effective method may be to educate them on the characteristics of hearing loss that make the condition essentially invisible.