More often than not, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It develops so slowly and gradually that it’s typically undetectable, and on top of that, most family doctors do not consistently screen for hearing loss at the yearly physical exam.
Taking into account these two facts, it’s no surprise that most people first realize they have hearing loss by being told about it from friends or relatives. But by the time people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s probably already relatively advanced. Because hearing loss gets worse over time—and cannot be fully recovered once lost—it’s critical to treat hearing loss in a timely manner 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 recommendations:
Establish a Baseline Early
It’s never too early to consider your first hearing test. The sooner you test your hearing, the earlier you can establish a baseline to compare future tests. The only method to determine if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with earlier assessments.
While it’s true that as you become older you’re more likely to have hearing loss, consider 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 regardless of age.
Yearly Tests After Age 55
At the age of 65, one out of every three people will have some measure of hearing loss. Because hearing loss is so common near this age, we suggest once-a-year hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and practically undetectable. However, with annual hearing exams, hearing loss can be detected early, and intervention is always more effective when implemented earlier.
Assess Personal Risk Factors
As reported 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 a yearly hearing test if you continue to expose your hearing to these environments.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we mentioned before, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first observed by others. You should schedule a hearing test if someone has recommended it to you or if you encounter 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 Damage 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. Given that hearing loss is difficult to detect, gets worse over time, and is best treated early, we highly recommend 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.