It takes the average person with hearing loss 5 to 7 years before getting a professional diagnosis, notwithstanding the fact 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 handful of different reasons.
Perhaps you know someone with hearing loss who either denies the concern or refuses to seek professional help, and while this is no doubt frustrating, it is very feasible that the signs and symptoms 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 the majority of scenarios, hearing loss develops so slowly that the afflicted individual simply doesn’t notice the change. While you would become aware of an instantaneous change from normal hearing to a 25 decibel hearing loss (classified as moderate hearing loss), you wouldn’t detect 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 creating 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 almost always the first to observe hearing loss.
2. Hearing loss is often partial (high-frequency only)
The majority of hearing loss examples are classified as high-frequency hearing loss, meaning that the affected person can still hear low-frequency background sounds normally. While speech, which is a high-frequency sound, is strenuous for those with hearing loss to follow, other sounds can usually be heard normally. This is why it’s quite common for those with hearing loss to assert, “my hearing is fine, everyone else mumbles.”
3. Hearing loss is not attended to by the family doctor
People struggling with hearing loss can get a mistaken sense of well-being following 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 routinely screen for hearing loss during the course of the yearly checkup. Not to mention that the primary symptom for most cases of hearing loss — difficulty understanding 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 answer is easy: amplify sounds. The problem is, although hearing aids are the most effective at amplifying sounds, they are not the only way to achieve it — which individuals with hearing loss quickly find out.
Those with hearing loss frequently turn up the volume on everything, to the detriment of those around them. TVs and radios are played extremely loud and people are made to either shout or repeat themselves. The individual with hearing loss can get by just fine with this method, but only by passing on the burden to friends, family members, and co-workers.
5. Hearing loss is painless and invisible
Hearing loss is largely subjective: it cannot be diagnosed by visual examination and it normally is not accompanied by any pain or discomfort. If those with hearing loss do not perceive a problem, largely due to the reasons above, then they probably won’t take action.
The only method to appropriately diagnose hearing loss is through audiometry, which will quantify the precise decibel level hearing loss at various sound frequencies. This is the only method to objectively determine whether hearing loss is present, but the challenging part is of course getting to that point.
How to approach those with hearing loss
Hopefully, this essay has manufactured some empathy. It is always frustrating when someone with hearing loss refuses to recognize the problem, but keep in mind, they may legitimately not perceive the magnitude of the problem. As an alternative to demanding that they get their hearing tested, a more effective strategy may be to educate them on the properties of hearing loss that make the condition practically invisible.