Most of the time, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It occurs so gradually that it’s usually undetectable, and moreover, most family doctors do not routinely screen for hearing loss at the yearly physical exam.
Considering these two realities, it’s no wonder that most people first find out they have hearing loss by being told about it from friends or family members. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s most likely already relatively advanced. Seeing that hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be totally recovered once lost—it’s essential to treat hearing loss as quickly 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 get your first hearing test. The sooner you test your hearing, the sooner you can establish a baseline to compare future tests. The only method to assess if your hearing is worsening is by comparing the results with prior 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 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 common around this age, we recommend once-a-year hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not worsening. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and practically undetectable. However, with yearly hearing tests, hearing loss can be spotted early, and intervention is always more effective when implemented earlier.
Examine 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 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 an annual hearing test if you continuously expose your hearing to these environments.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we explained previously, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first detected by others. You should schedule a hearing test if someone has recommended it to you or if you experience any of these signs or symptoms:
- Muffled hearing
- Difficulty following what people are saying, especially in noisy 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 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.