It takes the average person with hearing loss 5 to 7 years before getting a qualified professional diagnosis, notwithstanding the reality that the warning signs of hearing loss are obvious 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 concern or refuses to seek professional help, and despite the fact that this is without a doubt frustrating, it is very conceivable that the warning signs 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 the majority of occurrences, hearing loss takes place so gradually that the afflicted individual simply doesn’t perceive the change. While you would detect an instant change from normal hearing to a 25 decibel hearing loss (characterized as moderate hearing loss), you wouldn’t perceive the minor change of a 1-2 decibel loss.

So a slow loss of 1-2 decibels over 10-20 years, while causing a 20-40 total decibel loss, is not going to be perceptible 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 cases are categorized as high-frequency hearing loss, which means that the afflicted individual can still hear low-frequency background sounds normally. While speech, which is a high-frequency sound, is challenging for those with hearing loss to understand, other sounds can usually be heard normally. This is why it’s quite common for those with hearing loss to say, “my hearing is fine, everyone else mumbles.”

3. Hearing loss is not addressed by the family doctor

Individuals struggling with hearing loss can get a false sense of well-being following their annual physical. It’s typical 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 foremost symptom for the majority of cases of hearing loss — trouble understanding speech in the presence of background noise — will not present itself in a quiet office environment.

4. The burden of hearing loss can be shared or passed on to others

How do you treat hearing loss when there’s no cure? The solution is easy: amplify sounds. The issue is, while hearing aids are the most effective at amplifying sounds, they are not the only way to achieve it — which those with hearing loss quickly identify.

Those with hearing loss oftentimes crank up the volume on everything, to the detriment of those around them. TVs and radios are played exceedingly loud and people are made to either scream or repeat themselves. The person 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 mainly subjective: it cannot be diagnosed by visible evaluation and it generally 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 more than likely won’t take action.

The only way to correctly diagnose hearing loss is through audiometry, which will measure 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 tricky 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 admit the problem, but keep in mind, they may legitimately not recognize the severity of the problem. Rather than demanding that they get their hearing tested, a more effective strategy may be to educate them on the characteristics of hearing loss that make the condition practically invisible.