Most of the time, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It occurs so slowly that it’s usually undetectable, and on top of that, most family physicians do not consistently test for hearing loss at the yearly physical examination.
Considering these two facts, it’s no surprise that most people first realize they have hearing loss by being told about it from close friends or family members. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s most likely already relatively advanced. Seeing as hearing loss gets worse over time—and cannot be completely recovered once lost—it’s crucial to treat hearing loss as soon 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 early 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 way to assess if your hearing is worsening is by comparing the results with previous 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 widespread among all age groups, and being exposed to loud noise puts 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 degree of hearing loss. As hearing loss is so common around this age, we suggest annual hearing tests to assure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and practically undetectable. However, with yearly hearing exams, hearing loss can be diagnosed early, and intervention is always more effective when implemented earlier.
Consider 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 exposed 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 a yearly hearing test if you continue to expose your hearing to these conditions.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we mentioned before, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first discovered 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 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. Considering that hearing loss is hard 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 treatment, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.