Most of the time, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It occurs so gradually that it’s generally undetectable, and on top of that, the majority of family physicians do not consistently test for hearing loss at the annual physical examination.
Taking into account these two realities, it’s no surprise that most people first realize they have hearing loss by being informed about it from close friends or family members. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s likely already relatively advanced. Given that hearing loss gets worse over time—and cannot be totally restored once lost—it’s essential to treat hearing loss at the earliest opportunity 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 get your first hearing test. The earlier you test your hearing, the sooner you can create a baseline to compare future tests. The only way to ascertain if your hearing is worsening is by comparing the results with past exams.
Although it’s true that as you grow 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 prevalent among all age groups, and being exposed to loud noise puts everyone at risk irrespective of age.
Yearly Tests After Age 55
At the age of 65, one out of every three people will have some level of hearing loss. As hearing loss is so typical around this age, we advise yearly hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and essentially undetectable. However, with once a year hearing exams, hearing loss can be detected early, and treatment is always more effective when carried out earlier.
Consider Personal Risk Factors
As stated 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 a yearly hearing test if you continuously expose your hearing to these conditions.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we mentioned previously, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first spotted by others. You should schedule a hearing test if someone has suggested it to you or if you experience any of these signs or symptoms:
- Muffled hearing
- Difficulty understanding 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 work-related and everyday risk factors. Seeing that hearing loss is hard to detect, worsens 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 treatment, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.