In most cases, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It forms so gradually that it’s often undetectable, and on top of that, most family physicians do not consistently screen 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 informed about it from close friends or relatives. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s more than likely already relatively advanced. Given that hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be totally recovered once lost—it’s crucial to treat hearing loss in a timely manner 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 recommendations:
Establish a Baseline Early
It’s never too early to consider your first hearing test. The earlier you test your hearing, the earlier you can establish a baseline to compare later tests. The only method to assess if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with previous examinations.
Although it’s true that as you get 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 exposure to loud noise puts everyone at risk regardless of age.
Annual Tests After Age 55
At the age of 65, one out of every three people will have some level of hearing loss. Seeing that hearing loss is so prevalent near this age, we advise once a year hearing tests to assure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and virtually undetectable. However, with once-a-year hearing tests, hearing loss can be identified early, and intervention 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 exposed to loud 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 noted earlier, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first observed 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
- Trouble 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, discomfort, or discharge
- Vertigo, dizziness, or balance problems
Don’t Wait Until the Harm 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. Given 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.