Most of the time, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It develops so slowly that it’s commonly undetectable, and moreover, most family doctors do not consistently screen for hearing loss at the annual physical exam.
Considering these two realities, it’s no wonder that most people first find out they have hearing loss by being informed about it from friends or relatives. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s probably already relatively advanced. Since hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be fully recovered once lost—it’s essential to treat hearing loss as quickly as possible 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 later tests. The only way to determine if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with past examinations.
While it’s true that as you age you’re more likely to have hearing loss, keep in mind 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 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. Given that hearing loss is so prevalent around this age, we advise annual hearing tests to assure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and practically undetectable. However, with once a year hearing tests, hearing loss can be spotted 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 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 continue to 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 detected by others. You should set up 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 Harm is Done
The bottom line is that hearing loss is common 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, gets worse over time, and is best treated early, we recommend that you get your hearing tested regularly. You might end up saving your hearing with early treatment, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.