It takes the average person with hearing loss 5 to 7 years before pursuing a qualified professional diagnosis, notwithstanding the fact that the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are very clear to other people. But are those with hearing loss simply too stubborn to get help? No, actually, and for a handful of different reasons.
Perhaps you know someone with hearing loss who either denies the difficulties or refuses to seek out professional help, and while this is unquestioningly frustrating, it is very possible that the symptoms of hearing loss are much more apparent to you than they are to them.
Here are the reasons why:
1. Hearing loss is gradual
In most cases, hearing loss unfolds so little-by-little that the impacted person simply doesn’t notice the change. While you would recognize an immediate change from normal hearing to a 25 decibel hearing loss (recognized as moderate hearing loss), you wouldn’t perceive the modest change of a 1-2 decibel loss.
So a slow loss of 1-2 decibels over 10-20 years, while generating a 20-40 total decibel loss, is not going to be detectable at any given moment in time for those afflicted. That’s why friends and family members are almost always the first to observe hearing loss.
2. Hearing loss is often partial (high-frequency only)
The majority of hearing loss scenarios are classified 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 strenuous for those with hearing loss to comprehend, other sounds can usually be heard normally. This is why it’s not uncommon for those with hearing loss to assert, “my hearing is fine, everyone else mumbles.”
3. Hearing loss is not attended to by the family doctor
Individuals suffering with hearing loss can attain a mistaken sense of well-being after their yearly physical. It’s common 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 regularly screen for hearing loss during the course of the yearly checkup. Not to mention that the primary symptom for most cases of hearing loss — trouble following speech in the presence of background noise — will not present itself in a calm office atmosphere.
4. The burden of hearing loss can be shared or passed on to others
How do you manage hearing loss when there’s no cure? The solution is simple: amplify sounds. The issue is, even though hearing aids are the most effective at amplifying sounds, they are not the only way to achieve it — which people with hearing loss rapidly discover.
Those with hearing loss commonly crank up the volume on everything, to the detriment of those around them. TVs and radios are played exceptionally loud and people are made to either shout or repeat themselves. The person with hearing loss can get by just fine with this technique, but only by passing on the burden to friends, family members, and colleagues.
5. Hearing loss is pain-free and invisible
Hearing loss is mainly subjective: it cannot be diagnosed by visible assessment and it normally is not accompanied by any pain or discomfort. If individuals with hearing loss do not recognize a problem, largely because of the reasons above, then they most likely won’t take action.
The only method to appropriately diagnose hearing loss is through audiometry, which will measure the exact decibel level hearing loss at several sound frequencies. This is the only method to objectively say whether hearing loss is present, but the difficult part is of course getting to that point.
How to approach those with hearing loss
Hopefully, this article has generated some empathy. It is always exasperating when someone with hearing loss refuses to recognize the problem, but keep in mind, they may legitimately not recognize the severity of the problem. Instead of commanding that they get their hearing tested, a more reliable strategy may be to educate them on the attributes of hearing loss that make the condition practically invisible.