In most cases, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It occurs so gradually that it’s commonly undetectable, and on top of that, most family physicians do not routinely screen for hearing loss at the annual physical exam.
Taking into account these two facts, it’s no surprise that most people first find out they have hearing loss by being informed about it from friends or relatives. But by the time people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s more than likely already relatively advanced. Since hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be totally recovered once lost—it’s critical to treat hearing loss as soon 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 soon to consider your first hearing test. The earlier you test your hearing, the earlier you can establish a baseline to compare future tests. The only way to assess if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with past testing.
While it’s true that as you become older 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 widespread among all age groups, and being exposed to loud noise places 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. Given that hearing loss is so typical near this age, we recommend once a year hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not worsening. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and virtually undetectable. However, with once a year hearing exams, hearing loss can be discovered early, and intervention is always more effective when implemented earlier.
Evaluate 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 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 consistently expose your hearing to these conditions.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we explained before, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first detected by others. You should set up a hearing test if someone has recommended 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, irritation, or discharge
- Vertigo, dizziness, or balance problems
Don’t Wait Until the Damage 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 occupational 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 may end up saving your hearing with early treatment, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.