Most of the time, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It occurs so slowly that it’s usually undetectable, and on top of that, the majority of family physicians do not routinely screen for hearing loss at the yearly physical exam.
Bearing in mind 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 very likely already relatively advanced. Given that hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be completely restored once lost—it’s important 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 soon 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 assess if your hearing is worsening is by comparing the results with prior tests.
While it’s true that as you get 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 exposure to loud noise places 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 measure of hearing loss. Seeing as hearing loss is so typical around this age, we advise once a year 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 tests, hearing loss can be detected early, and intervention is always more effective when carried out earlier.
Assess 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 continue to expose your hearing to these environments.
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
- Trouble following 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 occupational and everyday risk factors. Given that hearing loss is hard to detect, gets worse 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 intervention, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.