It takes the average person with hearing loss 5 to 7 years before getting a professional diagnosis, notwithstanding the fact that the warning signs of hearing loss are obvious to others. But are those with hearing loss just too stubborn to get help? No, actually, and for a few different reasons.
Maybe you know someone with hearing loss who either denies the problem or refuses to seek professional help, and although this is no doubt frustrating, it is very likely that the indications of hearing loss are much more clear to you than they are to them.
Here are the reasons why:
1. Hearing loss is gradual
In most occurrences, hearing loss comes about so little-by-little that the affected individual simply doesn’t perceive the change. While you would become aware of an swift change from normal hearing to a 25 decibel hearing loss (specified as moderate hearing loss), you wouldn’t detect the modest change of a 1-2 decibel loss.
So a slow loss of 1-2 decibels over 10-20 years, while causing a 20-40 total decibel loss, is not going to be perceptible at any given moment in time for those affected. That’s why friends and family members are nearly always the first to notice hearing loss.
2. Hearing loss is often partial (high-frequency only)
The majority of hearing loss examples are classified as high-frequency hearing loss, indicating that the afflicted person can still hear low-frequency background sounds normally. While speech, which is a high-frequency sound, is strenuous for those with hearing loss to understand, other sounds can usually be heard normally. This is why it’s not uncommon for those with hearing loss to say, “my hearing is fine, everyone else mumbles.”
3. Hearing loss is not addressed by the family doctor
Individuals struggling with hearing loss can get a false sense of well-being following their annual physical. It’s typical to hear people state “if I had hearing loss, my doctor would have told me.”
This is of course not true because only 14% of physicians regularly test for hearing loss during the annual checkup. Not to mention that the main symptom for the majority of cases of hearing loss — trouble comprehending speech in the presence of background noise — will not present itself in a silent office setting.
4. The burden of hearing loss can be shared or passed on to others
How do you treat hearing loss when there’s no cure? The answer is easy: amplify sounds. The issue is, even though hearing aids are the most effective at amplifying sounds, they are not the only way to accomplish it — which people with hearing loss promptly discover.
Those with hearing loss often 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 scream or repeat themselves. The individual with hearing loss can get by just fine with this approach, but only by transferring the burden to friends, family members, and co-workers.
5. Hearing loss is pain-free and invisible
Hearing loss is mostly subjective: it cannot be diagnosed by visible assessment and it usually is not accompanied by any pain or discomfort. If those with hearing loss do not perceive a problem, mostly because of the reasons above, then they more than likely won’t take action.
The only way to accurately diagnose hearing loss is through audiometry, which will calculate the specific decibel level hearing loss at various sound frequencies. This is the only method to objectively determine whether hearing loss is present, but the challenging part is of course getting to that point.
How to approach those with hearing loss
Hopefully, this article has created some empathy. It is always exasperating when someone with hearing loss refuses to acknowledge the problem, but remember, they may legitimately not perceive the magnitude of the problem. Rather than demanding that they get their hearing examined, a more reliable approach may be to educate them on the properties of hearing loss that make the condition virtually invisible.