More often than not, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It forms so gradually that it’s often undetectable, and moreover, most family physicians do not regularly test for hearing loss at the yearly physical examination.
Considering these two realities, it’s no wonder that most people first find out they have hearing loss by being informed about it from close friends or relatives. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s probably already relatively advanced. Seeing as hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be fully recovered once lost—it’s imperative to treat hearing loss as quickly as possible instead 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 sooner you test your hearing, the sooner you can establish a baseline to compare later tests. The only way to assess if your hearing is worsening is by comparing the results with previous exams.
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 exposure to loud noise puts 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 level of hearing loss. As hearing loss is so prevalent near this age, we advise once a year hearing tests to assure that your hearing is not worsening. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and essentially undetectable. However, with yearly hearing exams, hearing loss can be spotted early, and intervention is always more effective when implemented earlier.
Review 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 a yearly hearing test if you continuously expose your hearing to these conditions.
Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss
As we noted before, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first noticed by others. You should schedule 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, discomfort, or discharge
- Vertigo, dizziness, or balance problems
Don’t Wait Until the Harm 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, worsens 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 intervention, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.