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Most of the time, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It develops 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.

Taking into account these two realities, it’s no surprise 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 more than likely already relatively advanced. Given that hearing loss gets worse over time—and cannot be fully recovered once lost—it’s crucial 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 suggestions:

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 determine if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with previous assessments.

Although it’s true that as you become older you’re more likely to have hearing loss, consider that 26 million people between the age of 20 and 69 have hearing loss. Hearing loss is prevalent 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 level of hearing loss. Because hearing loss is so prevalent around this age, we recommend once-a-year hearing tests to assure that your hearing is not worsening. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and essentially undetectable. However, with once-a-year hearing exams, hearing loss can be spotted early, and intervention is always more effective when carried out earlier.

Review 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 continuously expose your hearing to these conditions.

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 set up a hearing test if someone has suggested 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 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 work-related and everyday risk factors. Considering that hearing loss is hard to detect, worsens 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 treatment, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.