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Most of the time, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It develops so gradually that it’s generally undetectable, and on top of that, the majority of family physicians do not consistently screen for hearing loss at the yearly physical exam.

Considering these two facts, 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 by the time people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s probably 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 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 suggestions:

Establish a Baseline Early

It’s never too early to get your first hearing test. The sooner you test your hearing, the earlier you can establish a baseline to compare future tests. The only method to assess if your hearing is worsening is by comparing the results with prior assessments.

Although it’s true that as you grow 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 prevalent among all age groups, and being exposed 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. Considering hearing loss is so prevalent around this age, we suggest yearly hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not worsening. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and virtually undetectable. However, with annual hearing tests, hearing loss can be discovered early, and intervention is always more effective when implemented earlier.

Evaluate Personal Risk Factors

According to 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 noisy 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 continue to 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 spotted by others. You should set up a hearing test if someone has recommended it to you or if you encounter 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, discomfort, or discharge
  • Vertigo, dizziness, or balance problems

Don’t Wait Until the Harm 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 difficult 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 intervention, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.