More often than not, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It develops so slowly and gradually that it’s frequently undetectable, and on top of that, the majority of family physicians do not routinely test for hearing loss at the annual physical examination.

Bearing in mind these two facts, it’s no surprise that most people first realize they have hearing loss by being told about it from close friends or relatives. But by the time people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s more than likely already relatively advanced. Considering that hearing loss gets worse over time—and cannot be totally restored once lost—it’s crucial to treat hearing loss in a timely manner 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 early to get your first hearing test. The sooner you test your hearing, the sooner you can create a baseline to compare future tests. The only method to assess if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with previous assessments.

Although it’s true that as you age 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 widespread 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 degree of hearing loss. Seeing as hearing loss is so common around this age, we encourage yearly hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and practically undetectable. However, with yearly hearing tests, hearing loss can be identified early, and treatment is always more effective when carried out earlier.

Examine 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 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 conditions.

Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss

As we mentioned earlier, 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 encounter any of these signs or symptoms:

  • Muffled hearing
  • Difficulty understanding what people are saying, especially in loud 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 common among all age groups and that we all live in the presence of several work-related and everyday risk factors. Seeing that hearing loss is difficult to detect, gets worse over time, and is best treated early, we highly recommend that you get your hearing tested regularly. You might end up saving your hearing with early intervention, and the worst that can happen is that you find out you have normal hearing.