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

Bearing in mind these two facts, it’s no wonder that most people first find out they have hearing loss by being informed about it from friends or family members. But by the time people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s likely already relatively advanced. Seeing as hearing loss gets worse over time—and cannot be totally restored once lost—it’s important to treat hearing loss as quickly 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 consider your first hearing test. The sooner you test your hearing, the earlier you can create a baseline to compare later tests. The only way to assess if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with prior examinations.

While 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 being exposed to loud noise places everyone at risk regardless of age.

Yearly Tests After Age 55

At the age of 65, one out of every three people will have some level of hearing loss. Considering that hearing loss is so common near this age, we advise yearly hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not worsening. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and virtually undetectable. However, with annual hearing exams, hearing loss can be detected early, and treatment is always more effective when carried out earlier.

Consider 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 continue to expose your hearing to these conditions.

Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss

As we explained before, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first discovered 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 following 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, discomfort, or discharge
  • Vertigo, dizziness, or balance problems

Don’t Wait Until the Damage 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 work-related and everyday risk factors. Seeing that hearing loss is difficult to detect, worsens over time, and is best treated early, we suggest 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.