In most cases, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It forms so slowly and gradually that it’s commonly undetectable, and moreover, most family physicians do not consistently test for hearing loss at the annual physical exam.

Taking into account these two realities, 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 likely already relatively advanced. Given that hearing loss gets worse over time—and cannot be totally restored once lost—it’s important 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 suggestions:

Establish a Baseline Early

It’s never too early to consider your first hearing test. The earlier you test your hearing, the earlier you can create a baseline to compare later tests. The only method to assess if your hearing is getting worse is by comparing the results with prior examinations.

While 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 exposure 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 measure of hearing loss. Given that hearing loss is so prevalent around this age, we advise annual hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and practically undetectable. However, with annual hearing exams, hearing loss can be detected 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 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 explained previously, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first recognized by others. You should set up a hearing test if someone has suggested it to you or if you encounter any of these signs or symptoms:

  • Muffled hearing
  • Difficulty 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, irritation, 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. Considering that hearing loss is hard to detect, worsens over time, and is best treated early, we suggest 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.