More often than not, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It forms so slowly that it’s often undetectable, and moreover, the majority of family physicians do not routinely screen for hearing loss at the yearly physical examination.

Considering 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 family members. But by the time people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s more than likely already relatively advanced. Considering that hearing loss worsens over time—and cannot be fully restored once lost—it’s crucial to treat hearing loss at the earliest opportunity 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 establish a baseline to compare later tests. The only way to assess if your hearing is worsening is by comparing the results with previous testing.

Although it’s true that as you age 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 degree of hearing loss. Considering that hearing loss is so typical near this age, we suggest yearly hearing tests to assure that your hearing is not worsening. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and essentially undetectable. However, with yearly hearing tests, hearing loss can be detected early, and treatment is always more effective when carried out earlier.

Assess 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 an annual hearing test if you continuously expose your hearing to these environments.

Watch for Signs of Hearing Loss

As we explained previously, 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
  • 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, irritation, or discharge
  • Vertigo, dizziness, or balance problems

Don’t Wait Until the Harm 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. Given that hearing loss is hard to detect, gets worse 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.