Hearing loss is not difficult to diagnose, but many people live with hearing loss for years before receiving a diagnosis and pursuing treatment such as hearing aids. In fact, it takes an average of seven years for someone to seek treatment for their hearing loss, from the time they first notice it. There are many reasons for this delay, from fear of looking old to disbelief that hearing aids can help. Hearing loss also occurs gradually in most cases, so it is not uncommon for a person to fail to recognize the loss until it has become more significant.
Numerous studies have shown that the earlier hearing loss is treated, the better. Hearing aids not only make it easier to communicate–they also help to preserve one’s general health and well-being, quality of life, relationships with loved ones, and cognitive function. That’s why it is critical to recognize the early symptoms of hearing loss and seek treatment right away. If you think you or your loved one might be suffering from hearing loss, read on to learn more about the symptoms and signs.
Social Signs of Hearing Loss
You may have a hearing loss if you have experienced these problems in social situations:
• You commonly need people to repeat themselves.
• You have a difficult time following conversation with more than two people.
• You often feel that other people are mumbling or that their voices sound muffled.
• You have difficulty understanding women and children (who have higher-pitched voices).
• You struggle to understand speech in noisy situations such as crowded public places, restaurants and malls.
• You and your family members have arguments because you turn the TV up too loud.
• You often respond to questions inappropriately.
• You have a hard time understanding others when you can’t see their faces.
• You have started to watch people’s faces more intently when they talk to you.
• You find that telephone conversations have become more difficult.
• You can hear speech but are not able to understand every word in a conversation.
• You have been told that you speak too loudly.
Emotional Signs of Hearing Loss
If you are suffering from hearing loss, it is not uncommon to experience some or all of these feelings:
• Stress and exhaustion from the effort of trying to understand speech all day.
• Annoyance at others because you have trouble understanding them.
• Embarrassment due to misunderstandings in conversations; hesitation or embarrassment about meeting new people.
• Anxiety about not being able to understand other people.
• Withdrawal from social situations that you once loved because of your hearing problems.
• Increasing distance between you and your loved ones because of difficulty communicating.
Medical Signs of Hearing Loss
Although there are commonly no obvious physical symptoms of hearing loss, here are a few things to watch out for:
• A ringing in the ears that comes and goes. This could be tinnitus, a very common side effect of hearing loss.
• A family history of hearing loss. (This may make you more predisposed for hearing loss.)
• A history of taking medications that are “ototoxic” (medications that can harm the hearing).
• A history of diabetes, heart, circulation or thyroid problems.
• Previous exposure to very loud noises over a long period or one exposure to explosive noise.
Things to Keep in Mind about Hearing Loss
In most cases, hearing loss worsens over time. The symptoms may be difficult to recognize initially.
It is not unusual for people with hearing loss to first blame their hearing problems on the way others talk. They might remark that they would hear better if others wouldn’t mumble so much, or that people talked more clearly when they were younger.
A person’s friends and family often recognize the hearing loss before they do. Sometimes they recognize the signs long before, and need to convince the hard of hearing person to have their hearing tested.
People with hearing loss often don’t realize what they don’t hear, such as soft household noises or the chirping of birds. They may only be aware that they don’t understand speech as well as they used to, saying “I hear you but I don’t understand you.”