Hearing loss can affect individuals of any age, with statistics from the Hearing Loss Association of America reporting that it is estimated to impact, in varying degrees, around 20 percent of the U.S. population. The risk of developing hearing loss increases as one gets older, with the HLAA noting that nearly one in every three American adults over the age of 65 experiences hearing loss in some capacity.
Given that hearing loss can range in severity, many cases are so mild that it is common for people not to be immediately aware that their hearing has changed. In fact, as detailed in an article from Britain’s National Health Service, it can take up to a decade on average for individuals to seek medical help with their hearing loss. There are, however, a number of signs and symptoms that can help identify hearing loss, and the sooner they are recognized, the better, as earlier detection can allow for interventions that can help to mitigate the effects of hearing loss.
Below is a guide to some of the most common indicators of developing hearing loss:
1. Hearing a sound in your ear
An early sign of hearing loss, according to Reader’s Digest, is a sound in the ear that isn’t heard in external surroundings. The sound typically takes the form of a buzzing, scratching or whistling noise. It may occur in bouts, frequently or infrequently, or be persistent. Another term for this sensation, according to the NHS, is tinnitus. Reader’s Digest interviewed New York Medical College-based professor of Otolaryngology, Dr. Robert Pincus, who elaborated further:
“When it’s quiet, you may start to hear a low-level buzzing or ringing sound in the background. When it becomes more noticeable and is more frequent or constantly there, that could indicate that you’ve damaged the nerves in your ear,” he explained.
The NHS reported that tinnitus can be caused by any number of things, and is commonly associated with hearing loss. This can be a consequence of several issues: An obstructed ear canal – due to an accumulation of wax, for example – an infection or just general hearing loss that is a corollary of aging. It is also possible to develop a type of hearing loss that produces tinnitus, through listening to loud noises on too frequent a basis. Musicians and those who work in construction can develop tinnitus, for example, and even individuals who simply play their music at a high level through their headphones.
Reader’s Digest included another interview with a physician, Sreekant Cherukuri, who explained how to recognize when sounds are becoming a problem:
“Permanent hearing loss can occur in eight to 15 minutes of listening to music on the maximum volume level,” he stated. “If you have temporary ringing or buzzing when you stop your music, that should be your earliest clue that it’s too loud.”
2. Having the television at a high volume
Have family members or friends complained to you about the sound level on your television? Is it a challenge for you to hear properly when they turn it down? If this happens on a routine basis, it could be an indication that you have, or are developing, hearing loss, Healthy Living Magazine detailed.
3. Asking others to repeat themselves
If you find yourself routinely asking people to repeat what they have just said, slow down when they are talking or increase the volume at which they speak, there is the possibility that you are unable to hear them fully, the Mayo Clinic explained. This may also be a problem while conversing on the telephone.
You may notice that this problem occurs in all settings, or just in situations where there is extensive background noise, such as at restaurants, parties or stores with lots of customers. This can be difficult to gauge, as even individuals without hearing loss may struggle to hear properly in places that are excessively loud – nightclubs or at music concerts, for example. If you find that this is a routine problem, or if you struggle to hear in moderately noisy environments, there is a chance you may have hearing loss.
4. Feeling pain due to noise
According to Reader’s Digest, hearing excessively loud noises while living with hearing loss may actually cause pain in your ear. If, for example, you feel an achy sensation in your ear at a music concert or when an alarm begins to sound, that could be an indication of hearing loss. Reader’s Digest included another quote from Dr. Pincus, who elaborated on this phenomenon.
“When you lose your hearing, your ear is less able to dampen loud noises, which may cause your ears to hurt around loud noises,” he explained. “The pain is hard to describe, but it’s somewhere between sharp shooting and a dull ache.”
5. Becoming tired and frustrated with socializing
If you find that you are frequently tired and stressed out after interacting with other people, there is a chance that it may be linked to hearing loss, the NHS maintained. This is because if you struggle to hear other people, you may find yourself concentrating more, which in turn can lead to fatigue. You may also find that you are embarrassed or frustrated by misunderstanding parts of conversations and asking others to repeat themselves. These feelings can increase your risk of depression and/or social withdrawal, the Mayo Clinic noted.
The above symptoms, on their own, do not necessarily mean that you have permanent hearing loss. You may be experiencing only temporary hearing loss due to an obstruction in the ear canal – wax accumulation is a common cause of this. The only way to know for sure is to make an appointment with your physician or audiologist, who will be able to help.