More often than not, people are unaware that they have hearing loss. It develops so gradually that it’s often undetectable, and moreover, the majority of family doctors do not consistently screen for hearing loss at the annual physical exam.

Considering these two realities, it’s no surprise that most people first realize they have hearing loss by being informed about it from close friends or relatives. But once people confront you about your hearing loss, it’s likely already relatively advanced. Because hearing loss gets worse over time—and cannot be completely restored once lost—it’s crucial 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 get your first hearing test. The sooner you test your hearing, the sooner you can establish a baseline to compare future tests. The only method to determine if your hearing is worsening is by comparing the results with earlier assessments.

While it’s true that as you get older 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.

Annual Tests After Age 55

At the age of 65, one out of every three people will have some degree of hearing loss. Because hearing loss is so typical near this age, we encourage once-a-year hearing tests to ensure that your hearing is not deteriorating. Remember, hearing loss is permanent, cumulative, and virtually undetectable. However, with once a year hearing exams, hearing loss can be detected early, and intervention is always more effective when carried out earlier.

Examine Personal Risk Factors

As reported 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 exposed 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 noted before, the signs and symptoms of hearing loss are often first recognized by others. You should set up a hearing test if someone has recommended 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 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 occupational 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.