Hearing loss happens naturally with age, but can be ushered along by exposure to loud noise, illness, prescriptions and good ol’ genetics. And while it’s ostensibly easy to pick out audio difficulties in others, it can be hard to identify your own issues — and even harder to admit you need help.
So, how do you know if you’re experiencing hearing loss?
1. Things sounds muffled
The first and perhaps most noticeable sign of hearing loss is the feeling that everything sounds softer, as if there’s a filter covering your ear. Higher-pitched noises, like children’s voices, might seem especially hushed. This could be a result of an ear infection or simple earwax buildup, or it could be the beginning of hearing loss.
2. Background noise makes it hard to hear conversations
Everyone has problems understanding friends at loud concerts. However, if your issues extend to all environments, whether it’s a ballgame, busy restaurant, or family dinner, a hearing issue might be the culprit. This is due to nerve damage in your inner ear, which affects how your brain separates important sounds from general clamor.
Alternately, if you hear a constant, low sound of almost any kind — from ringing to clicking to white noise — you may well be suffering from another chronic condition called tinnitus, which should be diagnosed by a specialist.
3. You need to pump up the volume
Do TV shows seem way too low? Is your car radio turned up to 11? Are you the only one at the movies wondering why Tom Hanks is mumbling? It’s one thing to increase the volume on your iPhone; it’s quite another to need everything playing permanently at full blast. If others often comment on your too-loud television, it might be time to see a doctor.
4. You frequently ask friends and family to repeat themselves
When “Come again?” and “Say that one more time, honey” become part of your daily phraseology—or even more revealing, when family members comment on your need to be told things multiple times — it’s a clear indication assistance is in order.
5. You feel frustrated, embarrassed, or anxious about talking to people
Perhaps the most damaging aspects of age-related hearing loss are its emotional effects and subsequent impact on your social life. People with aural troubles often report feeling discouraged, sad, angry, and stressed when they’re placed in situations requiring conversation or close listening. As a result, they withdraw from events and gatherings to save face and prevent distress.
If you’re experiencing any or all of these typical symptoms of hearing loss, it could be time to see a specialist for a test. An audiologist, otolaryngologist, or hearing care professional can evaluate the severity of your condition and recommend a path of action. While some afflictions (earwax, etc.) have a simple remedy, most age-related hearing loss is irreversible. But hearing aids have gotten smaller and more powerful since our parents and grandparents wore them. Your quality of life can be much improved — and you don’t have to miss out on any more conversations.