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Why Does Hearing Loss Go Undetected?

Hearing loss often goes unnoticed and the person with the hearing problem is usually the last one to become aware of it.  Some people call this “denial,” but that’s not really fair.

There are good reasons why hearing loss goes undetected, at least by the person with the loss.  The unfortunate result is that many people put off getting help for several years.

Understanding the characteristics of hearing loss that occurs in adults may explain why hearing loss can “sneak up” on someone, even when their family and friends are well aware of the problem.

Gradual.  A loss of hearing can develop so slowly that you’re not aware of any change from year to year.  A loss might occur at the rate of one decibel a year.  That’s a daily change of about .001 percent of your hearing.  No wonder it’s not noticed!  But 10 or 20 years of this gradual loss can lead to a very significant – yet unnoticed – hearing problem.

Partial.  You can develop a hearing loss for sounds in the range of speech clarity, but still have normal hearing sensitivity for background noises and for the loudness of speech.  That’s why someone with early onset hearing loss may say, “I can hear people talking . . . I just can’t understand them.”

Loud sounds are still loud.  In most cases, the hearing loss is for soft sounds, not for loud sounds.  Since loud sounds seem to be as loud as ever—how can there be a hearing loss?

Painless.  Although tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear) may accompany hearing loss, there is no feeling or sensation that alerts you to a change in hearing.

Invisible.  You can’t detect hearing loss by looking in someone’s ears.  Only an audiologic evaluation can determine whether hearing loss is present.

If you know someone who may have an undetected hearing loss, the first step is not to get hearing aids, but simply to have a professional hearing test.  And we’ve never had anyone complain if the results indicate normal hearing!