While it’s not the only reason you might need to see an audiologist, Hearing loss is one of the most common. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 15 percent of American adults “report some trouble hearing.” With risk factors including genetics and preexisting conditions, injuries, or exposure to loud noises or ototoxic (harmful to the ear) chemicals or medicines.
Of course, risk factors alone aren’t a major cause for concern (though preventative measures are certainly recommended). Still, catching symptoms early can make all the difference in treating hearing loss and preventing further damage. Here are three signs of hearing loss that you should mention to your doctor or audiologist.
Difficulty Hearing and Distinguishing Sounds
Unsurprisingly, the symptoms most commonly associated with hearing loss are difficulty hearing or distinguishing sounds. This can manifest in many ways and at a variety of stages.
You might struggle to understand someone over the phone or in a loud area or find yourself asking friends to repeat themselves or speak more loudly or clearly. Sounds or conversations might seem muffled or you might not be able to hear high pitched sounds clearly—think back to the hearing tests you took in school as a kid. It might even be as simple as having to turn up the volume on your radio or television.
Hearing difficulties may be remedied by treating underlying conditions, performing surgery, or utilizing hearing aids or implants.
Though it’s most often associated with ringing in the ears, tinnitus is actually defined more broadly as the hearing of a sound when there’s no external sound to be heard. You might experience it as the typical “My ears are ringing!” or with a different sound, like humming, hissing, buzzing, roaring, or clicking. A high-pitched ringing in both ears, however, is most often associated with hearing loss.
There are two types of tinnitus: subjective tinnitus, where only the patient can hear the noise, and objective tinnitus, where the doctor can also hear it while conducting an exam. If an underlying medical condition isn’t to blame, your doctor might try suppressing the sound through white noise, hearing aids, or retraining, or prescribing medication to lessen your symptoms.
Of these signs, recruitment is probably the one you’ll recognize least by its technical term. But, if you’re dealing with symptoms of hearing loss, it could easily be something you encounter every day.
A type of sound sensitivity, recruitment is defined as “the perceptual phenomenon of sounds becoming rapidly louder with increasing sound level” by Philip X. Joris of the Laboratory of Auditory Neurophysiology at the University of Leuven.
More simply, recruitment occurs when a sound quickly goes from being too quiet to make out to be too loud for comfort. You might experience this as needing to ask someone to speak up, then asking them to stop shouting moments later. The most common course of treatment for recruitment is through the use of broadband pink noise.
It’s important to keep in mind, too, that you won’t always be the first one to notice these symptoms. In fact, it’s likely that those around you will acknowledge your difficulties before you recognize them yourself. If a loved one mentions their concern, it’s worth mentioning to your doctor.
Early detection is key to treating hearing loss, so it’s important to mention your symptoms to your family medical doctor. If you’re exhibiting any of these signs, they may refer you to an audiologist for further testing, diagnosis, and treatment. While hearing typically can’t be restored, your symptoms or underlying conditions can be treated to ensure their progression is stalled and further damage is prevented.