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At What Age Should Hearing Screening Begin?

Hearing Tests

Some people are quick to see their doctor for a blood pressure and cholesterol check, but never consider having a hearing screening test. Hearing loss affects around 17% of the general population. Although older adults are the more common recipients of hearing loss, there's a growing epidemic of hearing problems among adolescents and teens, thanks to their love of loud music and the propensity to wear personal sound devices like ear buds.

The Importance of Hearing Loss Tests

Why is it so important to find out whether you have hearing problems? Hearing problems can sneak up on you. The first sign is often difficulty hearing high frequencies and making out what someone's saying when there's lots of background noise or, sometimes, ringing in the ears. Left untreated, hearing loss often worsens, and in some cases, leads to depression, anxiety or feelings of social isolation. You feel cut off from the rest of the world because you can't hear what other people are saying!

Needless to say, it's important to get your hearing checked just as it is to monitor your visual acuity, blood pressure and other health parameters. So when should you start getting hearing tests? Most guidelines recommend getting screened for hearing loss beginning at age 50, assuming you're otherwise healthy and have no known hearing problems.

Some experts believe screening should begin at a younger age due to the increasing incidence of hearing impairment in adolescents and teens. If you work around heavy machinery or in an environment where you're exposed to loud noise, testing should begin earlier, and anytime you have symptoms of hearing loss, get evaluated as soon as possible.

How is screening carried out? Most doctors can do a "whispered voice" hearing screen to see if a whisper is audible. Audiometry, a more precise way to screen for hearing loss, determines whether there's hearing impairment across the entire spectrum of sound frequencies that correspond to speech. Some physicians do this test, while others will refer people who need screening to an audiologist.

References:

  • Am Fam Physician. 2012 Jun 15;85(12):1150-6.
  • Am Fam Physician. 2013 Jan 1;87(1):41-47.
  • American Speech Language Hearing Association. "Untreated Hearing Loss - A Growing National Epidemic"