Group of elderly friends sitting around a table playing cards and talking about Lexie Lumen hearing aids. The man asks "How do I know I have hearing loss?"

What are The Early Signs of Hearing Loss?

Published: April 28, 2021

Updated: August 1, 2022

It’s not easy to know if your hearing is bad and the early signs of hearing loss are easy to miss. Even though ears look relatively similar on the outside, a person’s hearing ability is as unique as their fingerprints. That means that each person will have their own unique experience and preference of hearing and listening. It also means that difficulty with hearing is not the same for everyone, as it differs based on factors such as age, activities on a day-to-day basis, listening environments, and who you communicate with. The hearing experience of a young, active businessperson with constantly changing and complex listening environments would be different from a retired person who spends more time at home, engaged in 1-on-1 conversations. This is why it’s important to consider these factors when describing hearing abilities and difficulties.

Easy to miss

A hearing difficulty is not always obvious. When someone has difficulty seeing, they know that they are struggling to see compared to how their sight was before. However, when someone experiences difficulty hearing, they’re not always aware of it because they may not realize what sounds they are missing out on. Often, the people around them will notice that they are struggling with their hearing before they do.

A key indicator of hearing loss is if the people around you tell you that they’ve noticed that you’re not hearing them well. Keep in mind, they’re probably right.

Coping mechanisms

Most people with hearing difficulties can cope fairly well in ideal listening situations. However, with our busy lifestyles and constantly being surrounded by noise, our coping mechanisms become more strained. People often develop skills to cope in these difficult listening situations without actually realizing it.

Coping skills may include standing closer to the person speaking, asking people to repeat themselves, regular nodding, cupping the ears, lip-reading, watching facial expressions, gestures, and body language. The brain is also good at filling in gaps in information during a conversation that’s caused by difficulty with hearing. These skills are extremely helpful to both people with normal hearing and those with hearing difficulties. However, it can also delay them from realizing that they are experiencing trouble with their hearing.

Hearing loss risk factors

Certain factors may put someone at greater risk of developing a hearing difficulty. Some of the more common risk factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Increasing age
  • A family history of hearing difficulties
  • A history of childhood ear problems
  • A history of noise exposure
  • The use of certain medication which can be harmful to the ears
  • Trauma to the head or ear
  • A stroke.

It is advisable to routinely monitor your hearing if any of the above-mentioned risk factors are applicable, as hearing loss can develop gradually.

How do I know I may have hearing loss?

It is necessary to note that everyone’s hearing experience is different, and therefore difficulties experienced will be different too. However, the early signs of hearing loss experienced by most includes:

  • Constantly asking people to repeat themselves
  • Guessing what people are saying or pretending to hear
  • Becoming frustrated during conversations
  • Withdrawing from people or social situations because it’s difficult to hear speech
  • Struggling to understand speech from a distance or without visual cues
  • Struggling to hear the television/radio or increasing the volume to hear better
  • Struggling to hear on the telephone
  • Struggling to discriminate between speech or sounds in the environment or to determine where the sound is coming from
  • Speaking louder than you usually do
  • Concentrating hard to hear what people are saying
  • Being off-balance or unstable
  • Experiencing a ringing sound in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Feeling like your ear is blocked

It is sometimes difficult to know if you are having trouble with your hearing, or if other people are just mumbling. One of the primary concerns of people with hearing difficulty is struggling to hear and understand speech in the presence of background noise. The general feedback is that they are aware that someone is saying something, but they struggle to determine exactly what is being said. Speech clarity is compromised when hearing is affected and this might present in various environments such as:

  • Struggling to hear a conversation at a noisy restaurant
  • Struggling to hear a speaker at a meeting where there is background noise
  • Struggling to hear a teller at a noisy supermarket.

Even though someone may have some of the early signs of hear loss, they often wonder how bad their hearing may be, and if it is acceptable for their age. No matter how old you may be, compromised hearing is never acceptable.

If you have any concerns or if a family member or friend raised a concern with regards to your hearing abilities it is worth talking to a hearing health care provider or administering a free online hearing screening. This quick screening determines the ability to hear speech (digits) in the presence of background noise, as this is often the first sign of hearing difficulty. The results will immediately inform you if you need to consider further testing.

Image of post writer Hema Thakor.

Written by Hema Thakor

B. Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology

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