It’s often said that hearing loss is a slow-moving process. That’s part of what can make it rather insidious. Your hearing grows worse not in huge leaps but by tiny steps. And that can make the progressive decline in your ears difficult to track, especially if you aren’t looking for it. That’s why knowing the first signs of age-related hearing loss can be a big boost for your ear-defense.
Even though it’s difficult to spot, treating hearing loss early can help you avoid a wide variety of associated conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and even dementia. Prompt treatment can also help you preserve your current hearing levels. The best way to ensure treatment is to notice the early warning signs.
Early signs of hearing loss can be difficult to spot
The first signs of hearing loss tend to be subtle. It’s not like you wake up one day and, very suddenly, you can’t hear anything quieter than 65 decibels. Instead, the early signs of hearing loss camouflage themselves in your everyday activities.
Or, you can think about it another way. The human body (and the brain–let’s give some credit to the brain here) are amazingly adaptable. When your hearing starts to fade, your brain can start to compensate, helping you follow conversations or figure out who said what. Likewise, if your left ear starts to fade, maybe your right ear starts to pick up the slack and you unconsciously start tilting your head just a bit.
But your ears and brain can only compensate so much.
First signs of age-related hearing loss
If you’re worried that your hearing (or the hearing of a loved one) might be waning due to age, there are some common signs you can keep an eye out for:
- Increased volume on the TV, radio, or mobile phone: This is, perhaps, the single most well-known sign of hearing loss. It’s classic–and often cited. But it’s also easy to see and easy to track (and easy to relate to). If you’re constantly turning up the volume, that’s a sign that you aren’t hearing as well as you used to.
- A tough time hearing in crowded spaces: One of the things your brain is remarkably good at is following individual voices in a crowded room. But as your hearing gets worse, your brain has less information to work with. Hearing in a crowded room can quickly become a chore. If following these conversations is harder than it used to be (or you find yourself opting out of more conversations than you previously did), it’s worth getting your ears checked.
- You can’t tell the difference between “s” and “th” sounds anymore: There’s something about the wavelength that these sounds tend to be spoken on that can make them particularly difficult to hear when your ears aren’t at their peak. The same is true of other consonants as well, but you should especially pay attention to those “s” and “th” sounds.
- You’re asking people to repeat themselves often: This one shouldn’t come as a huge shock. But, often, you won’t realize you’re doing it. When you have a challenging time hearing something, you might request some repetition. When this starts happening more often, it should raise some red flags around your ears.
Look out for these subtle signs of hearing loss, too
There are some signs of hearing loss that don’t seem to have much to do with your hearing. These are subtle signs, no doubt, but they can be a leading indicator that your ears are struggling.
- Frequent headaches: When your hearing begins to decline, your ears are still straining to hear sounds. They’re working hard. And that prolonged strain also strains your brain and can translate into chronic headaches.
- Trouble focusing: If your brain is having to devote more resources to hearing, you may have less concentration power available to get through your daily routines. As a result, you may notice some trouble focusing.
- Restless nights: Insomnia is, ironically, a sign of hearing loss. You might think the quiet makes it easier to sleep, but the strain puts your brain into a chronic state of alertness.
When you notice any of these signs of age-related hearing loss, it’s worth scheduling an appointment with a hearing specialist to determine whether or not you are experiencing the early stages of hearing decline. Then, you can formulate treatment plans that can protect your hearing.
Hearing loss is a slow-moving process. With the right knowledge, you can stay ahead of it.