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It takes the average person with hearing loss 5 to 7 years before getting a professional diagnosis, despite the fact that the warning signs of hearing loss are very clear to others. But are those with hearing loss just too stubborn to get help? No, actually, and for a handful of specific reasons.

Maybe you know someone with hearing loss who either denies the difficulties or declines to seek professional help, and despite the fact that this is no doubt frustrating, it is very feasible that the indicators of hearing loss are much more clear to you than they are to them.

Here are the reasons why:

1. Hearing loss is gradual

In the majority of instances, hearing loss develops so slowly and gradually that the affected person simply doesn’t realize the change. While you would detect an quick change from normal hearing to a 25 decibel hearing loss (characterized as moderate hearing loss), you wouldn’t notice the smaller change of a 1-2 decibel loss.

So a slow loss of 1-2 decibels over 10-20 years, while producing a 20-40 total decibel loss, is not going to be noticeable at any given moment in time for those afflicted. That’s why friends and family are almost always the first to detect hearing loss.

2. Hearing loss is often partial (high-frequency only)

The majority of hearing loss scenarios are classified as high-frequency hearing loss, which means that the affected person can still hear low-frequency background sounds normally. Whereas speech, which is a high-frequency sound, is challenging for those with hearing loss to comprehend, other sounds can usually be heard normally. This is why it’s commonplace for those with hearing loss to state, “my hearing is fine, everyone else mumbles.”

3. Hearing loss is not addressed by the family doctor

People suffering with hearing loss can attain a mistaken sense of well-being after their annual physical. It’s quite common to hear people state “if I had hearing loss, my doctor would have told me.”

This is of course not true because only 14% of physicians consistently screen for hearing loss during the course of the annual checkup. Not to mention that the principal symptom for the majority of cases of hearing loss — trouble comprehending speech in the presence of background noise — will not present itself in a calm office setting.

4. The burden of hearing loss can be shared or passed on to others

How do you address hearing loss when there’s no cure? The answer is straight forward: amplify sounds. The problem is, while hearing aids are the most effective at amplifying sounds, they are not the only way to accomplish it — which individuals with hearing loss rapidly find out.

Those with hearing loss regularly turn up the volume on everything, to the detriment of those around them. TVs and radios are played exceedingly loud and people are made to either scream or repeat themselves. The individual with hearing loss can get by just fine with this strategy, but only by transferring the burden to friends, family members, and colleagues.

5. Hearing loss is pain-free and invisible

Hearing loss is predominately subjective: it cannot be diagnosed by visible investigation and it usually is not accompanied by any pain or discomfort. If those with hearing loss do not perceive a problem, largely due to the reasons above, then they probably won’t take action.

The only method to properly diagnose hearing loss is through audiometry, which will determine the specific decibel level hearing loss at multiple sound frequencies. This is the only way to objectively determine whether hearing loss is present, but the difficult part is of course getting to that point.

How to approach those with hearing loss

Hopefully, this article has established some empathy. It is always frustrating when someone with hearing loss refuses to admit the problem, but keep in mind, they may legitimately not understand the extent of the problem. As an alternative to demanding that they get their hearing examined, a more effective method may be to educate them on the characteristics of hearing loss that make the condition essentially invisible.

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