An Invisible Problem


by Kristen Davis, Au.D., Doctor of Audiology, Davis Audiology 

Hearing loss is one of the most common health problems in this country (along with arthritis and hypertension). But hearing loss may be the most undetected and untreated problem in adults, and the person with the hearing problem is often the last one to become aware of it. As a result, many people put off getting help for several years even when family, friends, and co-workers are aware of the hearing difficulties. Understanding four common characteristics of hearing loss may explain why it often goes undetected.

Four Characteristics


Hearing loss can develop so slowly that you’re not aware of any change from year to year. A loss of one decibel of hearing each year is not noticeable, but 10 to 20 years of gradual loss can lead to a significant-but unnoticed-hearing problem.


You can develop a hearing loss for sounds in the speech clarity range, but still have normal hearing sensitivity for many of the sounds around you. That’s why someone with early onset hearing loss may say, “I can hear people talking…I just can’t understand them.”


Although tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear) may accompany hearing loss, usually there is no feeling or sensation that alerts you to a change in hearing.


You can’t detect hearing loss by looking in someone’s ears. Only an audiologic evaluation can determine whether a hearing loss is present.

Because of these characteristics, it’s understandable that someone in the early stages of hearing loss often believes there is no problem, despite what family and friends say. Unfortunately, the person may then put off getting help for several years-and almost always says, “I should have done this years ago.”

If you think you know someone who has an undetected hearing loss, please ask him or her to read this article. The first step is not to get hearing aids, but simply to have a hearing test. In most instances, the diagnostic hearing evaluation is a covered medical expense by your health insurance. AND, we’ve never heard anyone complain if the results indicate normal hearing.