I just had a hearing test, at the age of 27, and it turns out I'm slightly deaf in my left ear. Fortunately it's temporary (I have seriously impacted wax that needs to be syringed out by a doctor), but I kept delaying getting my hearing tested because, hey, nobody loses their hearing in their 20s. I must have been imagining things/being a hypochondriac/whatever! Well, turns out I wasn't. The doctor was kind of amazed I was hearing anything out of that ear at all. It seems that there are certain signs you shouldn't ignore when it comes to your hearing — even if you're in your 20s, come from a completely hearing-normal background, and are convinced it couldn't happen to you. Guess what: it could.
Hearing loss among the young is most commonly discussed when it comes to personal music players and loud music. It does seem that being exposed to loud sounds, those at at high decibels, on the regular is bad for your hearing (high frequency sounds are particularly damaging, so it's worth getting good-quality headphones that pick up on bass well). It's generally viewed as wise by audiologists to lower your music volume a lot, but there are other potential causes for hearing difficulties in your twenties, from wax buildup (known as cerumen impaction) to genetic factors.
So if you have any of these nine signs, go get your hearing tested. It won't take long, it won't hurt, and you'll finally have an answer for why you keep going "WHAT?" at parties.
1. Your Ears Keep Ringing
Tinnitus, or ringing in the inner ear, is what we all experience after exposure to particularly loud noises (rock concerts are notorious tinnitus causers). It's a shift in our perception of noise, and may actually not sound like ringing at all. It might just be a buzzing, hissing, or other sound that relates to the malfunction of the inner ear. Tinnitus of any kind is considered a sign of hearing loss, as tinnitus is produced when the brain becomes hyper-aware of the fact that it's not picking up on enough sound. If it continues way after the original loud noise or doesn't seem to be connected to any event in particular, you should get it checked.
Even if your ears aren't ringing, if you habitually work or play in loud places you should be getting checked regularly. Exposure to loud volume noises is a common cause of hearing loss, so better safe than sorry.
2. You Can't Pick Up Conversations In Crowded Places
This was my problem. At parties, crowded cafes, restaurants and the like, I found it tricky to keep track of conversations: people seemed to be speaking indistinctly. It's one thing to be able to hear clearly in a quiet room, but when there's a lot of sonic interference and other noises, a poorly functioning ear finds it harder to sort out and understand information.
3. You Keep Asking People To Repeat Themselves
If your new favorite word is "WHAT?", you may have hearing loss. This may actually lead to slightly hilarious misunderstandings ("I thought you said XYZ!"), but it's also a bit tiresome for everybody else, because they have to keep repeating their amazingly timed joke and it's just never going to be as funny the second time.
4. You Have Difficulty Pinpointing The Directions Sounds Are Coming From
It turns out that an interesting sign of hearing loss is the inability to really pinpoint where sounds are actually coming from, particularly in crowded places. It can seem frankly bizarre to hear a noise apparently coming from nowhere in particular when everybody assures you it's the front door/your phone/somebody trying to tell you the aforementioned famous joke, but it's part of having limited hearing.
5. You Keep Turning Up The Volume
If your girlfriend keeps complaining that the TV is on way too loud, this may be a sign that you've lost "normal" perceptions of sound and volume. This was my daily life: I'd need to put the subtitles on basically everything while I was doing anything else except sitting and watching with my full attention, because I just wouldn't catch some of the relevant information otherwise. (David Attenborough is, by the way, even more eloquent about tigers in subtitles.)
6. You Have A Particular Problem Hearing Women Or Kids
It seems that if you've lost hearing in a particular frequency, you may find it particularly difficult to hear women and children, who naturally speak at a higher frequency than many men. This is possibly part of normal age-related hearing loss, where higher frequencies are often the first to go (a phenomenon known as presbycusis), but it's definitely something to be attentive about.
7. You've Had An Ear Infection Or Ear Wax Buildup
If you've had an ear infection, or repeated ones, your GP will likely have told you to have a hearing test to make sure they haven't damaged your inner ear. Seriously, though, tell your hearing tester if you've had one before they begin the test, to help them prepare for it.
You also need to pay attention to your earwax. If you have a history of earwax blockage, or notice that your inner ear is itchy or that wax keeps draining out of it, you may be at risk of hearing loss. (Welcome to a lesson I learned the hard way.)
8. You're Experiencing Vertigo
We all know that the inner ear is responsible for balance and our capability to stand on tightropes, which means that inexplicable vertigo is another sign that something in the ear's gone awry. If it happens when you're at a great height or unbalanced, that's not so peculiar; if it seems to hit on flat ground or for no reason, an ear check would be wise.
9. You Get Tired From Trying To Follow Conversations
This is an interesting emotional consequence: hearing specialists report that people who've started losing hearing but don't realise it often find themselves tired after conversations, because they've had to work so hard to track what's being said. It may stress you out considerably, make you yell at people to speak more clearly, defiantly insist everybody's mumbling on purpose, or generally be angsty about being left out. Having to focus deliberately on figuring out what people are saying does actually take a toll on your attention.
If that's your experience, get thee to a audiologist recommended by your GP. And no, you are likely not going to be prescribed an ear trumpet. (I was disappointed too.)
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