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Hearing changes are expected as you get older. However, like going gray, the changes rarely happen instantly. Imagine someone’s first silver strands showing in a specific light. The beginning of age-related hearing issues can be just as subtle.

“Can you repeat that?” “Huh?” If you’re having more issues hearing what someone is saying than before, you may have early hearing loss. It’s a widespread issue, with age-related loss affecting half of the people over 65. Younger people can also experience hearing loss caused by machines at work or loud music.

You can treat some types of hearing loss, but most require timely medical attention. It’s essential to pay attention to the early signs. People with untreated hearing loss are more likely to feel isolated, suffer depression, and have memory issues. Here are some signs of hearing loss that you shouldn’t ignore.

Sudden hearing loss in one ear.

The majority of hearing loss is steady. However, if you suddenly go deaf in one ear or over a few days, it may be time to call your doctor. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is an inner ear condition that affects close to 66,000 Americans each year. Doctors must treat this condition within 10 to 14 days before permanent hearing loss. Some will notice a pop sound, and then the sound disappears. Others will wake up hearing nothing in one ear. You may also experience steady diminishing hearing over a day or two. If you notice these signs, you should immediately speak with your doctor.

Balance issues.

If you notice that you’re becoming clumsier, experience vertigo, or have issues with your ability to balance, the reason may be your ears. Balance and hearing are connected to mechanisms within our inner ears. A Johns Hopkins University study found that people with hearing loss are more likely to experience falls than people without hearing loss. Your physician should evaluate these symptoms to establish whether hearing correction, like with hearing aids, is necessary.

Your ears start ringing.

Tinnitus is defined as ringing or other noises in your ears, like buzzing, clicking, roaring, or hissing. Tinnitus can signify numerous conditions like heart disease, thyroid problems, or ear infections. However, one of its leading causes is noise-induced hearing loss. It’s typically the initial sign for older people that their hearing ability is fading. If you experience tinnitus, it may be time to talk to your doctor about getting your hearing tested.

Experiencing pain with specific sounds.

Another sign of hearing loss is hearing other sounds more intensely to the point of feeling pain. As your hearing fades overall, you might start feeling more sensitive to specific sounds in one or both ears. This pain is a symptom of a condition called hyperacusis. The sounds you’re vulnerable to might create physical discomfort or seem excessively loud. It’s linked to hearing loss of the inner ear by exposure to loud noise. If these symptoms persist, it may be best to consult a hearing professional to see if you suffer from hearing loss and what treatments may be available.

Problems hearing in groups.

If you’re talking with one person in a quiet, peaceful environment, you might not experience any trouble with your hearing. However, if you’re trying to talk with a group of people in a louder location, like a party or restaurant, you may realize you have issues grasping what people are saying. This common issue is sometimes called hidden hearing loss because it may not be found in typical hearing tests. However, it might be a precursor to hearing loss.

Frequent use of closed captioning.

Do you find yourself increasing the TV volume higher than others in your household? Are you disgruntled by how many characters on TV mumble? Have you started using closed captioning more frequently? If you answered yes to any of these questions, these might indicate your hearing loss. The human voice falls within the range of high-frequency tones often affected by hearing loss. Having trouble with hearing the television is a sign for you to contact your doctor.

Becoming more forgetful.

Are you getting appointment times mixed up or picking up the wrong thing for your spouse at the grocery store? Sometimes, what looks like forgetfulness can be because of hearing loss, making you miss important information. Researchers have found that hearing loss can cause cognitive issues. Our brains need auditory stimulation to function correctly, or we risk developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. This is another reason it’s vital to address hearing problems early and get hearing aids when necessary. Hearing aids don’t make you old; they keep you mentally connected and engaged with the people around you.

Retreating from conversations.

Another early hearing loss sign is “listening fatigue.” You might get tired after a day of listening to customers or a night of trying to understand dinner party discussions, so much so that you start avoiding talking in groups. You may also feel that it’s harder to comprehend what people are saying, and you’re scared that you’ll make an awkward comment or ask a dumb question. So you withdraw from conversations completely. This withdrawn nature is a sign that you need to find an audiologist and take an assessment.

You watch lips instead of making eye contact.

When one sense doesn’t work correctly, the brain tries to overcompensate with another sense, in this case, eyesight. Imagine the shape of someone’s lisp when they say “p” or “f.” You can see the sounds even though you can’t hear them. This may cause you to move your eyes from making eye contact to watching the speaker’s lips instead.

Hearing loss is a common thing that people experience. However, it can be easy to catch it early on, so there aren’t any lasting effects. If you find yourself having trouble hearing, now is the time to talk to your doctor or an audiologist. You don’t want to wait too long because the damage may already be done. An audiologist can help diagnose your issues and create a plan moving forward.

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