It’s common to go to the dentist or eye doctor at least once a year, but when was the last time you had your hearing checked? Prevention is the best way to extend your long-term hearing.

Do you find yourself frequently increasing the volume on your phone or TV? Do you often ask friends and family to repeat what they say? Don’t take your hearing for granted. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, about 20 percent of Americans report some degree of hearing loss.

What causes hearing loss?

Many conditions can trigger hearing loss, such as infection, genetics, ear canal blockage, aging and exposure to loud noises.

Age-induced hearing loss is the most common form. About one in three U.S. adults age 65 to 74 experiences hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have trouble hearing. Research suggests that in old age, hearing declines due to long-term exposure to noise; conditions common in older people, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, than can affect hearing; and medications that can damage hearing.

Noise is a common reason for partial or complete hearing loss — and it is completely preventable. Workplace noise is the biggest culprit, and people who work in manufacturing, construction, transportation and the music industry have the biggest risk, according to the CDC.

“Understanding the biological processes that affect susceptibility to hearing loss due to loud noise exposure is an important factor in reducing the risk,” said Keck Medicine of USC otologist Rick A. Friedman, MD, PhD, professor of otolaryngology and neurosurgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Noise-induced hearing is on the rise for teenagers. Researchers suspect that headphones are the cause for a 30 percent increase in teen hearing loss. Turning up the volume on your smartphone can blast your ears with 120 decibels — that’s similar to a night out at a concert.

Symptoms of hearing loss

Perhaps you are constantly asking people to repeat what they say. Or maybe you perceive slight changes in how you interact with people. Following are signs that signal hearing loss:

  • Asking people frequently to repeat what they say
  • Turning up the TV or radio higher than 60 percent
  • Being unable to hear someone behind you
  • Having difficulty hearing at the movies
  • Being unable to hear someone on the phone
  • Having trouble hearing in large groups

Get a hearing test

See your primary care physician or an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) to get tested. The doctors at the Hearing and Balance Center at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles offers comprehensive care, from diagnosis and treatment to assistive training and physical therapy. Keck specialists give you customized treatments, with both nonsurgical and surgical procedures to improve your hearing — and your quality of life.

Your doctor will use pure tone audiometry (PTA) to determine how well you hear various volumes and frequencies. You simply listen and respond to a series of tones and sounds by pressing a button.

If you are tested early and often, your doctor will have a baseline comparison to use as you age. The recommended interval for testing varies by age, according to the Association of Independent Hearing Healthcare Professionals:

Age Range How often
18 to 45 Every five years
45 to 60 Every three years
60 years plus Every two years

Prevention

Don’t wait for these signs of hearing loss before you have your hearing tested — it might be too late.
Prevention is the best way to extend your long-term hearing. Avoid too much noise; wear protective earphones or earplugs to keep loud noises out. And monitor how you listen to music with your earphones by using the 60-60 rule: Set the volume below 60 percent and take breaks from your headphones every 60 minutes.

Hearing loss is permanent. Do what you can now to protect your hearing.

By Heidi Tyline King

If you are in the Los Angeles area and looking for exceptional care from some of the top otolaryngologists in the world, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visit ent.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.