Hearing loss affects 31 million Americans. Still, only 20% of those who need a hearing aid own one. Hearing loss is a condition that, in most cases, develops gradually—many people don’t realize they are affected. Fortunately, modern hearing care has become more aware of the symptoms of hearing loss. This increased awareness has helped millions hear better and enjoy life more.

Undetected But Significant: Hearing is one of the basic ways we communicate and interact with each other and the environment. Undetected hearing loss can have serious consequences.

Children with undetected hearing problems are sometimes misidentified as being mentally challenged or as having learning disabilities. Because speech is normally acquired through repeating what is heard, such children are at an early disadvantage. Their education and development may be stunted by the lack of proper treatment.

According to a survey by the National Council on Aging, older people with undetected hearing loss are more likely to report depression, anxiety, paranoia, emotional problems, and reduced social activity. Seniors who lose their hearing may experience these common scenarios before discovering their loss. The survey concluded that seniors who treat their hearing loss have better relationships with their families, improved mental health, greater independence, and stronger feelings of security.

Warning Signs: Although hearing loss is a very personal condition, the symptoms are fairly consistent. Hearing care practitioners generally ask a series of questions to identify whether a person has experienced hearing loss.

Beltone, a leading manufacturer of hearing aids, lists the following 10 warning signs of hearing loss in their “The Gift of Hearing” brochure:

  1. People seem to mumble more frequently.
  2. You hear, but have trouble understanding all the words in conversation.
  3. You often ask people to repeat themselves.
  4. You find telephone conversation increasingly difficult.
  5. Your family or friends complain that you play the TV or radio too loudly.
  6. You no longer hear normal household sounds, such as the dripping of a faucet or the ringing of a doorbell.
  7. You have trouble hearing when your back is turned to the speaker.
  8. You have been told that you speak too loudly.
  9. You experience ringing in your ears.
  10. You have difficulty understanding conversation when in a large group or crowd.

If a person experiences these warning signs repeatedly or in combination, it may indicate a hearing loss.

The Only Way to Know for Sure: Hearing loss itself can be misunderstood. Wax buildup in the ear canal is a common occurrence that adversely affects hearing. Often people assume they have a permanent loss when, in fact, they don’t.

A hearing screening and video otoscope inspection (a simple procedure in which a picture of a person’s ear canal is taken) can provide an accurate evaluation of what you’re hearing and what you’re not.

According to one Beltone Hearing Care Practitioner, “When I give someone an otoscope inspection, I often find that simple wax buildup is contributing to their hearing problem.”

Testing is Available to Anyone: Beltone offers hearing screenings at all of their 1,500 Hearing Care Centers throughout the nation. If you’re interested in a hearing screening to see how you can improve your hearing, visit beltone.com.