Do you need a hearing exam? 6 signs you don't want to miss

It's easy to ignore symptoms that don't seem like a big deal. But they could be a red flag that you need to get your hearing checked.

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Maybe it’s a vague feeling that you’re missing something important during a meeting at work because you couldn’t quite hear it. Or you’re repeatedly having to turn up the volume to listen to your favorite podcast.

It could be time to pay attention. More than 37 million U.S. adults report that they have some trouble hearing, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).1 And age-related hearing loss gradually gets worse as you get older. Many people begin noticing age-related hearing loss in their 50s and 60s.2

Not being able to hear well can certainly be frustrating for you and your loved ones. But it can also affect your health and well-being. And the signs you might have hearing loss can sneak up on you.

“Often, people experience gradual hearing loss — meaning that it gets a little worse over time. This gradual change can make it hard to tell that you are having more trouble hearing,” says Elizabeth Thompson, Au.D. She’s the president of Hickory Audiology in Bloomington, Indiana.

That’s why it’s key to get your hearing checked by a hearing care professional if you notice any red flags. They can help figure out what’s causing your hearing problems. And they can recommend the best treatment for you, which may include hearing aids.

Here are 6 signs that it might be time for a hearing exam and consultation, and where to get started.

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Sign #1: Sounds are too soft

Does it seem like the TV or radio never sound quite loud enough to you? Maybe your partner or family members complain about the volume when you turn it up. That’s a classic sign of hearing loss.3

Hearing women’s and children’s voices may be especially difficult, since they speak in higher pitches.4 The same might be true of birds, doorbells and alarm clocks.

Sign #2: It’s hard to follow conversation if there’s background noise

Do you have a hard time understanding what others are saying in a noisy restaurant? People with hearing loss often have trouble following conversations in loud or crowded places.3 “You can hear, but you can’t understand what is being said,” explains Thompson. Group conversations, with a couple of friends or family members speaking at once, can also be a challenge.1

Talking on the phone may have become more frustrating too. But video chatting may be easier to understand because you can look at the speaker, so visual cues help you fill in missing information.6 The same is true when people are talking behind you. You may not hear them because you’re missing visual cues.

Sign #3: Friends and family are starting to notice

People tell you that you’re speaking too softly or talking too loudly.4 Or you get annoyed with other people because you think they're mumbling.

Another clue? “Asking people to repeat themselves has become part of your daily routine,” says Thompson. Or you keep asking others to talk more slowly or clarify what they’re saying. You may also disengage from a conversation when you can’t follow along.

Sign #4: You mix up certain sounds

You’ve been known to give the wrong responses to questions or statements that you didn’t hear correctly. Consonants trip you up. An s may sound like an f, a p may sound like a t, and sh can sound like th.5

Sign #5: It’s getting harder to live your life

Trying to hear — people, TV, music — is mentally and physically draining. You also feel like you’re getting clumsier, because hearing loss can affect your sense of balance.7

And if it’s just too hard to hear well, you may find yourself avoiding noisy social situations.1 So you withdraw.

Sign #6: You hear ringing in your ears

This is known as tinnitus. About 10% to 25% of American adults live with this condition.8 Some people hear a buzzing sound in their ears instead of ringing. Tinnitus can be caused by any number of things, including:8

  • Hearing loss
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Too much earwax
  • Side effects of certain medications

Not sure if any of these signs apply to you or if you even need a hearing screening? You can take a preliminary online hearing test. While it may not give you official results, it could help you decide whether to get a comprehensive exam.

What to do if you have signs of hearing loss

See a hearing care professional, advises Thompson. They can give you a thorough hearing exam and then go over the results with you.

You can also make an appointment with your primary care provider, who can do a basic hearing exam. This may be a good place to start if you have ringing in your ears, according to the NIDCD.8 The provider can check for an ear infection or wax buildup. They can then refer you to an ear, nose and throat provider or to a hearing health professional for further testing.

Ready to request a hearing exam and consultation? EPIC Hearing has a wide network of hearing care professionals. Find a provider.

After the hearing exam, your hearing care professional will go over the results with you and discuss your symptoms. Then they’ll come up with a treatment plan, says Thompson. That may include hearing aids.

You may feel self-conscious at first, says Thompson. “But hearing aids are less noticeable than they’ve ever been. And they come in a range of styles.” In fact, hearing aids can be so tiny and high-tech these days that no one will spot them, says Thompson.

The most important thing to remember? Getting the hearing support you need can help you hear better. So don’t ignore the symptoms that something’s wrong.


  1. Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Last reviewed March 17, 2023.
  2. Hearing test Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed August 30, 2022.
  3. Hearing loss Mayo Clinic. Last reviewed March 30, 2023.
  4. Hearing loss in adults American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Accessed February 21, 2024.
  5. How do I know if I have hearing loss caused by loud noise? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last reviewed August 24, 2021.
  6. What if I already have hearing loss? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last reviewed October 17, 2022.
  7. Increased risk of falling American Academy of Audiology. Accessed February 14, 2024.
  8. Tinnitus National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Last updated May 1, 2023.

Information is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of a licensed medical provider. Consult your provider prior to making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine.

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