Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States — more prevalent than diabetes or cancer. It can affect people in a myriad of unexpected ways. Hearing loss is associated with other medical conditions, can lead to social isolation and depression, and can affect a person’s employment status and success. Yet those with hearing loss often wait years to treat it — if they treat it at all.

By being proactive, people with hearing loss can live fuller and more enjoyable lives. Here is what you can do if you are concerned:

1. Know the signs.

Everyone has trouble hearing from time to time, so how do you know when you may be experiencing true hearing loss? Ask yourself these questions.

Do I...

  • have trouble hearing on the phone?
  • hear better in one ear than the other when on the phone?
  • need to listen carefully to understand conversation?
  • have trouble hearing when it is noisy?
  • feel dizziness, pain or ringing in my ears?
  • ask people to repeat themselves?
  • respond inappropriately after misunderstanding what people say?
  • have trouble understanding women and children?
  • struggle to understand conversation when more than one person is talking at the same time?

Do family members or coworkers...

  • seem to mumble?
  • say I miss what they said?
  • get upset because I don’t understand what they say?
  • tell me that I turn the TV volume up too high?

2. Seek professional help.

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, visit a certified audiologist for a hearing evaluation. A searchable database of these professionals is available at www.asha.org/profind.

Make the most of your appointment by taking these steps:

Do your homework. Do some basic research about hearing loss and treatment options ahead of time. Prepare a list of questions. Understand your insurance coverage.

Keep an open mind. An audiologist may recommend a different treatment plan than you envisioned. Consider all possible solutions.

Don’t expect a quick fix. It may take a number of visits to an audiologist to treat your hearing loss. If you receive a hearing aid, for instance, the process of fine-tuning it may take a few months. The follow-up is worth it in the end.

3. Empower a support system.

Family and friends can be a tremendous help. They can attend audiology appointments to help you remember or write down information; assist in navigating insurance issues; and be supportive and sensitive to the frustration, anger or other emotions you may experience. They can also adopt some simple strategies to improve conversation and understanding, including:

  • Speak clearly and slowly.
  • Get your attention before beginning a conversation, such as by tapping you on the shoulder or using a visual cue like pointing.
  • Keep their hands away from their mouth and, if relevant, trim facial hair because facial cues (including lip movements) help people with hearing loss “see” what they don’t hear.
  • Move away from noise and choose quiet places for conversation.
  • Pick quiet restaurants or off times to dine out.