Our ears are, in many ways, one of our most precious organs.

It's only when they stop functioning properly that we realize how much we rely on them. 

Although not all hearing loss is preventable, much of it is, provided it's caught early enough. That means learning to recognize the warning signs that you might be suffering from hearing damage. We've compiled the major ones below. 

You've Been Exposed to Traumatic Noise

While unprotected exposure to extreme noise doesn't guarantee hearing damage, it's still in your best interests to schedule an appointment with your audiologist. This is especially true if the exposure was sudden, violent, or unexpected. With partial credit to The Institute of Engineering and Technology's Engineering and Technology magazine, examples may include: 

  • Sirens
  • Firecrackers and other explosions
  • Car accidents
  • Gunshots
  • Rocket engines
  • Volcanic eruptions
  • Howler monkeys

Long-term exposure to less traumatic noise, such as concerts, bars, construction work, and even your music, can also contribute. 

Everything is Muffled

One of the earliest signs that you've damaged your hearing can be found in conversation. You might have difficulty understanding people when they speak to you, especially over the phone, video chat, or in a crowded setting. Women, children, and others with higher-pitched voices might be particularly difficult to understand.

Either way, you're constantly asking people to repeat themselves, much to their chagrin. You might also find conversation and social interaction exhausting since your brain has to work overtime to make up for the damage to your ears. 

Alternatively, you might notice that your surroundings are somehow muffled. Everyday noises that were once part of your home's regular soundscape seem to have vanished, and in more extreme cases, you might even miss notification bells or alarm clocks. This one is somewhat difficult to diagnose if you live alone — ask a friend or partner what they hear and see if it lines up with your hearing. 

Your Ears Are Ringing (Constantly)

Tinnitus can be caused by many different factors. Most of the time, it comes and goes, and doesn't really indicate anything problematic. In some cases, however, it may be the precursor to hearing loss or another serious condition. 

You should be concerned about your tinnitus if: 

  • It never goes away.
  • It only occurs in one ear. 
  • The onset happened suddenly and without any apparent cause. 
  • You experience vertigo alongside tinnitus. 
  • It's accompanied by hearing impairment. 
  • It's accompanied by pain, itching, or burning. 
  • You've recently suffered a head injury. 
  • Rather than ringing, your tinnitus sounds more like a heartbeat. 

Keep an Ear Out

Many different things can cause hearing loss, but ultimately, the warning signs that you may be suffering from it are almost always the same. So the best advice we can give is to pay attention and schedule regular auditory exams. That way, you might be able to catch your hearing loss before you've even noticed it.