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Don't Ignore These 4 Signs That Experts Say Could Mean You're Experiencing Hearing Loss

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While we often think of hearing loss as something that only happens to much older people ― that’s actually not the case.

According to the National Institute of Deafness and Hearing Disorders, 1 in 8 people in the United States over the age of 12 have hearing loss in both ears, and about 28.8 million U.S. adults could benefit from hearing aids.

While struggling to hear may be the most obvious sign that you need to get your ears checked, it’s not the only one. We asked audiologists to share the top signs that it’s time to get your hearing checked. Here’s what they had to say:

1. You’re struggling to keep up with conversations.

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If you constantly find yourself saying “what?” during conversations, it may be time to get your ears checked.

“Straining to hear when talking with others or keeping up in conversations is a big one,” said Terry Zwolan, director of Audiology Access & Standard of Care for Cochlear Americas. “This can include finding it difficult to hear in the presence of background noise, and regularly asking people to repeat what they’ve said or mishearing often.”

2. You have to turn the volume on the TV way up. 

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Whether other people tell you to turn the TV down regularly or you’re astounded by the number you see on the volume button, that can be a sign that it’s time to get your ears checked.

“You may find yourself turning up the volume on the TV or radio to a level that is louder than others prefer or feel like people are mumbling,” Zwolan said.

3. Your ears are ringing.

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While ringing in the ears (or tinnitus) isn’t always a sign of hearing loss, it certainly can be. “Some people may experience persistent ringing, buzzing, pain or pressure in one or both ears,” Zwolan said. “It also may be hard to hear on one side, difficult to discern where sounds are coming from, or your own voice may sound different.”

Katie Koebel, an audiologist and senior manager of audiology at HearingLife Canada, emphasizes that experiencing symptoms of tinnitus is a solid reason to look into a hearing test. “Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is commonly associated with hearing loss conditions,” she said. “If you experience this for a prolonged period, it is a good idea to book a hearing test.”

4. Natural sounds may be difficult to hear.

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If you’re suddenly finding it difficult to hear the sounds of nature — think birds chirping or rain falling — this can be a red flag, according to Zwolan.

Amy Bishop, a corporate audiologist at Lucid Hearing, noted that this can apply to common household sounds as well. “Some folks say they have trouble hearing common everyday sounds, like their turn signal, boiling water, or the laundry machine chime,” she said.

Getting your hearing checked is crucial ― even if you’re young.

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While it’s certainly annoying (both for yourself and others) to not be able to hear anything, there are also long-term health consequences to a late hearing loss diagnosis.

“If left unaddressed, hearing loss poses significant challenges to healthy aging. Research has proven untreated hearing loss is connected to increased social isolation and loneliness, balance issues and risk for falls, and there’s continued emerging evidence associating untreated hearing loss with diminished brain health and mental sharpness as well,” Zwolan said. “Hearing words fully and clearly can help keep the brain active and sharp.”

Indeed, research shows that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia and that the use of hearing aids can slow cognitive decline.

“Managing hearing loss typically involves a combination of strategies tailored to the individual’s needs,” Bishop said. “The most common approach is hearing aids, which can improve hearing and communication abilities. Hearing aids come in various styles and technologies, so it’s essential to work with an audiologist to determine the best option for your specific type and degree of hearing loss. Finding the right hearing aid will help you to achieve the best outcome.”

There are also ways you can protect your ears as you age.

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Whether you suspect you have hearing loss or want to prevent it from happening, there are a handful of solid strategies that can help you protect your hearing as you age.

“Avoid noisy places whenever possible and use earplugs, protective earmuffs, or noise-canceling headphones when near loud noises,” Zwolan said. “It’s important to keep the volume down when watching TV, listening to music, and using earbuds or headphones. And finally, be sure to get your hearing checked as you age.”

Koebel added that if you live in a noisy city, it can also be helpful to soundproof areas of your home.

“To do this, you can use acoustic foam paneling, or if you’re looking for a cheaper option, things like wall tapestries, additional blankets and pillows throughout the home, and thicker curtains are effective noise dimmers.”

Hearing loss can be incredibly annoying and isolating for anyone experiencing it, but knowing the signs (and getting a yearly hearing test!) can help you get ahead of any hearing issues. Treating hearing loss sooner rather than later can help prevent longer-term health problems, so if it’s been a while since you got your ears checked, reach out to your doctor. This article originally appeared on HuffPost.