Do I Need an Ear Exam?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on October 19, 2020
3 min read

How often do you need to get your ears checked? It’s a question most of us probably don’t think about. But if you find yourself straining to hear during conversations, or you have pain or ringing in your ears, it’s definitely time.

It may seem obvious that you need to get your ears checked when there’s a problem. But what about when everything seems fine?

The last time most adults had their hearing checked was in grade school. If that’s true of you, it’s time to schedule an appointment. Adults should get their hearing tested at least once, ideally after age 21.

Your doctor can do it during your annual physical exam. A baseline test will show you where your hearing is at that point. That way, when you’re older, an audiologist can better understand how much it has changed and give you the right treatment.

If you’re not having hearing loss, you should continue to get tested every 10 years until you turn 50, and every 3 years after that. Can you prevent hearing loss from headphones? Learn more.

A hearing screening is different from a more comprehensive hearing test. It’s usually a quick test to check to see if you need more screenings. You either pass or fail.

If you pass, it’s likely you don’t have hearing loss. If you fail, you’ll need to see a specialist who will give you a more detailed evaluation. This will help you understand what kind it is, how severe it is, and how it can best be treated.

Babies usually get screenings at birth, and kids get them once in a while through their schools. As an adult, you’ll probably be screened at your doctor’s office.

About 30% of people over age 65 have some type of hearing loss, but younger people can experience it too. About 14% of people between 45 and 64 have it, as do about 8 million people between ages 18 and 44. If you’re concerned about your hearing, call your doctor and ask for a screening.

An ear infection -- your doctor may call it “otitis media” -- is a common cause of hearing loss. It means the part of your ear inside the eardrum is inflamed. This can happen because of a cold, allergies, or a buildup of pus and mucus from a virus or bacteria.

If fluid stays in your ear for weeks or months and your infection isn’t treated, you can experience temporary hearing loss.

You can also have trouble hearing for other reasons, including:

  • A buildup of earwax
  • Inflammation in your external auditory canal, known as swimmer’s ear
  • An injury to your ear or head
  • A disease called otosclerosis, which affects the tiny bones in your ear
  • A condition called cholesteatoma, which can develop if you have an ongoing ear infection

Hearing loss is one sign of infection, but it’s not the only one. You might also experience pain in your ear or fluid draining from your ear.

It’s important to see a doctor if:

  • Your pain is severe
  • You have fluid, pus, or blood coming out of your ear
  • Your symptoms last for more than a day