You may know that age 40 is usually when you begin to need reading glasses, and should begin routine eye checks.

However, it’s also the point at which hearing typically begins to deteriorate, starting with your ability to hear higher frequencies.

Hearing loss is a very common problem for seniors. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated one-third of Americans between age 65 and 75 and up to half of people over age 75 have some degree of hearing loss.

Many people don’t know that as you lose hearing due to age, your brain’s ability to understand the meaning of words worsens. Because of the way our nerve endings function, this loss may be permanent, even if you begin using a hearing aid later.

That’s why it’s important to address hearing loss as soon as signs are detected, and not wait until your hearing deteriorates significantly — the earlier you can be aided, the more clarity you’ll retain.

Routine hearing checks are usually covered by health insurance and only take about 20 minutes. They consist of a visual check to make sure there’s nothing blocking the eardrum (an impaction of earwax, for example, can cause a 40 decibel hearing loss), a puff of air into the ears to make sure your eardrum is moving properly, and a hearing test in which you indicate whether you can hear sounds at various volumes. If you don’t have insurance, an exam costs around $100.

The University of Cincinnati Ear, Nose and Throat Division of Audiology offers free hearing screenings twice a year, usually in the spring and fall. It’s also a good idea to check with your insurance company to see if it will cover the cost of a hearing aid. Many patients are surprised to find out that insurance often doesn’t cover them.

It is important to get hearing tested every year, because it can begin to deteriorate at any time, and varies with each individual. n