PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As March 3 marks World Hearing Day, health officials warn hearing loss is becoming more prevalent and are urging people to get hearing tests.

“It’s a noisy world out there, there’s noise everywhere we go in industrialized society and it’s a hazard,” HearUSA audiologist Dr. David Luther said. “I think it’s important to focus on this because hearing is what connects us with the people that we love.”

In addition to keeping social connections, Luther noted hearing also helps with cognitive engagement and is good for overall wellbeing — pointing to studies saying there is a link between hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia.

“The auditory system is part of the brain, and so if there’s a depravation of sound going into the auditory system, it’s depriving us of neural activity and over time we can lose connection with the people around us and what’s going on around us,” Luther said.

Signs of hearing loss can be tricky to identify because people hear at different frequencies, Luther said, adding most of the time, hearing loss affects hearing higher pitches first – impacting clarity of the sound, not volume.

“A lot of the time, people are not aware that they have a hearing loss. They just say things to me like, ‘I hear the speech, but it’s just not as clear, it sounds like people are mumbling,’” Luther explained.

The audiologist pointed the COVID-19 pandemic also impacted hearing in some cases as face masks affected the visual element of hearing.

“We noticed during the pandemic, when we were all wearing face masks and we took away the visual component of listening, we got a lot busier. People started noticing that they were using their eyes to hear instead of just their ears,” Luther said.

Luther emphasized the importance of getting hearing tested by health care professionals who can test hearing at a range of frequencies to find any deficits or filtering out “S,” “T,” or “F” sounds.

Luther recommends getting hearing tested by an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist, who can do a tonal-specific hearing test. Luther noted Lake Oswego’s USAHearing office in Lake Oswego also offers free hearing tests.