Age-Related Hearing Loss

Written by Darla Burke | Published on August 20, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Age-Related Hearing Loss?

As you age, you will likely experience a number of changes in the way your body functions. Hearing loss is one of these changes. Hearing loss due to aging is a common that impacts many older adults.

According to the American Academy of Audiology, one in three people over the age of 60 experiences some type of age-related hearing loss. In people over the age of 85, this number increases to one in two (AAA).

Age-related hearing loss is also known as presbycusis. Although age-related hearing loss is not a life-threatening condition, it can have a significant impact on your quality of life if left untreated.

What Causes Age-Related Hearing Loss?

Age-related hearing loss occurs gradually over time. Various changes in the inner ear can cause the condition. These include:

  • changes in the structures of the inner ear
  • changes in blood flow to the ear
  • impairment in the nerves responsible for hearing
  • changes in the way that the brain processes speech and sound
  • damage to the tiny hairs in the ear that are responsible for transmitting sound to the brain

Age-related hearing loss can also be caused by other issues, such as:

  • diabetes
  • poor circulation
  • exposure to loud noises
  • use of certain medications
  • family history of hearing loss
  • smoking

Recognizing the Onset of Age-Related Hearing Loss

Symptoms of age-related hearing loss typically begin with an inability to hear high-pitched sounds. You may notice that you have difficulty hearing female or children’s voices. You may also have difficulty hearing background noises or hearing others speak clearly. Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • certain sounds may seem overly loud
  • difficulty hearing in areas that are noisy
  • difficulty hearing the difference between “s” and “th” sounds
  • ringing in the ears
  • turning up the volume on the television or radio louder than normal
  • asking people to repeat what they say
  • unable to understand conversations over the telephone

Always notify your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. They could be signs of other medical conditions and should be checked out by a healthcare professional.

How Is Age-Related Hearing Loss Confirmes?

If you have symptoms of age-related hearing loss, your doctor will be able to diagnose your condition. He or she will complete a full physical exam to rule out other causes of your hearing loss. Your doctor may also look inside of your ears using an otoscope.

If your doctor cannot find any other cause for your symptoms, he or she may diagnose you with age-related hearing loss. You may be referred you to a hearing specialist called an audiologist. The audiologist can perform a hearing test to help determine how much hearing loss has occurred.

How Is Age-Related Hearing Loss Treated?

There is no cure for age-related hearing loss. If you are diagnosed with this condition, your doctor will work with you to improve your hearing and quality of life. Your doctor may recommend:

  • hearing aids to help you hear better
  • assistive devices, such as telephone amplifiers
  • lessons in sign language or lip reading if your hearing loss is severe

In some cases, your doctor may recommend a cochlear implant—a small electronic device that is surgically implanted into your ear. Cochlear implants can make sounds a bit louder, but they do not restore normal hearing. This option is only used for people who are severely hard of hearing.

What Is the Outlook for Someone With Age-Related Hearing Loss?

Age-related hearing loss is a progressive condition. This means that it will get worse over time. If you lose your hearing, it will be permanent. However, even though the hearing loss will get worse over time, the use of assistive devices—such as hearing aids—can improve your quality of life.

Talk with your doctor about your treatment options and what you can do to minimize the impact of hearing loss on your everyday life. You may also want to consider treatment to help prevent the depression, anxiety, and social isolation that often occur with this condition.

How Can You Prevent Age-Related Hearing Loss?

You may not be able prevent age-related hearing loss. However, you can take steps to prevent your hearing loss from getting worse. If you experience age-related hearing loss, you should try to:

  • avoid exposure to loud sounds
  • wear ear protection in places where there are loud sounds
  • control your blood sugar if you have diabetes

If you develop symptoms of age-related hearing loss, you should seek prompt help from your doctor. As your hearing loss increases, you are more likely to lose your ability to understand speech. However, you may keep this ability, or lessen its loss, if your age-related hearing loss is treated early.

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