As you age, you’ll experience a number of changes in the way your body functions. Hearing loss might be one of these changes.
Hearing loss due to aging is a common condition that impacts many older adults. Almost 1 in 2 adults over age 65 experience some degree of hearing loss.
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.
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, including:
- poor circulation
- exposure to loud noises
- use of certain medications
- family history of 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 doctor.
If you have symptoms of age-related hearing loss, your doctor will diagnose your condition. They’ll complete a full physical exam to rule out other causes of hearing loss. They may also look inside your ears using an otoscope.
If your doctor can’t find another cause for your symptoms, they may diagnose you with age-related hearing loss. They may refer you to a hearing specialist called an audiologist. The audiologist can perform a hearing test to help determine how much hearing loss has occurred.
There is no cure for age-related hearing loss. If you’re 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 (for severe hearing loss)
In some cases, your doctor may recommend a cochlear implant. This is a small electronic device that’s surgically implanted into your ear. Cochlear implants can make sounds somewhat louder, but they don’t restore normal hearing. This option is only used for people who are severely hard of hearing.
Age-related hearing loss is a progressive condition. This means it will get worse over time. If you lose your hearing, it will be permanent. Even though hearing loss will get worse over time, using assistive devices like hearing aids can improve your quality of life.
Talk with your doctor about your treatment options. Ask what you can do to minimize the impact of hearing loss on your everyday life. You may also want to consider treatment to prevent the depression, anxiety, and social isolation that often occur with this condition.
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, try to:
- Avoid repetitive exposure to loud sounds.
- Wear ear protection in places where there are loud sounds.
- Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
Seek prompt help from your doctor if you develop symptoms of age-related hearing loss. As your hearing loss increases, you’re more likely to lose your ability to understand speech. However, you may keep this ability, or minimize the loss, if you seek early treatment.