What You Should Know About Age-Related Hearing Loss

Medically reviewed by Justin Choi, MD on July 17, 2017Written by Darla Burke

What is age-related hearing loss?

As you age, you 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.

Causes of 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, including:

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

Symptoms 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 the voices of females or children. You may also have difficulty hearing background noises or difficulty hearing others speak clearly.

Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • certain sounds seeming 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 themselves
  • being unable to understand conversations over the telephone

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

How it’s diagnosed

If you have symptoms of age-related hearing loss, see your doctor to 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 of 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.

Treatment

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.

Outlook

Age-related hearing loss is a progressive condition. This means it gets worse over time. If you lose your hearing, it will be permanent. Even though hearing loss gets worse over time, using assistive devices such as 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.

Prevention

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

  • 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.

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