Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most of us, as we grow older. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. In the US, approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.
Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor’s advice, respond to warnings, and hear phones, doorbells, and smoke alarms. Hearing loss can also make it hard to enjoy talking with family and friends, leading to feelings of isolation. Age-related hearing loss most often occurs in both ears, affecting them equally. Because the loss is gradual, if you have age-related hearing loss you may not realize that you’ve lost some of your ability to hear.
Causes of age-related hearing loss
Many factors can contribute to hearing loss as you get older. It can be difficult to distinguish age-related hearing loss from hearing loss that can occur for other reasons, such as long-term exposure to noise.
- Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by long-term exposure to sounds that are either too loud or last too long. This kind of noise exposure can damage the sensory hair cells in your ear that allow you to hear. Once these hair cells are damaged, they do not grow back and your ability to hear is diminished.
- Conditions that are more common in older people, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, can contribute to hearing loss. Medications that are toxic to the sensory cells in your ears (for example, some chemotherapy drugs) can also cause hearing loss.
- Rarely, age-related hearing loss can be caused by abnormalities of the outer ear or middle ear. In otosclerosis, which is thought to be a hereditary disease, an abnormal growth of bone prevents structures within the ear from working properly.
- A severe blow to the head also can cause hearing loss. Another cause is the ear infection, which can lead to long-term hearing loss if it is not treated.
- Hearing loss can also result from taking certain medications. “Ototoxic” medicines damage the inner ear, sometimes permanently. Some antibiotics are ototoxic. Even aspirin can cause problems, but they are temporary. Check with your doctor if you notice a problem while taking a medication.
Diagnosing your symptoms
Some people may have a hearing problem without realizing it. Others might think they have a problem, but are too embarrassed to tell their doctor, friends, or family. When someone ignores their hearing loss and it goes untreated, it almost always gets worse. A hearing loss that is identified early can be helped through treatment, such as hearing aids, certain medicines, and surgery.
If there is any question in your mind that you have a hearing loss it can only help to be sure. Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer, “yes” to three or more of these questions, you could have a hearing problem and may need to have your hearing checked by a doctor.
- Do I have trouble hearing when there is noise in the background?
- Do people complain that I turn the TV volume up too high?
- Is it hard for me to follow a conversation when two or more people talk at once?
- Do I have to strain to understand a conversation?
- Do I misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
- Do I often ask people to repeat themselves?
- Do I have a problem hearing on the telephone?
- Do many people I talk to seem to mumble or not speak clearly?
- Do I often hear a ringing, roaring, or hissing sound unrelated to an external stimulus?
When it comes to hearing loss, there is very little argument for not treating it. Untreated hearing loss brings a number of challenges to your interpersonal relationships, your physical well-being, and your overall quality of life. Treating hearing loss is simple – it requires a hearing test. If a hearing loss is detected, then our team at Glendora Hearing will work with you to find the best course of treatment – most commonly hearing aids.