Hearing Loss as You Age: Common Causes and Treatment Options

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Hearing loss impacts around a third of adult individuals between 61 years old and 70 and over 80% older than 85. Typically, men experience greater loss of hearing than women and have earlier onset. Age-related hearing loss is the most common type, but there are many disorders that can disrupt sound vibration conduction to the inner ear as well as their conversion to electrical impulses brain conduction.

What Is Age-Related Hearing Loss?

Age-related hearing loss, which is referred to as presbycusis, is hearing loss that slowly occurs in many people as they grow older. It’s a common condition affecting older and elderly adults. You often get it in both ears, and it affects both ears equally. Since it’s a gradual loss, if you’re struggling with age-related hearing loss, you might not realize you’ve even lost any ability to hear.

There are numerous age-related hearing loss causes. Most commonly, it occurs from inner ear changes as you get older, but it could also be due to middle ear changes or from complex changes occurring along your nerve pathways from your ear to your brain. Specific health conditions and medicines might also play a role.

Hearing Loss and Dementia

Hearing loss might increase your chances of cognitive issues, and even increase your chances of developing dementia. The general perception is hearing loss is a fairly insignificant part of getting older. However, recent findings suggest it might play a far more essential role in brain health than was thought in the past. 

In one study in 2013, researchers tracked the overall cognitive abilities (which includes planning skills, memory, and concentration) of almost 2,000 older adults who are on average 77 years old. Following six years, the people who started the study with hearing loss serious enough that it disrupted their conversation were 24% more likely than individuals with normal hearing to experience diminished cognitive abilities. Basically, the researchers said it seemed hearing loss sped up cognitive decline due to age.

Symptoms of Age-Related Hearing Loss

Each individual’s symptoms might vary. Some common symptoms include:

  • Having difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds
  • Other individual’s speech sounds slurred or mumbled
  • Men’s voices are simpler to hear than women’s
  • Having difficulty understanding conversations, frequently when there’s background noise
  • Tinnitus (a ringing sound) in one or both ears

The age-related hearing loss symptoms might seem like other health conditions.

When sudden loss of hearing occurs, it’s essential you contact your doctor immediately. Your doctor performs a medical and a hearing examination as soon as possible to assist in finding the type and cause of your sudden loss of hearing. Based on the diagnosis you receive, your doctor will sit down with you and talk about potential treatments.

Common Causes of Hearing Loss as You Age

Many factors could contribute to loss of hearing as you get older. It can be hard to distinguish regular hearing loss from age-related hearing loss occurring for various reasons, like long-term noise exposure.

Age-related loss of hearing occurs slowly over time. A variety of changes in your inner ear could cause the problem. These include:

  • Changes in ear blood flow
  • Changes in inner ear structures
  • Damage to your ear’s tiny hairs that transmit sound to your brain
  • Changes in how your brain processes sound and speech
  • Impairment in the nerves responsible for your hearing

Age-related loss of hearing could also be due to other issues like:

  • Poor circulation
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Family history of hearing loss
  • Use of certain medicines

Hearing Loss Treatment Options

If you’re experiencing age-related hearing loss symptoms, see your doctor to receive a diagnosis for your condition. They’ll perform a complete physical examination to rule other hearing loss causes out. They might also use an otoscope to look inside of your ear.

If your physician can’t find another cause behind the symptoms you’re experiencing, they might give you an age-related hearing loss diagnosis. They might refer you to a hearing loss doctor known as an audiologist. An audiologist can give you a hearing loss test for helping to determine the amount of hearing loss you’re suffering with.

There’s no cure for age-related loss of hearing. If you receive a diagnosis with this problem, the doctor works closely with you to help improve your hearing, and therefore, your quality of life. 

They might recommend:

  • Assistive devices like telephone amplifiers
  • Hearing aids
  • Sign language lessons or lip-reading lessons (if your hearing loss is severe)

In certain cases, they might suggest a cochlear implant. Cochlear implants are small electronic devices the doctor implants surgically into your ear. They make sounds a bit louder, but don’t restore your hearing back to normal. This option is used only for individuals with serious hearing loss.

Presently, scientists aren’t sure how to prevent hearing loss related to age. But you can keep yourself protected from noise-induced hearing loss by keeping your ears protected from loud sounds and those that last too long. It’s essential you’re aware of possible sources of damaging sounds like firearms, loud music, lawn mowers, snowmobiles, and leaf blowers. 

By avoiding loud sounds, decreasing how much time you’re exposed to loud sounds, and using earmuffs or ear plugs to protect your ears, you implement simple ways to protect your hearing. Doing these things can also help limit how much hearing you lose as you age.

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