Age Related Hearing Loss
Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is the third most common chronic medical condition affecting older Americans. Presbycusis is the slow loss of hearing often associated with getting older. It affects nearly a third of all Americans aged 65 to 74, and after the age of 75, that percentage jumps to almost 50 percent. Presbycusis is not preventable, though some factors may bring it on faster or make it worse. These hearing loss causes may include a family history of hearing loss, some medications, certain health conditions or long-term exposure to loud noises.
Hearing Loss Causes
There is no single cause for age-related hearing loss and no known cure. Presbycusis slowly gets worse over time, occurs in both ears and causes permanent hearing loss. A combination of factors probably combine to produce presbycusis, though generally it results from changes in the ear that come with aging. There are several hearing loss causes that may contribute to presbycusis: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss or even a phenomenon known as sudden hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when there are abnormalities of the outer or middle ear. Over time, the components of the outer and middle ear may also suffer reduced function, resulting in hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there are problems with the inner ear, particularly the nerves of the inner ear. However, sudden hearing loss may or may not be a part of presbycusis. While presbycusis is gradual, sudden hearing loss occurs all at once, or over a period of several days. A person with sudden hearing loss should see a doctor right away to determine the cause and to prevent a potentially permanent loss of hearing.
Most symptoms of age-related hearing loss come on slowly and gradually, but eventually become troublesome enough to interfere with daily life. Common symptoms of age-related hearing loss are difficulty hearing in a noisy room, being able to hear men’s voices more easily than women’s, or the feeling that other people are mumbling. A person who has trouble hearing a speech, sermon or play may be experiencing age-related hearing loss. A high-pitched ringing in the ears, called tinnitus, is another potential symptom of presbycusis that may result from either sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss. Sometimes it helps to avoid the noisy environments and loud noises that may damage the ear.
Age-related hearing loss starts late in life and is therefore unlikely to make a person totally deaf. It can often be managed with the use of hearing aids or assistive devices such as telephone amplifiers or closed-captioned television. Persons with partial hearing loss may benefit from learning to read lips, and the deaf may learn to communicate with sign language. Those with severe hearing loss may undergo cochlear implant surgery to maximize sound.
Audiologists advise that it’s important to have a hearing test performed every two years after the age of 50 to track changes in hearing. However, any sudden change, especially if accompanied by tinnitus, dizziness or headache, should be evaluated immediately. Sometimes prompt medical intervention can prevent a patient from going deaf.