Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is one the most common challenges we experience as we age.
Nearly a third of US citizens between 65-74 years of age have some measure of hearing loss, and in those 75 and older that number increases to almost half. And although hearing isn’t always the first sense to go, it is frequently the one we first notice fading away―even though we might blame it on other people “mumbling” instead of accepting the problem is ours.
How aging affects hearing ability
Presbycusis comes on slowly as we grow older, so it is often unnoticeable in the early stages. It normally affects both ears equally and is either caused by changes in our inner ear, middle ear, along the nerves that carry sound to the brain, or a combination of these.
Not all gradual hearing loss is solely due to age. Other factors may worsen or complicate presbycusis, including:
- Years of noise exposure during leisure activities or in the workplace (noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL)
- Co-morbidities (medical conditions that affect hearing), such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease
- Ototoxicity (chemicals or elements that are toxic to the ear’s sensory components) like platinum-based chemotherapy drugs, certain prescribed analgesics, cigarette smoke, and a significant, regular supply of alcohol in the bloodstream
- Complications from serious illnesses or infections
Additionally, age may bring on excessive production of earwax, which can block up your ears and make any hearing loss seem worse than it is. However, make sure you consult a doctor or hearing care professional with any concerns about earwax. They can either provide medicated drops or remove it during an office visit. Don’t try to clear it out yourself, especially by using a cotton swab, or you may experience another factor that worsens hearing loss―a perforated eardrum.
Indicators you’re hearing is on the decline
The most common signs of losing your hearing are as follows:
- Needing to turn the volume on your television louder and louder
- Missing telephone calls because you don’t hear the phone ring
- Struggling to understand what others are saying, especially in restaurants or other loud, crowded environments
- Having to ask people to repeat themselves frequently
- Hinting from friends and family that you don’t hear as well as you think
You can do something about age-related hearing loss
If any (or all) of these sound familiar, chances are it’s time to accept your hearing is worsening. However, this doesn’t have to mean it will keep declining until it is gone forever. Ask your primary care physician for a referral to a hearing care professional or use our locator tool to find one near you, and have your hearing tested. Once you know how much hearing you’ve lost, the type of hearing loss involved, and prognosis, you can discuss treatment options.
In some cases, you may be able to prevent your age-related hearing loss from advancing by avoiding complicating factors like noise, or learning which medications might worsen your existing condition. In nearly every case, wearing hearing aids can improve your hearing significantly, so even if it continues to decrease over time, you can continue to enjoy your life without constantly struggling to hear.