Age-related hearing loss or presbycusis is a gradual loss of hearing in both ears and it is a common problem that is linked to aging. 

As it is a gradual loss of hearing, it goes unnoticed in the beginning. This condition mostly affects the ability to hear high-pitched voices (such as the sound from a speaker) and not low-pitched noises. One in three adults over the age of 65 has presbycusis. 

Age-related hearing loss can begin as early as in your thirties or forties and worsens gradually over time. As the hearing loss worsens, it affects more frequencies of sound making it difficult to hear more than just speech. 

With time, determining the source (where the sound is coming from) of the sound becomes difficult and you may experience a ringing sensation in the ear (tinnitus) or dizziness and loss of balance.

Hearing loss can affect your quality of life. Initially, you may have trouble understanding speech and over a gradual period of time, communication will also be affected which can lead to social isolation (avoiding social contact), depression (a mood disorder), and loss of self-esteem.

How do You Hear?

Your ear is divided into 3 parts, the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The ear canal located in your outer ear picks sound waves from the environment and passes them to the middle ear. Your middle ear amplifies the sound waves which are converted by the inner ear into electrical signals and sent to your brain for reception.

Your ability to hear allows you to connect and communicate with your surroundings and the world. Hearing impairment in old age can cause discomfort and disturb your routine activities. 

Causes of Age-Related Hearing Loss

Age-related hearing loss results from a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. It is mostly associated with changes in the inner ear, where the sound waves are converted into nerve impulses and sent to the brain.

Other factors that can affect age-related hearing loss include:

  • Continuous exposure to loud noise (such as loud music or other work-related noises)

  • Loss of hair cells in the inner-ear

  • Inherited factors (genetic factors)

  • Health conditions such as heart diseases or diabetes (a long term disease/condition in which your body loses its ability to process blood sugar)

  • Medications such as certain antibiotics or chemotherapy medications (medications used for cancer treatment)

  • Nutritional factors or a deficiency of certain vitamins or minerals (essential substances that your body requires to develop and function normally)

Symptoms of Age-Related Hearing Loss

Symptoms of hearing may vary from person to person. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Trouble in hearing high-pitched sounds

  • Difficulty in understanding conversations, especially when there is background noise

  • Speech sounds slurred or mumbles (unclear)

  • A ringing sensation in the ear (tinnitus)

  • Certain sounds seem overly loud

  • High-pitched sounds, such as "s" or "the" are hard to distinguish (hard to differentiate)

Since it takes time for the hearing loss to develop fully, the condition is difficult to identify in the beginning. However, if you notice these symptoms, it is advisable to consult an ear specialist.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Age-Related Hearing Loss

Your doctor will discuss your medical history and your current symptoms. He/she will use an otoscope (a thin tube with an attached light) to examine your ear. The doctor will check for any damage to the eardrum, blockage of the ear canal, inflammation, or infection.

After the examination, you may be referred to an audiologist (hearing specialist) for an audiogram (hearing test). This test will help identify the extent of hearing loss.

There is no cure for age-related hearing loss. The treatment aims at improving your hearing and your quality of life.

Treatment of age-related hearing loss depends upon many factors such as your age, medical history, and preferences. 

Treatment options include the following:

  • Hearing aids (these devices can modify the sounds and improve hearing)

  • Assistive devices such as sound amplifiers or other devices that convert speech to text

  • Training in reading speech (speech therapy)

In some cases, your doctor may suggest cochlear implants. They are surgical implants that can be placed in the ear to improve hearing. This is an option in individuals with severe hearing loss.

Age-related hearing loss is a progressive condition that worsens over time. This condition cannot be cured. Treatment aims at controlling hearing loss and improving the quality of life. The most important way to prevent age-related hearing loss is to avoid loud noises and reduce noise exposure.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.