Which Hearing Loss is Progressive? Is it associated with aging?
Updated: Feb 22
Age-relating hearing loss, or known as presbycusis, is “old hearing”, referring to bilateral age-related and sensorineural hearing impairment.
The average hearing loss by age is about 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 and almost half of adults over the age of 75. We all know that hearing gets worse as we grow older. What some don’t know is that they don’t have to live with symptoms associated with it.
Many treatment methods can help live a better quality of life even with the problem of hearing loss.
What is presbycusis?
Presbycusis or age-related hearing loss is continuing loss of hearing in both ears. It is linked to age, so people face a decline in their hearing as they grow older due to the natural breakdown of the inner ear’s hair cells. Because it is gradual, some people do not pay attention to the change at first. They will not realize that they lost their ability to hear. It mostly affects old adults, after the age of 65. Low-pitched sounds remain at first more audible, while high-pitched sounds become harder to hear, causing confusion in understanding words. With time, even low-pitched sounds get affected also.
What causes age-related hearing loss?
Why do we lose our hearing when we grow older? There are many causes for age-related hearing loss.
Most of the times, it occurs due to changes in the following places:
Inside the inner ear, which is the most common
Inside the middle ear
Blood flow to the ear
Alongside the pathways of the nerve to the brain
Tiny hairs in the ear responsible to transmit sound to the brain
Age, the most common cause of hearing loss
Health conditions including diabetes, heart diseases, or high blood pressure
Nonstop exposure to loud noises
Side effects of medications such as antibiotics, aspirin, and chemotherapeutic drugs
Symptoms of age-related hearing loss
Many symptoms may confuse the patient as they might seem like symptoms for other conditions or problems. How can we tell if we have a hearing problem? Most common symptoms of age-related hearing loss are:
Hard to distinguish high-pitched sounds such as “th” or “s”
Hard to understand conversations, specifically when there are background noises
Are able to hear men’s voices more than women’s
Get annoyed from loud sounds
Suffer from tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) in one ear or both
Feel frustrated when talking to others because of difficulty hearing them
Have trouble hearing the radio or TV at low volume
Read lips when others talk in order to understand
How can we diagnose age-related hearing loss?
To diagnose presbycusis, the health care provider uses an otoscope to check the outer canal and then look inside the ear to examine the ear drum. They will check the damage resulted to the ear drum whether it is blockage to the ear canal due to foreign objects or ear wax, infections or inflammations (swelling or redness).
They might refer the patient to audiologists who will use an audiogram to perform a hearing test. The patient wears headphones, one ear at a time. They listen to beeps and respond to sounds and words presented at different loudness levels. If they are not able to hear specific tones or repeat these words, this indicates that there is a hearing problem and a certain degree of hearing loss. The audiologist can then assess the causes and type of the hearing loss.
How can presbycusis affect the life of old people?
Having trouble hearing can have negative effects on old people.
Not able to respond to warnings
Cannot hear phones, alarms or doorbells
Not able to understand or follow their doctor’s instructions
Will make it hard to enjoy time with their family and friends
Feel isolated and lonely
Affect their self-esteem
Treatments of age-related hearing loss
The best treatments depend on:
Your medical history and overall health
How well you can cope with certain medications, therapies and procedures
How long your condition is assumed to last
The different treatments depend on the severity of the case. Some treatments might work better than others, based on your condition. The treatment options include:
Hearing aids: It is the most common treatment. They are electronic devices you wear in or behind the ears which make sounds better. Sometimes you have to try more than one model in order to find the one that suits you best. Work with your audiologist to find the different types of hearing aids and choose the perfect one for your condition, the one you feel most comfortable with, especially when they have adjustable volume settings and many other options that make hearing easier.
Cochlear implants: They are small electronic devices which are surgically implanted in the ear. They help deliver sound to those with severe hearing loss. They stimulate the auditory nerves which enable you to hear.
Bone anchored hearing aids: They are surgically implanted devices that partially restore hearing for patients experiencing conductive hearing loss, single-sided deafness or mixed hearing loss. They send sound vibration speedily to the inner ear through the skull bone.
Technology converting speech to text
Closed-circuit systems in places or worship, auditoriums and many others
Techniques to prevent excess wax in your outer ear
Lip reading or speech reading: They help follow conversational speech. Patients can pay attention to other people while talking by watching their mouths, gestures, expressions and body movements. Their friends and family can help with that. Patients can ask them to face them while talking.
Special trainers can also help learn how to use this technique.
What can we do to prevent presbycusis?
Experts and researchers don’t know how to prevent age-related hearing loss yet. However we can minimize it by following certain methods. The direct and most obvious way is to protect our hearing. How can we do that?
Avoid loud sounds. For example, when you go to a restaurant, don’t sit near the band playing the music.
Be aware of all the potential sources of loud sounds such as firearms, loud music, snowmobiles, concerts, or sports stadiums
Reduce your continuous or constant exposure to noise
Control the blood sugar in case you suffer from diabetes
Wear you hearing aids or other devices that your provider requested
Wear earplugs or earmuffs when exposed to loud noises
What to do before going to the audiologist?
There are many tips that help you benefit to the most from your visit to your health care provider or audiologist. You, your family and friends can work together to make your hearing loss easier and less effective on your life.
Write down all the questions and concerns that come to your mind
Bring someone with you to help in asking the questions and remembering what the audiologist is telling you
During the visit, note down all the names of the medicines, treatments, tests and instructions that the audiologist gives you
If you are asked to come to a follow-up appointment, make sure to write down the date, time and reason for the visit
Ask about how to contact your health care provider in case you have new questions or concerns
Hearing problems can be serious at an old age. The most effective thing to do is to seek advice from professionals. You start with a primary care physician, audiologist or a hearing aid specialist. Each gives you a different solution based on their expertise.
Working with your family and friends will ease your situation and be a great support. Be patient and take the appropriate steps to adapt to progressive hearing loss. To live and age well, hearing better is worth all the effort.