Hearing loss is the third most common health issue in the United States and nearly 36 million people have lost hearing. Hearing loss is generally either sensorineural (permanent), in which there is damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve, or conductive (treatable by medication or surgery), in which sound waves are not able to reach the inner ear. Most older people have a combination of both age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss.
Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most of us as we age and is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Most commonly, it arises from changes in the inner ear as we age, but it can also result from changes in the middle ear, or from complex changes along the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain. Presbycusis can be caused by changes in the blood supply to the ear because of heart disease, high blood pressure, vascular conditions caused by diabetes or other circulatory problems. Age-related hearing loss most often occurs in both ears, affecting them equally.
Hearing loss may happen so gradually that it goes unnoticed. You may think people are mumbling or not speaking loud enough. It is easy to assume your hearing if fine as long as you are hearing some sounds and noise.
In the early stages of hearing loss, you may notice symptoms such as:
- Trouble hearing children’s or female voices
- Hearing the letters S and F
- Feeling dizzy or unbalanced
- Not understanding phone conversations
- Difficulty following conversations where many people are speaking
- Trouble understanding a conversation when there is background noise
- Not understanding what people are saying
- Needing to turn the volume higher on the radio or television
- Ringing or hissing sounds in the ears (tinnitus)
If you have signs and symptoms of hearing loss, call your doctor and make an appointment. It can hard to admit that you are having trouble hearing, but getting help can make a huge difference in your quality of life and your ability to communicate.
There are many things that can contribute to hearing loss including age, illness and genetics.
- Being exposed to loud noise levels
- Certain medications
- Certain illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes
- Trauma to the skull or eardrum
- Ear wax build up
Hearing loss treatment depends on the type of hearing loss you are experiencing as well as the source of the hearing loss. Some types of hearing loss may be treated with surgery, while others may be treated with antibiotics. If you experience sudden hearing loss, the sooner you have it treated may increase the chance of recovery.
If your hearing loss is permanent and not reversible, you need to learn to function with the hearing you still have. Cochlear implants, bone anchored hearing systems or assistive listening devices and other sound enhancing technologies can help make sounds louder and easier to understand. Hearing aids work need to be fitted by a professional trained in hearing problems such as an audiologist. Getting treatment for hearing loss can provider increased self-confidence and less depression.
Many cases of hearing loss are treatable and prevention is the key to limiting how much loss you experience. Take these steps to help prevent hearing loss:
- Have your hearing tested regularly
- Wear earplugs when exposed to louder than traffic
- Move away from the source of any loud noise