Hearing loss declines with age, but not necessarily for the reasons you may think
Have you heard? As you become older, you’ll likely notice changes in your hearing, whether it’s difficulty hearing higher pitches, or a struggle to decipher words spoken in softer volumes. As these changes worsen, background noise can make it even more difficult to understand the meaning of these sounds, making it sound like those around you are mumbling, when they’re doing their best to speak loudly and clearly.
Age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, affects 33% of adults aged 65-74 a staggering 50% of those over the age of 75. Generally experienced gradually and in both ears, hearing loss is a natural part of aging. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t extremely frightening and ostracising. People with hearing loss may struggle to hold fluid conversations with those they know and love. They may also experience difficulty understanding instructions from medical professionals and service providers, or seemingly “ignore” doorbells, alerts, and alarms.
Unaware or embarrassed, many people attempt to deny their hearing loss, but when ignored or left untreated, the symptoms may worsen. Understanding the cause behind your hearing loss, be it genetics, environmental factors, or a mix of both, can help you and your medical professional identify the best possible course of treatment that enables you to hear better and resume your regular life.
There are three reasons why aging and hearing loss go hand-in-hand. Which one(s) affect your ability to connect with your surroundings?
Lifetime exposure to loud noises
Over the course of your life, you’ve likely been exposed to loud noises on countless occasions. When you were younger, you probably cranked up the volume on the stereo, attended concerts and parties where the music was blaring, and maybe even took part in exercise classes where loud music motivated you to burn more calories. But even if you didn’t, loud noises are everywhere. Drilling at construction sites on your way to the office. Horns honking during traffic jams. Even the vacuum cleaner, lawnmower, and food processor expose you to harmful loud noises. Loud noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss - and the easiest to prevent by turning down the volume, or wearing noise-canceling headphones.
Physiological changes within the inner ear
Hearing loss can also develop from age-related changes to the inner ear. This is the direct result of a thinning of the outer part of the inner canal, changes in the composition of earwax, and a loss of sensory cells and other degenerative changes to the cochlea’s nerve fibers. As a result, the transmission of information from the sensory cells to the brain is impaired, and input from the ears is not translated into heard sounds.
Hearing loss can also be caused by a punctured eardrum, caused by infection, pressure, or the insertion of objects, such as a cotton swab. If you are in pain or have fluid draining from your ear(s), a doctor’s visit is most certainly necessary to reach a diagnosis and provide antibiotic treatment, if prescribed.
Medical conditions and/or medications
In rarer cases, hearing loss can result from certain autoimmune conditions, infections, such as influenza and herpes, and tumors pressing on strategic nerves. Older adults with dementia, diabetes, or cerebrovascular disease are also more likely to suffer from impaired hearing as they age. In addition, some “ototoxic” medications, prescribed to treat severe infections, cancer, and heart disease can cause permanent damage to the inner ear. This includes aspirin at some dosages can cause problems. For this reason, it’s always recommended to consult your doctor before taking a new medication, as well as if you begin experiencing hearing loss while taking prescription drugs.
Hearing loss is a regular, normal part of aging. While you cannot turn back time and prevent the noises, physiological changes, or medical conditions from taking place, you can understand the source of your hearing loss and find suitable solutions that enable you to improve your quality of life, like Tunefork. Our audio personalization technology software delivers an optimal hearing experience based on the results of a simple hearing test that grades your specific hearing problem.
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