We depend on our senses, like hearing, for everything we do in life, but it’s easy to take the ability to hear for granted until it becomes hard to understand what people are saying to you. Hearing loss becomes more common with advancing age. In fact, over 30% of adults between the age of 61 and 70 have some degree of hearing impairment and that number climbs to 80% after the age of 85. So, the likelihood of experiencing hearing problems goes up considerably as you approach the later decades of life.
Men are typically at greater odds of having hearing problems and usually develop them at an earlier age than women. Certain factors increase the risk for developing hearing impairment. One factor you can’t control is genetics. Hearing problems are more common in certain families, although you won’t necessarily develop hearing problems just because a relative is hard of hearing. Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease or a previous head injury, increase the risk for hearing loss too.
A number of medications, even common ones like aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can cause or aggravate hearing problems. Your doctor can tell you whether you’re taking a medication that places you at risk. Smoking and exposure to toxins are another risk factor for hearing issues. Did you work in a noisy environment or spend your time attending rock concerts? Exposure to loud noise, especially over a long period of time, can lead to loss of hearing later in life.
Would you know it if you had hearing loss? Not necessarily. Many people with hearing problems are unaware they have a problem and you don’t need to see an audiologist to find out. Your family doctor can screen for hearing loss using a questionnaire and a whispered voice test to quickly see whether you need further hearing evaluation. It’s a good idea to begin screening for hearing problems by age 50.
The bottom line? You can have hearing problems and not be aware of it. Make sure your doctor screens for hearing loss on your next visit. The earlier you find out, the less likely you’ll experience irreversible hearing loss.
Am Fam Physician. 2012 Jun 15;85(12):1150-1156.