Presbycusis is the gradual loss of hearing due to age. The National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) says it affects approximately one in every three people in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 74 and is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults.
Hearing is one of the most important senses and when it begins to decline it can cause difficulties in many environments like family gatherings, restaurants, and the doctor’s office. It can make phone calls difficult and may impact safe driving if horns and other warning sounds can’t be heard.
What is age-related hearing loss?
Age-related hearing loss happens gradually over time and usually affects both ears. It occurs when the fine hairs inside the ear that allow us to hear become damaged. They do not grow back and as a result, hearing becomes permanently impaired. According to the NIDCD, age related hearing loss can also result from “…changes in the middle ear, or from complex changes along the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain.”
What causes age-related hearing loss?
It can be caused by years of exposure to every day noise sustained over the course of a life time, like lawn mowers, leaf blowers, listening to music through ear phones, construction, kitchen blenders and other loud devices. Hearing loss can also be caused by repeated exposure to loud noises like machinery and traffic. Medications and family genetics can also result in hearing loss at older ages.
Some diseases can cause presbycusis. If not kept under control, they can impact the fine hairs inside the ear that receive sound and create the electrical impulses that send sounds to the brain. Some of these diseases include:
- High blood pressure: This can damage blood vessels throughout the body, including the blood vessels in the ears.
- Diabetes: Hearing loss is twice as common in those with diabetes compared to the general population. Scientists are researching the connection between the two but theorize that high blood glucose levels caused by the disease may damage small blood vessels in the ears.
- Heart disease: If heart disease causes inadequate blood flow throughout the body, it can also restrict blood flow to the blood vessels in the ears.
- Diseases that impede or slow blood circulation: Poor circulation will prevent adequate blood flow from reaching the blood vessels in the ears.
- Smoking: The toxins released from smoking may damage the fine hair and blood cells of the ears. Hearing loss in those who smoke may also be a result of reduced blood flow caused by the smoking.
Because age-related hearing loss is gradual, you may not notice it at first. However, if you find that you have to turn up the volume on the television or radio, have a hard time hearing conversations in noisy environments like restaurants, or frequently ask people to repeat themselves, you may have age-related hearing loss.
What are the treatments for presbycusis?
There are many treatments for age-related hearing loss. The most common is hearing aids. Generally there are four styles of hearing aids:
- Behind the ear (BTE)
- In the ear (ITE)
- In the canal (ITC)
- Completely in the canal (CTC)
An audiologist will conduct a comprehensive hearing test and then work with you to determine the best type of hearing aid for your lifestyle.
Other treatments for hearing loss include cochlear implants that are surgically implanted in the ear, bone anchored hearing systems that bypass the ear canal and middle ear, and assistive listening devices that amplify sound on the phone, television, cell phones, and places like movie theaters and places of worship.
Is presbycusis preventable?
While scientists don’t know specifically how to prevent age-related hearing loss, they do know that protecting one’s hearing can help to reduce or delay it. Wearing protective hearing devices like headphones when in noisy environments like concerts and fireworks displays can help. When conducting noisy tasks at home like mowing the lawn, using a leaf blower or snow blower it’s important to protect your hearing. When listening to music through headphones or ear buds always keep it at a moderate volume level. These strategies can help to protect your hearing from loud noises that can potentially impair it.
Presbycusis may affect one in three Americans but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to protect your hearing over the course of your lifetime. Paying attention to, and preparing for, potentially noisy environments may decrease your hearing loss as you age.