Many people watch their grandparents and parents experience hearing loss as they age. When they start to notice symptoms of hearing loss in themselves, they begin to wonder about what the future holds.
Experiencing hearing loss can be unsettling and even frightening. Learning more about age-related hearing loss can help patients understand this health condition and how to manage it. Let's examine the answers to three of patients' most common questions.
1. What Causes Age-Related Hearing Loss?
We can hear thanks to hair cells in our ears that capture sound waves. Unfortunately, these hair cells are among the many parts of the body that can decline as we age. As they get older, many people's hair cells become damaged or even die, causing permanent hearing loss. This type of hearing loss can become increasingly worse over time.
Some people are more likely to lose their hearing than others. Genetics are one of the most common reasons to lose hearing, so if your parents lost their hearing, you likely will, too.
Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is very common. It's the second most common medical condition in older adults. In fact, about one in three Americans between ages 65 and 74 experience hearing loss.
2. Can It Be Prevented?
Genetic-related hearing loss can't be prevented. However, there are other factors that may contribute to hearing loss. These factors include frequent exposure to loud noise, smoking, and certain diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. Certain medications, including some chemotherapy drugs and excessive amounts of aspirin, can also cause hearing loss.
If you work in a loud environment around noisy machinery, take precautions to protect your hearing. You can wear ear plugs or other devices that dampen sound. You should also avoid loud rock concerts if possible.
Quitting smoking and living a healthy lifestyle may also help you prevent age-related hearing loss. If you take medications that cause hearing loss, talk to your doctor about a possible adjustment to your treatment plan.
Be aware that some types of hearing loss aren't necessarily related to age. Otosclerosis is a disease that affects the middle ear. Meniere's disease and autoimmune inner ear disease also affect the inner ear. If you notice symptoms like sudden hearing loss, dizziness, or ringing in the ear, see an audiologist for diagnosis and treatment.
3. Can It Be Cured?
Unfortunately, age-related hearing loss cannot be reversed. But it can be treated.
The most common solution is a hearing aid, an amplifying device that fits in or behind your ear. Some people feel embarrassed to wear hearing aids because they believe it calls attention to their hearing loss. However, modern hearing aids are much less noticeable than hearing aids in the past. Some hearing aids fit directly in your ear canal, so other people won't even know it's there.
If you would like to try hearing aids, see a hearing care specialist. He or she can test your hearing and fit you with your preferred hearing aids.
A variety of assistive listening devices can also improve your quality of life. For example, there are devices that amplify the sound of your phone or your television.
More aggressive medical solutions include cochlear implants and bone-anchored hearing systems. These devices improve your ability to register sound, but they are only prescribed for people with severe hearing loss.
Age-related hearing loss can occur gradually, so you might not notice it's happening at first. If you struggle to hear during conversations or find yourself turning up the TV or radio volume more than usual, see a hearing specialist. He or she can help you find the right hearing solutions for you.