Hearing loss that occurs gradually as age increases (presbycusis) is fairly common. Around 50% of people older than 75 have hearing loss.
Experts believe that heredity and chronic exposure to loud noises are the main contributing factors to hearing loss over time. Other factors such as excessive earwax can temporarily cause hearing loss by preventing the ears from conducting sounds properly.
Hearing loss cannot be reversed. However, a hearing specialist may offer treatment options or steps to improve hearing.
Symptoms of hearing loss may include:
- Muffling of speech and other sounds
- Difficulty understanding words
- Trouble hearing consonants
- Withdrawal from conversations
- Frequently asking others to speak slowly, loudly and more clear
- Need to turn up the volume of TV or radio
- Avoidance of some social settings
Possible causes of hearing loss may include damage to the inner ear, infections, buildup of earwax and a ruptured eardrum.
- Damage to the inner ear: Aging and prolonged exposure to loud noise can cause wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain. Damage to these hairs or nerve cells leads to inefficient transmission of electrical signals and thus hearing loss.
- Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors: Any of these can cause hearing loss in the outer or middle ear.
- Gradual buildup of earwax: Earwax blockage can cause hearing loss in anyone by blocking the ear canal. Hearing loss can be restored with earwax removal.
- Ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation): Loud noise blasts, sudden changes in pressure, infection and poking the eardrum with an object can rupture the eardrum and affect hearing.
Factors that may damage the hairs and nerve cells in the inner ear and increase the risk of hearing loss include:
- Occupational noises
- Recreational noises (loud music, motorcycling, explosive noises)
- Certain medications (chemotherapy drugs, aspirin, pain relievers, antimalarial drugs or loop diuretics)
- Illnesses: Diseases that cause high fever (ex. Meningitis) can damage the cochlea.
Hearing loss can have an effect on the quality of life. Complications associated with hearing loss may include:
- A false sense that others are angry
The following steps may help prevent noise-induced hearing loss and age-related hearing loss:
- Protecting the ears in the workplace (earmuffs, earplugs)
- Regular hearing tests
- Avoiding recreational risks (rock concerts, hunting, motorcycling)