How Our Hearing Changes With Age

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Do you find yourself frequently asking others to repeat themselves? Do you have trouble hearing when there’s background noise? Is holding a conversation over the phone difficult for you? Depending on your age, these symptoms may be a sign of age-related hearing loss. And although the problem can be frustrating, the good news is age-related hearing loss is usually treatable.

You aren’t alone.

Are you embarrassed you’re having a harder time hearing? Don’t be. Hearing loss that gradually occurs with age—a condition called presbycusis—likely affects many of your friends and family members, too. In fact, 1 in every 3 people in the United States ages 65 to 74 has some degree of hearing loss. And almost half of those older than age 75 have difficulty hearing.

The cause isn’t clear.

Doctors aren’t sure exactly why we tend to lose our hearing with age. The problem, which usually occurs in both ears and affects them equally, is often hereditary. Age-related hearing loss is typically due to changes in the inner ear. But why do the changes occur?

A number of factors may contribute to age-related hearing problems. These factors include taking certain medications, such as antibiotics or chemotherapy drugs, or having a common medical condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. But the truth is you may not learn the exact reason for your hearing difficulties. The key is to protect your ears whenever possible and find solutions to help you hear better.

Noise isn’t helping your hearing.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between age-related hearing loss and hearing loss that occurs because of noise. Long-term noise exposure damages the sensory hair cells in your ear that allow you to hear. Once these cells are damaged, they don’t grow back.

Experts believe most older people have a combination of age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss. To protect your ears from noise as you age, be aware of loud sounds that go on for a long time. These can include lawn mowers, leaf blowers, loud music, firearms, and much more. If you have to be around them, wear ear plugs or ear muffs.

You can take action.

If you suspect you or your loved one may have hearing loss, see your doctor for a hearing check. This is important even if you aren’t sure you’re losing hearing. Remember, hearing changes occur gradually over time and can be difficult to recognize.

If you do have hearing loss, don’t ignore the problem. Left untreated, your hearing loss can grow worse. And you’ll miss out on the many benefits of hearing better. Hearing more clearly can greatly improve your quality of life, allowing you to socialize and communicate with others more easily. It can also improve your personal safety by allowing you to hear phones, doorbells, smoke alarms, and other warning signals.

Some strategies your doctor may recommend to improve your hearing include:

  • Assistive listening devices, which can help you hear the television or phone more clearly
  • Cochlear implants, which are small electronic devices surgically implanted in the bone behind the ear. The device helps provide a sense of sound to people who are profoundly hard-of-hearing.

  • Hearing aids, which are available in discreet sizes

Work with your doctor to find the best solution for you and your lifestyle.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Sep 1
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  2. Hearing Loss. NIH Senior Health. http://nihseniorhealth.gov/hearingloss/causesriskfactorsprevention/01.html 

  3. Hearing Loss and Older Adults. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/older.aspx 

  4. Hearing Loss: Symptoms and Diagnosis. NIH Senior Health. http://nihseniorhealth.gov/hearingloss/symptomsanddiagnosis/01.html