Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is an extremely common condition that occurs naturally as a person gets older. It typically occurs in both ears, affecting them equally.
How common is it?
The incidence of presbycusis increases with age. Roughly 30% of Australians over the age of 60 have some degree of age-related hearing loss, with the occurrence increasing to approximately 50% after the age of 70.
Age-related hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition amongst this age group after arthritis and high blood pressure.
What causes age-related hearing loss?
There are many causes of presbycusis. Most commonly, it occurs due to changes in the inner ear of a person as he or she ages, but it can also result from changes in the middle ear or along the nerve pathways leading to the brain.
Other contributors to presbycusis include:
- Repeated exposure to loud noise
- Loss of hair cells in the inner ear
- Hereditary factors
- Health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity
What are the symptoms of age-related hearing loss?
Because age-related hearing loss typically occurs very gradually, some sufferers might not be immediately aware of the changes in their hearing. People with presbycusis may experience a combination of the following:
- The speech of others sounds mumbled and confusing
- High-pitched sounds, such as the voices of children or the chirping of a bird, are harder to hear than low-pitched sounds
- Male voices are easier to understand than female ones
- Conversations are difficult to follow, especially where there is background noise present
- Certain sounds can seem irritatingly loud
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears when no external noise is present) in one or both ears
While age-related hearing loss is mostly a natural occurrence, preventative measures can often lessen the impact. Protecting ears from prolonged exposure to loud noise can help reduce the severity of hearing loss later in life. To this end, earplugs or earmuffs should be worn in loud environments.
Hearing aids are currently the best option for individuals suffering from age-related hearing loss, allowing them to hear many of the sounds they have been missing. Assistive hearing tools, such as amplified phones, can also provide further hearing ability.
Do you think you could be suffering from age-related hearing loss? Take our online hearing test to find out.