Hearing loss occurs gradually in most people as they age. Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is the gradual loss of hearing that occurs as people age.
The ear is made up of three parts: the outer ear (pinna or auricle), the middle ear, which includes the eardrum (tympanic membrane), and the inner ear (cochlea), which is shaped like a snail shell and lined with tiny hairs.
Hearing loss occurs when the tiny hairs inside the cochlea are damaged or die, a common occurrence as people age. Hair cells, which pick up sound waves and transform them into nerve impulses, do not regenerate. That's why most hearing loss is irreversible.
Signs & Symptoms:
- Sounds often seem less clear and lower in volume
- Sounds of mumbled or slurred speech by others
- Difficulty in distinguishing high-pitched sounds
- Difficulty in understanding conversations, particularly when there is background noise
- Hearing men's voices more easily than women's
- Increased sensitivity to loud noises
- Tinnitus, a ringing, roaring, hissing, or other sound, may occur in one or both ears
The symptoms of presbycusis may resemble other conditions or medical problems, so it's important to consult a physician for a diagnosis.
Some causes may include:
- hereditary factors
- various health conditions, and the side effects of some medicines, such as aspirin and certain antibiotics
- Repeated exposure to noise and loud music
- changes in the blood supply to the ear because of heart disease, high blood pressure, blood vessel conditions caused by diabetes, or other circulatory problems
- Abnormalities of the outer ear, middle ear, or both
Hearing tests measure what sounds you can and can't hear
Since there is no way to reverse age-related hearing loss, treatment is focused on functional improvement--compensating for the loss as much as possible
- Hearing aids are the mainstay of treatment, but these devices don't restore hearing to normal. People can, however, reasonably expect a hearing aid to improve their ability to communicate
- Other hearing devices, such as built-in telephone amplifiers and FM systems that make sounds clearer--with or without a hearing aid--by delivering sound waves like a radio, also can help people with age-related hearing loss communicate. Personal listening systems help people hear what they want to hear while eliminating or lowering other noises around them. Some, called auditory training systems and loop systems, make it easier for people to hear someone in a crowded room or group setting
- Lip reading, which relies on visual cues to determine what's being said, is another option, usually used by people who have profound hearing loss and receive very limited benefit from hearing aids. People who use this method to help overcome hearing loss pay close attention to people's mouths when they talk
Currently, there is significant research being done on restoration of sensory hair cells. Functional hair cells have also been shown to regenerate in the inner ear after delivery of a gene that controls hair cell development using gene therapy