Hearing Loss from Aging: Causes and Treatments

As the body ages, the way all the senses provide information about the environment around us changes. One of the most common age-related disorders is aging hearing loss.

Presbycusis or hearing loss associated with aging is a progressive condition that affects 25% to 30% of older adults worldwide. It reflects the degeneration of the cells in the ear responsible for capturing and transmitting auditory stimuli to the brain.

Most people usually go unnoticed this hearing impairment, since the gradual damage to both ears can be difficult to perceive. Nevertheless, affects the quality of life of the patient.

Symptoms related to hearing loss

Hearing loss due to aging is often accompanied by several alarming manifestations. In this sense, the person can identify some symptoms that would indicate the presence of this alteration.

Among the signs associated with hearing loss due to age, the following stand out:

  • Trouble identifying sounds in the environment.
  • Speak in a raised tone of voice without being aware of it.
  • Difficulty understanding what other people say.
  • Need to hear a sentence two to three times to understand it.
  • Discomfort from high volume sounds and intensity.
  • Difficulty discriminating sounds in noisy places.
  • Tendency to better understand people with low voices.
  • Trouble hearing high-pitched sounds.
  • Tinnitus or spontaneous buzzing in one or both ears.

These manifestations can be linked to a very diverse range of auditory dysfunction pathologies. So it is essential to go to a specialist doctor when detecting any of them.

Sometimes the first sign of hearing loss is having to raise the volume of the devices we are listening to.

Why does hearing loss occur in old age?

Hearing depends on a complex system of cells responsible for capturing sound stimuli and converting them into an electrical impulse that is then interpreted in the brain. In this way, any alteration in this delicate mechanism triggers dysfunction.

Sound waves are initially picked up by the ear and carried through the external auditory canal to the eardrum. The vibration received by the eardrum causes the movement of some bones of the middle ear, those that generate vibrations of the fluid of the inner ear.

A group of hair cells, limited and non-regenerable, receive these vibrations. By intracellular mechanisms they form an electrical impulse that passes to the acoustic nerve. The latter is responsible for bringing information to the brain, place where it will be integrated and decoded as a sound.

Hearing loss from aging it is associated with the degeneration of the structures of the inner ear at the level of the hair cells and nerve conduction pathways. For their part, disorders of the middle and outer ear are rarely responsible for presbycusis.

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Risk factor's

This degenerative hearing pathology in elderly patients can be the product of different variables that intervene and are uniquely associated in each person. This will depend not only on factors acquired throughout life, but also on agents linked to human genetics.

One of the main risk factors is the prolonged exposure to high intensity sounds or noise pollution. It will be conditioned by the situations to which the person is exposed and the different activities practiced.

Hereditary influence plays a very important role in the onset and progression of the pathology. Therefore, having direct relatives who have manifested progressive hearing loss greatly increases the risk of suffering from the condition.

Similarly, it was shown that there is a strong relationship between chronic non-communicable diseases and hearing loss associated with aging. Within this group, arterial hypertension and diabetes mellitus stand out.

Exposure to drugs that are toxic to the ear is often associated with decreased hearing acuity and impaired balance. This occurs as a result of adverse effects of drugs such as aspirin, some antibiotics, and chemotherapy.

Diagnostic tests

The complete and detailed medical evaluation facilitates the identification of pathologies associated with hearing dysfunction. In this sense, the medical history and the examination of the ear with an otoscope by the specialist allows to identify the causes or factors associated with hearing loss.

Similarly, the doctor may order a hearing loss or hearing loss test. This allows confirming whether or not there is a commitment and its severity. With the data obtained, the specialist will be able to develop the treatment protocol.

These hearing tests are usually painless and minimally invasive, being carried out in closed spaces that favor the study. Among the most used, the following stand out:

  • Pure Tone Audiometry: measures the softest sounds that can be detected at different frequencies.
  • Speech in noise and words in noise tests: assesses the ability to discriminate sounds in an environment that mimics a real environment full of auditory stimuli.
  • Speech audiometry: allows you to know the softest speech sounds that the patient can identify, so you will need to repeat the words to verify the discrimination ability.
  • Tympanometry: measures the movement and response capacity of the eardrum and the muscles of the middle ear.

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Available treatments

The therapeutic indication varies according to the severity of the hearing loss. However, this pathology has no cure, so the options are aimed at improving the quality of hearing.

Among the most used are the following:

  • Earphones: They are electronic equipment that is placed inside or behind the ear, increasing the intensity of sound stimuli. They are usually used in patients with mild to moderate dysfunction.
  • Cochlear implants: It is a small device that is surgically placed at the level of the inner ear. It usually offers very good results in people with severe disorders.
  • Osseointegrated hearing systems: uses the physiological capacity of the bone to transfer vibrations. To do this, they act by capturing, amplifying and transferring sound through the bone to the inner ear.
  • Hearing aid devices: technology that amplifies the sound emitted by electronic devices, such as the telephone or television. They are used with or without headphones, depending on the severity.

A hearing aid can be of great help for mild or moderate cases that suffer persistent alterations in the quality of life.

Watch for alarm symptoms

As described, aging hearing loss always starts with alarm symptoms that are gradually increasing. The identification of these manifestations in a timely manner favors a positive prognosis.

Although it can lead to isolation from the world and avoiding contact with others, it is vital to take action and seek help. The implications of this condition go beyond the physical and affect the psychological sphere.