Deafness, hearing loss and ageing

Deafness, hearing loss and ageing

On World Hearing Day 2020 (March 3), the WHO highlighted that timely and effective interventions can ensure that people with hearing loss are able to achieve their full potential. It also drew attention to the options available.

Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most of us as we grow older. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults.

Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor’s advice, respond to warnings, and hear phones, doorbells and smoke alarms. Hearing loss can also make it hard to enjoy talking with family and friends, leading to feelings of isolation.

Age-related hearing loss most often occurs in both ears, affecting them equally. Because loss is gradual, one may not realise that some of the ability to hear has been lost.

There are many causes of age-related hearing loss. Most commonly, it arises from changes in the inner ear as we age, but it can also result from changes in the middle ear, or from complex changes along the nerve pathways from the ear to the brain. Certain medical conditions and medication may also play a role.

Many factors can contribute to hearing loss as one gets older. It can be difficult to distinguish age-related hearing loss from hearing loss that can occur for other reasons, such as long-term exposure to noise.

Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by long-term exposure to sounds that are either too loud or last too long. This kind of noise exposure can damage the sensory hair cells in the ear. Once these hair cells are damaged, they do not grow back and the ability to hear is diminished.

Conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, more common in older people, can contribute to hearing loss. Medications that are toxic to the sensory cells in the ears (for example, some chemotherapy drugs) can also cause hearing loss.

Rarely age-related hearing loss can be caused by abnormalities of the outer ear or middle ear. Such abnormalities may include reduced function of the tympanic membrane (the eardrum) or reduced function of the three tiny bones in the middle ear that carry sound waves from the tympanic membrane to the inner ear.

Most older people that experience hearing loss have a combination of both age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss.

Presently, scientists don’t know how to prevent age-related hearing loss. However, one can protect oneself from noise-induced hearing loss by protecting one’s ears from sounds that are too loud and last too long. It’s important to be aware of potential sources of damaging noises, such as loud music, firearms or lawn mowers. Avoiding loud noises, reducing the amount of exposure time to loud noise, and protecting the ears with ear plugs or earmuffs are some of the simple things that can be done to protect one’s hearing and limit hearing loss as one gets older.

A hearing problem can be serious. The most important thing to do, if a hearing problem is suspected, is to seek advice from a healthcare provider. There are several types of professionals who can help. You might want to start with your primary care physician, an otolaryngologist, an audiologist, or a hearing aid specialist. Each has a different type of training and expertise. Each can be an important part of your hearing healthcare.

Treatment will depend on the severity of the hearing loss, therefore, some treatments will be more effective than others. There are a number of devices and aids available for hearing loss: hearing aids; cochlear implants; bone anchored hearing systems; assistive listening devices and lip reading or speech reading.

Hearing is for life. Don’t let hearing loss limit you.

How can I tell if I have a hearing problem?
Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer “yes” to three or more of these questions, you could have a hearing problem and may need to have your hearing checked.
1. Do you sometimes feel embarrassed when you meet new people because you struggle to hear?
2. Do you feel frustrated when talking to members of your family because you have difficulty hearing them?
3. Do you have difficulty hearing or understanding co-workers, clients, or customers?
4. Do you feel restricted or limited by a hearing problem?
5. Do you have difficulty hearing when visiting friends, relatives, or neighbours?
6. Do you have trouble hearing in the movies or in the theatre?
7. Does a hearing problem cause you to argue with family members?
8. Do you have trouble hearing the TV or radio at levels that are too loud for others?
9. Do you feel that any difficulty with your hearing limits your personal or social life?
10. Do you have trouble hearing family or friends when you are together in a restaurant?

Article supplied by the Hospital Particular do Algarve Group, with hospitals in Alvor and Gambelas (Faro)