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Hearing Aids, Hearing Loss and Aging: Presby-what?

Posted Aug 12 2010 2:13pm

Presbycusis (prez-bee-KYOO-sis) is the medical term for age-related hearing loss. Like grey hair, it comes on gradually and a lucky few manage to squeak by without loosing their hearing at all. For instance, if your older family members don’t suffering from hearing loss, the chances are better for you to keep your own hearing sharp.

Age-related hearing loss is very common, however. Approximately 35% of those between 65 and 75 have hearing loss, while approximately half of those old than 75 suffer from hearing loss. Many of you reading can probably think of at least one individual with some amount of difficulty, whether you have to look at them while you speak or raise your voice to be heard.

In the case of presbycusis, “hearing loss” doesn’t necessarily mean “deaf”. With age-related hearing loss, it’s often more a matter of losing clarity of sound than losing sound all together. A few of the symptoms include:

  • Background noise (even low background noise) makes normal conversational tones hard to understand
  • Everyone seems to be slurring their words or mumbling
  • Some sounds may seem overly loud compared to others or hurt your ears
  • "S", "th" and other high-pitched sounds may be difficult to tell apart
  • It becomes easier to hear the lower-pitched voices of men than the higher voices of women
  • Ringing, roaring or hissing sounds, otherwise known as tinnitus, may begin to affect your hearing

What Causes Presbycusis?

The most common cause of age-related hearing loss is simply changes in the inner ear, middle ear or nerve pathways as a person ages. However, it can also be caused by continued exposure to the noise of every day life, such as daily traffic sounds, noisy offices and loud music. In this case, the continual noise damages the tiny hair cells (or sensory receptors) that help us hear. Because the cells don’t rejuvenate, the hearing loss becomes permanent. Factors such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure can also cause presbycusis.

The Good News About Age-Related Hearing Loss

If the sounds of life are fading and conversation is getting harder to hear, the best thing you can do first is get a hearing test. A hearing test can help diagnose whether you have presbycusis, some other hearing disorder, or something as simple as earwax buildup.

If you do have age-related hearing loss, don’t give up hope. Hearing aids have helped many individuals live a good life full of sound. Although many don’t use hearing aids out of vanity, it’s important to note that most are small enough to be virtually invisible. As well, hearing aid technology has made leaps and bounds over the past ten years; digital hearing aids, for example, can automatically adjust to noise levels.

If you miss the crystal-clear quality of sound you used to have, do your ears a favor and schedule a hearing test. If hearing aids are prescribed, at least take the time to look at them; don’t dismiss them out of hand. Hearing is a precious sense that never grows old.

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