Aging is a natural process. As you age, you tend to get wiser due to life experiences and lessons learned. Unfortunately, aging also comes with some negative consequences along with the good, such as the loss of range of motion, pain when doing ordinary things and the loss of the senses. The loss of even one sense can deal a devastating blow to people as it robs them of the ability to smell, taste as well as see or hear clearly.
One of the most common types of hearing loss is a condition known as presbycusis. What is this type of hearing loss, and what are the symptoms? Is there are a way to prevent it? Can it be treated effectively? Below is some further information on this all-too-common hearing loss condition.
What is Presbycusis?
Presbycusis is the most common sensorineural hearing loss resulting from damage to the auditory nerve to the brain or the inner ear that occurs in older adults. As you age, your inner ear changes. These changes in the auditory system cause specific tones and pitches to become more difficult to hear and understand.
The higher the pitch or frequency, the harder it is to hear. If you have ever had a conversation with someone with this affliction, you may notice that some words and sounds are easier to understand than others.
You may have a loved one or friend who always asks you to repeat yourself. It could be an aging parent or grandparent, or it could be a spouse. It could even be your own hearing. While presbycusis occurs as part of the natural aging process, sometimes that natural progression is sped up. The resulting loss is frustrating for all parties involved.
Is There Anything That Speeds Up the Onset of Presbycusis?
Like every part of your body, the auditory system is sensitive to change. Sometimes the change is sped up by the environment a person is exposed to over time. Exposure to loud noises is the most common factor that leads to hearing loss. The exposure is not something that happens once; it is a regular event that takes place over months and years. Usually, it is a repetitive situation. Some of the most common noise situations that cause presbycusis or contribute to its onset are:
Music: Listening to loud music in a closed environment or while wearing headphones.
Traffic: Cars, trains and other commuter conveyances produce loud noises. Continued exposure, such as a daily commute on a train for 10 years, will affect the inner ear.
Office sounds: Your office and where you sit or stand can have a real effect on the deterioration of your auditory system. An administrative position where you are exposed to copy machines, fax machines and constant telephone use will, over time, wear down the nerves of the inner ear.
Equipment: If you are employed in a factory, construction site or live or work near these places, chances are you have become accustomed to hearing the loud noises that are generated. However, this isn’t so great for your ears. While employees in these fields often wear protective gear, it may not be enough if not done consistently. If you live or work near a noisy site, or say in a factory but not on the floor, you don’t necessarily know the damage that is being done to your ears just by being in the same general vicinity.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Presbycusis?
While the signs and symptoms of presbycusis are similar to those of other hearing-related illnesses and in some cases, other non-related issues and diseases, the following are things to be on the lookout for:
1. Difficulty Hearing Higher-Pitch Sounds and Noises
There are certain noises and sounds that occur at higher frequencies or pitches than others. Some examples of this are:
- Dryer or washing machine buzzers
- Children’s voices
It also gets more difficult to hear words with the “s” and “th” sounds. These letter or blended sounds are often spoken at a higher pitch.
These are just some typical examples of noises that occur at frequencies that get more difficult to hear as you age. If you find yourself unable to hear the sound of your child recounting a story or if the alarm that goes off when your refrigerator door is ajar is getting fainter, you may want to speak to your doctor about possible onset of presbycusis (depending on your age).
2. Background Noise
If you venture out in public with any regularity, perhaps it’s getting more and more difficult to hear the person you’re conversing with. Does it seem like the background noise is much louder than the person you’re speaking to? It may almost seem like the rear speakers in the car have been turned up, making it harder to hear the person beside you. This increased sensitivity to background noise is another symptom of presbycusis. It can come and go in waves depending on the environment and the person speaking, or it can just become a regular event. Make a note of when it happens and where you are at the time. Does it happen more frequently at restaurants or when you’re walking around grocery shopping? Is it more difficult to hear someone on the phone when you’re at work? These are all crucial instances to give your doctor.
3. Others Seem Muffled
Have you ever had someone ask you to speak up? Did your grandma frequently tell you to stop mumbling when you were a child? Do you now find yourself thinking it sounds like your daughter sounds like she has marbles in her mouth? This muffled effect is a symptom to be on the lookout for with this type of hearing loss. It may be something that comes on suddenly or gradually gets worse. There may be an instance where one of your children may appear to be mumbling or muffled more than another. Again, it’s important to track these changes, even if they seem insignificant. This information may come in handy during diagnosis and treatment.
Does it sound like there is a bell ringing faintly in the distance? Have you found yourself hearing this sound after getting off the telephone or in the middle of a conversation with a spouse? Does your mother ask you if you hear a ringing noise when you don’t? A dull ringing in one ear or both ears is another symptom of presbycusis. It may come and go, seem faint or get louder. Track the changes so you can report the exact details to your doctor.
5. Women’s Voices
Can your mother hear your husband speaking clearer than she hears you? It may not matter if you’re closer to her, she may ask you to repeat yourself more frequently than your husband. Even if he’s standing across the room, the pitch of his voice is deeper; therefore, it’s easier to hear as it comes across the room. It isn’t anything to take personally; it just happens to be another sign that the aging process is taking its toll on the auditory system.
Now that you have a sense of the common symptoms of presbycusis, what about treatment options?
What Are Some Treatment Options for Presbycusis?
There is no cure for this type of hearing loss; in fact, no hearing loss can be reversed entirely. That’s because the auditory nerve, once damaged, cannot be restored or repaired. There are some treatments available to help someone afflicted with presbycusis hear again somewhat better. Common treatment options include:
- Devices that amplify sounds over the telephone
- Speech to text devices such as closed captioning
- Hearing aids
- Regular removal of wax from the ear canal by a professional
- Therapy to develop strategies for speech cues
The best course of treatment involves prevention. While there is no way to cease the development of age-related hearing loss entirely, you can do your best to prevent further damage, even now no matter what age you are.
Stay away from prolonged exposure to loud equipment. If you have to be in a factory or construction site, always wear earplugs or other protective gear, even if you aren’t directly operating loud machinery.
Don’t listen to music at loud volumes in the car, and never wear headphones.
Move your desk or speak with the office manager about getting rid of loud machinery that may be close by.
If you experience a sudden onset of hearing loss, it is essential to contact your doctor immediately. While the age-related hearing loss is typical, onset occurs over time and is gradual. A sudden loss of hearing is cause for concern.
However, presbycusis may be something to be tolerated as part of the normal aging process. Learning how to spot the symptoms and speaking with your doctor about treatment options will be the best course of treatment for you or your loved one.
Passing on some ways to help prevent it from occurring too soon may be wise to help the younger generation fend off this natural process for as long as possible.