Hearing loss can creep up on you. The first stages are so subtle that it's easy to brush them off as people mumbling or problems with a noisy restaurant. By the time someone realizes that their hearing is getting worse, they can find themselves isolated from the people around them. However, there are effective options for treating age-related hearing loss, so there's no reason to avoid dealing with it. Here are the facts about what happens to your hearing as you age and what you can do about it.
By some estimates, half of the people over age 65 have some hearing loss. The first stages can be hard to detect. Initially, it becomes more difficult to hear certain speech sounds. Often people don't notice the difference, but because their brains are working harder to interpret speech by filling in the missing sounds, it can become fatiguing to have a conversation. Without even realizing they're doing it, people sometimes start withdrawing from interactions or becoming irritable or uncomfortable in social situations.
As the hearing loss progresses, people sometimes experience a ringing in the ears. It can become very difficult to have a conversation any time there is background noise. By the time someone is turning the television up louder than they used to or asking people to repeat themselves frequently, it becomes apparent that they are experiencing some hearing loss.
The reasons so many people experience age-related hearing loss may include things such as changes in the blood flow or structure of the inner ear, damage to the tiny hairs in the ear that transmit the vibrations of sound, or neurological changes. Smoking seems to increase the risk of hearing loss, as well as certain diseases, such as diabetes. Some medications can affect hearing, and exposure to loud noises isn't good for anyone's ears.
Sudden hearing loss, when there is a dramatic loss in the ability to hear within the space of 72 hours or less, is different from gradual hearing loss. While gradual hearing loss commonly comes with aging, sudden hearing loss is a medical problem. Anyone who wakes up unable to hear out of one or both ears should see a doctor immediately. Even though only 10-15% of people who experience sudden hearing loss are able to get a diagnosis for why it happened, immediate medical treatment by an ENT raises the odds of having it reversed from 50% to 85%.
While some degree of hearing loss is expected with aging, there are things you can do to protect your ears. Use hearing protection if you are going to be around loud noises. If you smoke, here's another reason to take care of yourself by quitting. Be sure to see a doctor regularly to support your health, and get any drastic hearing changes checked out right away. Regular hearing tests are important to keep track of any changes.
If we live long enough almost all of us will experience some age-related hearing loss. When that happens, hearing aids can be extremely useful. Research has shown that they provide dramatic benefits to people who have trouble hearing. They don't only improve the ability to understand people around you, they also improve balance, reduce depression and social isolation, and even have a positive effect on brain function.
There is a wide range of advanced hearing aids available that work in many different situations. Unlike older style hearing aids, these do not amplify every sound, creating a din of background noises that interfere with the sounds you're trying to hear. Current technology helps distinguish between noises so you can hear soft sounds without normal sounds being uncomfortably loud. If you're experiencing hearing loss, you owe it to yourself to see what hearing aids can do for you.