It’s easy to take your hearing for granted, but pause for a moment and imagine a world where you struggle to hear ambient noise or follow conversations? As you age, you’ll experience a number of bodily changes. Hearing loss may be one of them.
Age-related hearing loss is the gradual decrease in how well you can hear as you get older. This condition affects mostly older people, and often damages hearing in both ears equally. As it happens slowly over time, you could have age-related hearing loss without even realising it’s happened!
Even though it isn’t life-threatening, hearing loss can have a major impact on your quality of life. It can make it difficult to understand and follow your doctor’s advice, respond to warnings, and hear phones, doorbells, and alarms. It can also pose more than a few frustrations when socialising with your family and friends, and make you feel isolated, irritated, and embarrassed.
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What causes it?
- Changes in the structures of the inner ear.
- Changes in blood flow to the ear.
- Impairment in the nerves responsible for hearing.
- Changes in the way the brain processes speech and sound.
- Damage to the tiny hairs in the ear that are responsible for transmitting sound to the brain.
Factors that increase the risk of hearing loss:
- Family history. Age-related hearing loss tends to run in families.
- Years of exposure to loud noises. Construction workers, farmers, and musicians are at a high risk for hearing problems.
- Smokers are more likely to have hearing loss than non-smokers.
- High blood glucose levels can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear.
- High blood pressure. Blood pressure that is abnormally high can damage your blood vessels over time. This affects your entire body, including your ears, and can impair your hearing.
Some medications can also cause hearing problems, e.g. chemotherapy, antibiotics, and over-the-counter pain relievers. In large doses, these meds can be harmful to your ears and may cause permanent hearing loss, even after the drugs have been stopped.
Hearing loss can also be caused by viral or bacterial infections, head injuries, and tumours.
You may have age-related hearing loss if you:
- Have difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds. You may notice that you have difficulty hearing female or children’s voices.
- Have difficulty hearing in noisy areas.
- Have difficulty hearing background noises and people around you.
- Frequently ask people to repeat themselves.
- Can’t hear the difference between certain sounds, like “s” and “th”.
- Have problems understanding conversations over the phone.
- Have a constant ringing in your ears.
- Turn up the volume on the television or radio louder than normal.
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s best to have your hearing checked out as soon as possible. Hearing loss cannot be reversed, and may lead to deafness if left untreated.
Save your hearing
You may not be able to prevent age-related hearing loss, but you can stop it from getting worse!
- Avoid damaging noises, e.g. loud music, firearms, and lawnmowers.
- Reduce the amount of time you’re exposed to loud noises.
- Wear earplugs or ear muffs in places where you’re exposed to loud noises.
- Quit that smoking habit for good.
- If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, keep it under control.
- Limit your use of medications that could cause hearing loss. If you’re concerned that your medications are affecting your hearing, talk to your doctor about possibly adjusting doses or changing treatment.