Exploring the onset and progression of age-related hearing loss is vital for maintaining good hearing as we age. This type of hearing decline usually occurs gradually and similarly in both ears, mainly affecting the inner ear but possibly other parts too. While changes in the ear structure are primary causes, factors like genetics, exposure to loud noises, and certain health conditions also contribute to hearing loss over time. 

Understanding these factors helps us consider ways to prevent or minimize the impact of age-related hearing loss and preserve our hearing health as we grow older.


What is age-related hearing loss? 

Most commonly, age-related hearing loss occurs symmetrically in both ears due to gradual changes within the ear structure over time. It primarily affects the inner ear but potentially impacts other components as well. Occasionally, alterations in the nerve pathways linking the ear to the brain may also play a role. But, many things affect how much your hearing declines as you age. 



Causes of age-related hearing loss

Inside your inner ear, tiny hair cells play a crucial role in your ability to hear. They catch sound waves and convert them into nerve signals that your brain recognizes as sound. When these delicate hair cells are damaged or die, hearing loss occurs.

Unfortunately, these delicate hair cells don’t regenerate, meaning that hearing loss caused by this damage is permanent.

Age-related hearing loss typically doesn’t stem from one specific cause. More often, it’s due to changes within the inner ear that come with aging. These include: 

  • Health conditions like diabetes, recurring ear infections, and high blood pressure.
  • Medications such as aspirin, chemotherapy, and certain antibiotics.
  • Loud noises such as music, lawnmowers, fireworks, gunfire, loud engines, and planes.
  • Whether or not hearing loss runs in your family.



Symptoms of hearing loss 

If you begin feeling the causes of age-related hearing loss, consider the following questions. If you answer “yes” to two or more, or “sometimes” to three or more, you might have hearing loss and should think about getting your hearing tested:

  • Does hearing trouble make it hard for you to follow TV or radio?
  • Does hearing trouble make it challenging for you at social gatherings like parties?
  • Does hearing trouble frustrate you when talking to your family members?
  • Do you feel excluded in group settings due to hearing issues?
  • Does hearing trouble make it difficult for you to enjoy visits with friends, relatives, or neighbors?
  • Do you find dealing with a hearing problem to be a challenge?
  • Do you feel that your hearing difficulty limits your personal or social life?
  • Does hearing trouble make you uncomfortable when conversing with friends?
  • Do you tend to avoid social gatherings due to hearing issues?
  • Do you visit friends, relatives, or neighbors less frequently than you’d like because of hearing problems?



How hearing loss is diagnosed

Once you’ve assessed your hearing using the questions above, your healthcare provider will examine your outer ear canal and ear drum using an otoscope that has a light. 

They’ll perform a hearing test to check for any damage to the eardrum, blockages caused by foreign objects or built-up earwax, as well as signs of inflammation or infection.

If necessary, you might be sent to an audiologist, to undergo an audiogram. During this test, sounds will be played through headphones to one ear at a time. You’ll be asked to indicate whether you can hear each sound. If you’re unable to hear certain tones, it suggests there may be some level of hearing loss.


When do I need a hearing aid?

When hearing loss starts to interfere with a person’s communication and everyday activities, they may need a hearing aid. The seriousness of the hearing loss and how it affects the person’s quality of life are key factors in deciding if a hearing aid is necessary.

There’s strong evidence suggesting that ignoring hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia. As the brain loses its ability to process sounds over time, the lack of regular auditory stimulation becomes a significant factor. Even in seemingly quiet surroundings, there are numerous sounds that we subconsciously perceive. 

We recommend regular hearing tests and prompt treatment of any hearing loss to prevent potential cognitive issues associated with prolonged untreated hearing loss.


Can you slow down age-related hearing loss? 

In benign cases of hearing loss, we can slow it down. Understanding the benefits of hearing aids, preserving your existing hearing and preventing further loss become crucial. To safeguard your hearing for the future, consider these steps.


1. Minimize exposure to loud noises

To prevent worsening, it’s vital to limit exposure to loud noises, aiming to avoid sounds louder than 85 decibels for extended periods. Various sources like sporting events, lawnmowers, and even hair dryers can contribute to hearing damage. 

Additional everyday sounds to watch out for include:

  • Motorcycles at 95 decibels
  • Woodshops at 100 decibels
  • Ambulance sirens at 120 decibels
  • Firecrackers at 130 decibels
  • Jet engines at 140 decibels. 

While avoiding these sounds is ideal, sometimes exposure is unavoidable. The best way is to use protective measures.


2. Wear ear protection

The greater the volume of a sound and the duration of exposure, the greater the risk of hearing damage. Therefore, wearing hearing protection whenever you can, may help you slow down age-related hearing loss. 

You can find earplugs and earmuffs in stores or online. Choose from different ear protection such as:

  • Formable foam earplugs
  • Pre-molded earplugs
  • Canal caps
  • Safety earmuffs. 
  • Custom-made “musician earplugs” designed to protect hearing while still allowing natural sound. 

Pick a protector that’s comfortable and easy to use, ensuring you’ll use it consistently.

Keep in mind, hearing protectors don’t block out all sound. They’re rated with a noise reduction rating (NRR); generally, higher ratings mean more sound is blocked if worn correctly. Opt for protectors that allow for clear communication in noise, reducing the need to remove them during conversation. Even briefly removing them in loud environments can endanger your hearing.


3. Reduce the amount of time you’re exposed to loud noises

To prevent further hearing loss, it’s crucial to limit your exposure to loud environments. Whenever possible, reduce the amount of time you spend in noisy places such as concerts, construction sites, or sporting events.                   

Additionally, use ear protection like earplugs or earmuffs when you find yourself in loud settings. By minimizing your exposure to loud noises, you can help safeguard your hearing health and reduce the risk of further damage.


Hearing loss treatment 

Hearing loss treatment often begins with regular hearing tests, particularly recommended from the age of 65 onwards. These annual screenings are vital for early detection, allowing timely intervention if any issues arise. However, it’s advisable to start testing sooner if you notice any symptoms or have a family history of hearing loss.

 By staying proactive and monitoring your hearing health regularly, you can address any concerns promptly and effectively.

Protect your hearing and schedule your free hearing test today with Beltone Tristate!