Home > Diseases and Conditions > Age-related hearing loss
  • We are sorry, but NCBI web applications do not support your browser and may not function properly. More information
The hearing organ, the cochlea, is highly developed. It picks up vibrations in the air that are caused by sound. But what is “normal” hearing, how is it measured and when is someone considered to be hard of hearing?

PubMed Health. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Age-related hearing loss

Hearing loss - age related; Presbycusis

Last reviewed: November 9, 2012.

Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is the slow loss of hearing that occurs as people get older.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Tiny hair cells inside your inner ear help you hear. They pick up sound waves and change them into the nerve signals that the brain interprets as sound. Hearing loss occurs when the tiny hair cells are damaged or die. The hair cells do not regrow, so most hearing loss caused by hair cell damage is permanent.

There is no known single cause of age-related hearing loss. Most commonly, it is caused by changes in the inner ear that occur as you grow older. Your genes and loud noise (such as from rock concerts or music headphones) may play a large role.

The following factors contribute to age-related hearing loss:

  • Family history (age-related hearing loss tends to run in families)
  • Repeated exposure to loud noises
  • Smoking (smokers are more likely to have such hearing loss than nonsmokers)
  • Certain medical conditions such as diabetes 
  • Certain medicines

Symptoms

Loss of hearing often occurs slowly over time.

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty hearing people around you
  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
  • Frustration at not being able to hear
  • Certain sounds seeming overly loud
  • Problems hearing in noisy areas
  • Problems telling apart certain sounds such as "s" or "th"
  • More difficulty understanding people with higher-pitched voices
  • Ringing in the ears

Talk to you health care provider if you have any of these symptoms. Symptoms of presbycusis may be like symptoms of other medical problems.

Signs and tests

Your health care provider will do a complete physical exam. This helps find if a medical problem is causing your hearing loss. Your health care provider will use an instrument called an otoscope to look in your ears. Sometimes, earwax can block the ear canals and cause hearing loss.

You may be sent to an ear, nose, and throat doctor and a hearing specialist (audiologist). Hearing tests can help determine the extent of hearing loss.

Treatment

There is no cure for age-related hearing loss. Treatment is focused on improving your everyday function. The following may be helpful:

  • Hearing aids
  • Telephone amplifiers and other assistive devices
  • Sign language (for those with severe hearing loss)
  • Speech reading (such as lip reading and using visual cues to aid communication)
  • A cochlear implant may be recommended for persons with severe hearing loss. Surgery is done to place the implant. The implant allows the person to detect sounds again and with practice can allow the person to understand speech. But it does not restore normal hearing.

Expectations (prognosis)

Age-related hearing loss most often gets worse slowly. The hearing loss cannot be reversed and may lead to deafness.

Hearing loss may cause you to avoid leaving home. Seek help from your health care provider and family and friends to avoid becoming isolated. Hearing loss can be managed so that you can continue to live a full and active life.

Complications

Hearing loss can result in both physical (not hearing a fire alarm) and psychological (social isolation) problems.

The hearing loss may lead to deafness.

Calling your health care provider

Hearing loss should be checked as soon as possible. This helps rule out causes such as too much wax in the ear or side effects of medicines. Your health care provider should have you get a hearing test.

Contact your health care provider right away if you have a sudden change in your hearing or hearing loss with other symptoms such as headache, vision changes, or dizziness.

References

  1. Medwetsky L. Hearing loss. In: Duthie EH, Katz PR, Malone ML, eds. Practiceof Geriatrics. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2007:chap 23.
  2. Seshamani M, Kashima ML. Specia lconsiderations in managing geriatric patients. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 16.

Review Date: 11/9/2012.

Reviewed by: Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Hearing aids for tinnitus in people with hearing lossHearing aids for tinnitus in people with hearing loss
    Tinnitus describes 'ringing', 'whooshing' or 'hissing' sounds that are heard in the absence of any corresponding external sound. About 10% of people experience tinnitus and for some it has a significant negative impact on their quality of life. Tinnitus is commonly associated with some form of hearing loss and is possibly the result of hearing loss‐related changes in brain activity. It is logical to think, therefore, that providing people who have hearing loss and tinnitus with a hearing aid will not only improve their ability to hear sound but will also reduce their tinnitus symptoms. Hearing aids increase the volume at which people hear external sounds so this may help mask or cover up the tinnitus sound. They also improve communication, which may reduce the symptoms often associated with tinnitus such as stress or anxiety. Hearing aids may also improve tinnitus symptoms by reducing or reversing abnormal types of nerve cell activity that are thought to be related to tinnitus. The purpose of this review is to evaluate the evidence from high‐quality clinical trials that try to work out the effects hearing aids have on people's tinnitus. We particularly wanted to look at how bothersome their tinnitus is, how depressed or anxious tinnitus patients are and whether hearing aid use has an effect on patterns of brain activity thought to be associated with tinnitus.
See all (17) ...

Figures

  • Ear anatomy.

PubMed Health Blog...

read all...

Read More

MedlinePlus.gov links to free, reliable, up-to-date health information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other trusted health organizations.

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...