Is Hearing Loss Affecting Your Daily Life?
By Stephen Gadomski, MD, Virtua Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT)
As you get older, you may notice that you have more trouble hearing table conversation while dining in a crowded restaurant. Or, you may struggle to hear the television from across the room. These gradual changes in your ability to hear often are caused by a common condition called age-related hearing loss.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, hearing loss affects approximately 1 out of every 3 people in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 74—and nearly half of people older than 75.
If left untreated, age-related hearing loss can affect your social interactions, family relationships, safety, ability to work and quality of life. The good news is that many cases of age-related hearing loss can be treated successfully with hearing aids or other assistive devices. Find out what you need to know about age-related hearing loss so you can get the treatment you need.
Why is good hearing important for everyone, including older adults?
Having the ability to hear clearly can help you maintain your quality of life as you age. Although age-related hearing loss may not seem serious enough to affect your daily life, severe cases can cause problems including:
- Difficulty understanding important medical care instructions
- Feelings of isolation or depression
- Inability to keep up with conversations
- Inability to take part in activities you enjoy (attending worship, watching movies, dining in restaurants, listening to music)
- Job performance issues
- Safety concerns (not hearing the smoke alarm, telephone, doorbell, emergency announcements)
- Social and emotional stress with friends and family members
- Withdrawing from relationships
Also, studies suggest that hearing loss may be a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia, a neurological condition that affects memory, reasoning, and personality. Researchers believe that problems associated with hearing loss—such as social isolation, lack of mental stimulation, depression and increased mental energy required to understand speech—may lead to cognitive decline. But, further research is needed to understand the potential link.
What causes age-related hearing loss?
As you age, the hair cells in your inner ear become damaged or die, resulting in hearing loss. Although the exact causes of hair cell damage or death aren’t well understood, scientists believe that a gradual build-up of toxins in the inner ear or poor circulation and inflammation could be responsible.
Who’s at risk for age-related hearing loss?
As the name suggests, the main risk factor for age-related hearing loss is aging. However, health conditions that affect circulation—including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and inflammatory disorders such as lupus—can increase your risk of developing it.
Other factors also contribute to hearing loss, including:
- Long-term exposure to noise
- Medications, such as chemotherapy drugs or certain diuretics and antibiotics
- Other problems with the outer or middle ear
Can you prevent age-related hearing loss?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent age-related hearing loss. But, you may be able to reduce your risk by adopting healthy habits, including:
- Avoiding smoking
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Keeping cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels within normal ranges
- Limiting exposure to loud noises
- Visiting your primary care provider for regular checkups
What should you do if you think you have age-related hearing loss?
If you or a loved one has age-related hearing loss, the first step is to discuss the problem with a healthcare provider.
Although many people are afraid to discuss age-related hearing loss with their loved ones or their doctor, there’s no reason to worry. Hearing loss is a common, highly treatable condition that affects many older adults.
You might want to start by discussing your hearing loss with your primary care provider. Your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist (also known as an otolaryngologist).
After performing an exam, the ENT likely will refer you to a qualified audiologist. An audiologist is a healthcare provider who's specially trained to give hearing tests and assess hearing loss.
It's a good idea to bring a loved one with you to your appointments to help you understand your condition and to document your healthcare provider’s instructions.
How is age-related hearing loss treated?
Depending on the results of your exam and hearing test, your healthcare team will develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Your treatment plan may include hearing aids, which are small electronic devices that fit inside or behind your ear that allow you to hear better, or other devices to improve your hearing.
Although there are many misconceptions about hearing aids, many of today’s models use the latest technology and are so small that they’re barely noticeable to others. Your audiologist will have you try several different types of hearing aids and show you how to use them.
There’s a wide range of hearing aids available at a variety of prices (hearing aids aren’t usually covered by health insurance). You can work closely with your audiologist to find a high-quality hearing aid that meets your needs.
If you’re suffering from age-related hearing loss, there are specialists and treatments that can help.
Call 1-888-847-8823 to schedule an appointment with a Virtua ENT today.
Updated July 31, 2018