Gray hair. Wrinkles. Poor eyesight. Age certainly affects how our bodies function – and your ears are no exception.
As we get older, the tiny hair cells in our ears that help us hear start to break. As the number of functioning hair cells decrease, so does our ability to hear. Unfortunately you cannot grow any more hair cells, so the damage is permanent. This type of age-related hearing loss is called presbycusis.
For most, presbycusis is simply a result of age. However, other factors can increase your likelihood of getting age-related hearing loss. These include:
- A family history of hearing loss
- Loud noise exposure
- Medical conditions, like diabetes
Symptoms of age-related hearing loss vary in severity. The loss of hearing will occur gradually over time, so for a while you may not even know you have a problem. Look out for these signs of age-related hearing loss:
- Difficulty hearing conversations
- Difficulty understanding people in noisy environments
- Difficulty understanding children and others with high-pitched voices
- Ringing in your ears, tinnitus.
See an audiologist if you think that you may have a hearing loss. If you are worried that you may not hear or understand everything the audiologist says then it may also be helpful to bring a friend or relative along with you.
Most audiologists begin the examination by chatting about hearing issues. The audiologist will need to know your medical history, when you first noticed a hearing loss, any previous exposure to loud sounds, and to what extent you experience hearing loss in your daily life. This information will be used to understand how the loss developed and which treatment option is best for you.
An audiologist will examine your ears using a lighted probe called an otoscope to look for any physical ear problems. This is a painless and non-invasive procedure.
Standard hearing examinations also include audiometric testing, or tests that physically measure the level of hearing loss. You will be asked to sit in a specially-designed audio booth and listen to a series of tones that are sent via insert headphones. You will then indicate which sounds you can and can’t hear, and results will be plotted onto an audiogram or graph of your hearing. This data will be used to measure hearing loss and to find the appropriate hearing solution for your type and level of hearing loss.
If you do have a hearing loss your audiologist will then tell you which types of hearing aids are available for you. Getting hearing aids are a big decision but getting a good outcome so that you can communicate effectively will make it all worth while.