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Is Your Hearing Getting Worse?

From NIH SeniorHealth.gov.

Hearing loss, a common yet complex problem, involves both the ear’s ability to detect sounds and the brain’s ability to interpret those sounds, including speech.

Several factors have to be taken into account to determine how much of an effect hearling loss will have on quality of life. They include:

*the degree of the hearing loss

*the pattern of hearing loss across different frequencies (pitches)

*whether one or both ears is affected

*the areas of the auditory system that are not working normally—such as the middle ear, inner ear, neural pathways, or brain

*the ability to recognize speech sounds

Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. About 18 percent of American adults 45-64 years old, 30 percent of adults 65-74 years old, and 47 percent of adults 75 years old or older, have a hearing impairment. And men are likelier to experience it.

It can range from a mild loss in which a person misses certain high-pitched sounds, such as the voices of women and children, to a total loss of hearing. It can be hereditary or it can result from disease, trauma, certain medications, or long-term exposure to loud noises.

There are differing categories of hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss is usually permanent.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot reach the inner ear. The cause may be earwax build-up, fluid, or a punctured eardrum. Medical treatment or surgery can usually restore conductive hearing loss.

One form of hearing loss, presbycusis, comes on gradually as a person ages. Presbycusis can occur because of changes in the inner ear, auditory nerve, middle ear, or outer ear. Some of its causes are aging, loud noise, heredity, head injury, infection, illness, certain prescription drugs, and circulation problems such as high blood pressure.

Presbycusis commonly affects people over 50, many of whom are likely to lose some hearing each year. Having presbycusis may make it hard for a person to tolerate loud sounds or to hear what others are saying.

Tinnitus, also common in older people, is a symptom that can accompany any time of hearing loss. It consists of a ringing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing sound that can be intermittent, heard in one or both ears and be either loud or soft. Something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can cause tinnitus, but it can also be the result of a number of health conditions or side effects of medications.

If you think you have tinnitus, see your primary care doctor. You may be referred to an otolaryngologist — a surgeon who specializes in ear, nose, and throat diseases — (commonly called an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or an ENT). The ENT will physically examine your head, neck, and ears and test your hearing to determine the appropriate treatment.

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