Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is the slow loss of hearing that occurs as people get older.
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 (from rock concerts or music headphones) may play a large role.
The following factors contribute to age-related hearing loss:
Loss of hearing often occurs slowly over time.
Talk to your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms. Symptoms of presbycusis may be like symptoms of other medical problems.
Your provider will do a complete physical exam. This helps find if a medical problem is causing your hearing loss. Your 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.
There is no cure for age-related hearing loss. Treatment is focused on improving your everyday function. The following may be helpful:
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 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.
Hearing loss can result in both physical (not hearing a fire alarm) and psychological (social isolation) problems.
The hearing loss may lead to deafness.
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 provider should have you get a hearing test.
Contact your provider right away if you have a sudden change in your hearing or hearing loss with other symptoms, such as:
Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.