Causes of Hearing Loss in Elderly
Mild hearing loss may sound, umm, mild, but it’s quite the misnomer. Professionals classify any hearing thresholds between 25-40 dB to be a mild hearing loss. (Click here for the different degrees of hearing loss.) But short of measuring your hearing loss precisely, how can you tell if you have mild hearing loss?
People with a mild hearing loss tend to be able to hear speech when someone is speaking close to them or if the room is quiet. They can hear when people are talking loudly, too. However, they probably feel that people are mumbling and/or that their ears are constantly plugged up. They also struggle when there are competing sound signals (for example speech and noise together). Also, quite a few people with mild hearing loss feel like they have an abundance of wax in their ear and that they would hear fine if it was just cleaned out.
Who is Affected By Hearing Loss?
As we age, your body begins to change. Movements aren’t as swift, the print in books seems smaller, and yes, your ears may not hear as well as they used to. Hearing loss is a common phenomenon; in fact, approximately 33% of adults aged 61 to 70 years experience some decrease in their hearing.
That percentage jumps to more than 80% in adults older than 85.
Men are more commonly affected by this issue and at a younger age than women, but both genders can experience hearing loss ranging in severity, as can people in their younger years.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Although many people believe that they’d notice their hearing declining, this isn’t always the case due to the fact that the loss can be gradual and over a number of years.
Thinking back over the past few weeks or months, if you can recall several instances of the below problems, you may be experiencing mild, moderate, or even severe hearing impairment:
- Asking people to repeat themselves
- Having the television’s volume so high that others complain
- Not being able to follow conversations when multiple people are speaking
- Trouble hearing a conversation with background noise present
- Difficulty understanding high-pitched voices, like those from women and children
- Avoiding phone calls because people are difficult to hear, no matter how great the connection is
- Having to ask people to speak slower or louder
Maybe you haven’t experienced these issues yourself but you’ve noticed a loved one who has. Whether you are directly being affected by hearing loss or living with someone who is dealing with these symptoms, the problem can be frustrating but can also lead to further health complications if left untreated.
Factors of Age-Related Hearing Loss
People who have worked in aviation, shipyards, mining, refineries, plants, and factories, or even those who have served our country may be at a higher risk for hearing loss as they age. This is especially true if hearing protection wasn’t worn or available.
Often, years of exposure to the loud noises within these industries can damage the auditory nerve or the inner ear. However, hearing loss can also be caused by the buildup of earwax or fluid as well as damage or punctures to the eardrum.
Hearing impairment due to damage to the auditory nerve or inner ear is called sensorineural hearing loss while hearing impairment caused by earwax, fluid, or a punctured eardrum is called conductive hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss is typically permanent whereas conductive hearing loss can usually be corrected with minor medical procedures.
Both types of hearing loss can progressively get worse as you age but can be managed with the use of hearing aids and assistive listening devices.
Health Conditions That Affect Hearing
Aside from loud working conditions, lack of hearing protection, or blockages in the ear, hearing loss may also be caused by certain health conditions.
Heart diseases such as hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure have all been linked to hearing loss. These conditions are prevalent in older populations and can cause poor blood flow, which in turn, may lead to hearing impairment.
Diabetes is also thought to lead to hearing loss as experts believe that the disease can damage the blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear.
Meningitis typically causes the swelling and inflammation of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain. This swelling can impact the nerves between the ears and the brain which may cause hearing loss; in some cases, this damage can be reversed.
The flu is another illness that can cause hearing loss due to the presence of fluid in the tubes of the ears. If the fluid doesn’t drain on its own or is removed by a medical professional, it can be responsible for hearing damage.
Finally, rheumatoid arthritis is linked to hearing loss in adults as more than 75% of people with this autoimmune disease experience a decrease in hearing. Unfortunately, other than linking this disease to the loss of hearing, researchers aren’t exactly sure why it causes hearing impairment. Some experts believe that the loss may be caused by damage from the swelling of the cartilage and tiny bones in the ears.
Medications Related to Hearing Impairment
Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can also cause hearing loss in the elderly. Some drugs may cause temporary loss of hearing while the loss experienced with the use of other medications may be permanent.
Loop diuretics, which are used to treat high blood pressure and edema, can change the level of fluids in the inner ear. This change in the amount of fluid in the ear can cause the inner canal tissue to swell and may be responsible for problems with the transmission of nerve signals.
Aminoglycoside is a common type of antibiotic that is used to treat infections of the urinary tract and abdomen. It is also used to treat endocarditis, and bacteremia, as well as to prevent various illnesses and infections.
This type of antibiotic is known to cause hearing loss but is now typically prescribed in a modified version to avoid this issue. Aminoglycosides can cause damage to the hair cells within the ear which may impair hearing.
Bleomycin, carboplatin, and cisplatin are all chemotherapy drugs that can damage the inner ear or its cells. Often, the first sign of ear damage and hearing loss from chemotherapy drugs is tinnitus – or the ringing of the ears. Because these drugs are life-saving, the risks and benefits must be weighed carefully.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are thought to reduce the blood flow to the inner ear which can affect your ability to hear. In addition to NSAIDs, large doses of aspirin can produce temporary, often reversible signs of hearing loss.
Untreated Hearing Loss
As you can see, there are numerous causes of hearing loss in the elderly. Unfortunately, when left untreated, hearing loss can lead to the quicker progression of dementia, problems with concentration, and chronic fatigue.
Additionally, elderly patients suffering from hearing loss may become socially withdrawn and embarrassed about their condition which may lead to depression and anxiety.
If hearing loss is treated appropriately, it can sometimes be reversible. If the loss isn’t reversible, there are typically many ways to cope with impaired hearing.
You might consider asking people to speak a bit louder or slowly, pay closer attention to facial expressions, or have conversations in places without much background noise. If following these tips doesn’t seem to do the trick, you may consider looking into hearing aids or assistive listening devices to help maintain a high quality of life.
If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss, you may consider speaking with an audiologist. However, if you’ve already been diagnosed with this issue or have experienced the causes of hearing loss in the elderly that we mentioned here, Hearing.io has comfortable and affordable hearing aids that can be customized to fit your needs.
Contact us now for a free consultation to see how we can help improve your quality of life by helping you hear clearly!