What causes hearing loss as we age?

12 May 2022

As we get older, many of us experience age related hearing loss. This of course can be challenging, as many of life’s pleasures – from listening to music to conversing with our loved ones – rely on our ability to hear. In this guide, we’ll explore what happens to our hearing as we get older, and some of the ways of identifying hearing loss symptoms so you can get the support you need.

What is hearing impairment?

A hearing impairment, or hearing loss, refers to the reduced ability to hear sounds. Hearing impairments are common among older people; in fact, more than 40% of Britons over the age of 50 have hearing loss, according to Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) estimates based on ONS figures.

Hearing loss stats

 

What causes hearing loss as you age?

During the ageing process, damage to the sensory cells in our inner ear ultimately causes hearing loss. However, there may be lifestyle factors that can cause hearing loss at any age; for example, you may have a job or hobby that exposes you to loud noise over a sustained period. Additionally, hearing loss can be associated with underlying medical factors, such as a family history of hearing loss, ear infections, or conditions like tinnitus, where people experience a persistent ringing or buzzing sound.

 

What are the signs of age-related hearing loss?

Hearing impairments can be caused by many factors, among them old age. If you’re experiencing gradual hearing loss in both ears, this might be attributable to the ageing process. But what are the other signs of hearing loss? Watch out for these clues:

  • You struggle to hear what other people around you are saying
  • Other people sometimes think you’re not listening when they speak
  • You find yourself asking others to repeat themselves or speak more loudly
  • You’re using a louder TV or radio volume than before
  • You find it difficult to make out words while in a noisy or crowded place.

In addition, there are other hearing loss symptoms which are treatable and not necessarily connected with age. For example, if you have difficulty hearing in one ear, this may indicate an ear infection or earwax build-up. Alternatively, sudden hearing loss could be a sign of a perforated eardrum.

How to prevent hearing loss in old age

While hearing loss is a perfectly natural part of getting older, there are ways you can protect your hearing for longer. Here are some tips for how to protect your hearing as you age:

Avoid loud noise

From fireworks displays to football stadiums, some activities are simply noisier than others. You may wish to avoid these events or wear protective earplugs.

Healthy living

The hair cells in your inner ear require a healthy blood flow, so regular exercise and a balanced diet can work in your favour when it comes to protecting against hearing loss.

 

Review any prescription drugs

According to RNID, there are more than 100 ototoxic drugs whose side effects can include hearing loss. If you have any concerns that your medicine intake is affecting your hearing, you should speak to your GP.

How to register as deaf or hard of hearing

While there is no obligation to register as deaf or hard of hearing, if you're concerned about your hearing loss symptoms you should visit your GP for an initial assessment, they may refer your to an audiologist for specialist support.

Following this, your audiologist may issue you with audiogram if your hearing loss is significant; you can share this with your local authority, which may entitle you to concessions such as tax allowances and free public transport.

You can also call 111 or get help from 111 online if you want to discuss your symptoms with a medical professional.

Further resources

No one should feel they’re unable to get the support they need if they’re experiencing hearing loss. Below, we’ve listed some handy resources to help you get some additional assistance:

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