Dealing with a gradual loss of hearing

CHECK-UP: Once we get to the age of 50, we can expect a gradual loss

CHECK-UP:Once we get to the age of 50, we can expect a gradual loss

Although only in my late 50s, I've noticed recently that when I'm in a crowded or noisy place I have difficulty hearing what people are saying. Surely I'm too young to be losing my hearing?

A loss of hearing seems to gradually increase with advancing years, but once we get to the age of 50 most of us can expect to notice a gradual loss of our hearing ability. Between the ages of 60 and 70, approximately 25 per cent of people report a hearing impairment.

The type and degree of hearing loss will vary from person to person. While some will only notice subtle changes such as an inability to hear certain high-frequency sounds, others like yourself will find it difficult to distinguish speech in certain situations such as a party setting, or where there is a lot of background noise.

What actually causes hearing loss?

There are several causes for hearing problems. Conductive hearing loss is when there is an obstacle blocking the passage of sound through to the inner ear. This can be caused by excessive wax, infection or debris in the ear canal. These causes are usually reversible. Neurosensory loss is when there is a problem that prevents the inner ear from picking up the sound waves properly, and these distorted sounds are then transmitted to the brain. This type of hearing loss can be caused by nerve damage, exposure to loud noise, certain drugs and a condition known as presbycusis.

Presbycusis is more commonly known as "old-age deafness" and is the most common type of hearing loss in older people. Symptoms include an inability to hear high frequencies, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), intolerance to loud noise, and difficulty distinguishing certain consonants such as "s" or "f".

What do I do now?

Make an appointment to see your GP, who will examine your ears and perhaps refer you for a hearing test (audiometry). For some people it may be difficult to improve their hearing, but others benefit greatly from a hearing aid. Modern hearing aids can be tailored to your individual needs and can be quite discreet. Although they may not restore hearing to normal levels, they can make quite a difference.