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Presbycusis - Symptoms, Treatment, Causes, Diagnosis

Updated on January 3, 2014

What is Presbycusis?

This is a medical term that refers to gradual hearing loss that is age-related. Sometimes it is so gradual that a person might not be immediately aware of any changes in their hearing. As people age they start to suffer from some degree of hear loss. Between the ages of sixty-five and seventy-five approximately thirty to thirty-five percent will lose some hearing loss. Over the age of seventy-five approximately fifty percent will have some hearing loss that is noticeable. When a person has presbycusis it will normally affect their hearing range with the higher frequencies being the first to go. This will make a person have a difficult time hearing sounds that are high-pitched, like the phone ringing, sirens, or even birds chirping. It may even be hard to understand conversations as a whole. It will usually occur in both ears and can range from mild to severe hearing loss.

Symptoms

Although there are common symptoms of presbycusis each person who has this may experience symptoms differently.

Some of the common symptoms may include:

  • When hearing someone else’s speech it could sound slurred or mumbled
  • It is hard to distinguish high-pitched sounds like “th” or “s”
  • Conversations may be difficult to understand, particularly if there is background noise
  • It is much easier to hear men’s voices than a woman’s because a woman’s voice is higher pitched.
  • Some sounds may seem overly annoying and loud
  • In one or both ears a person may develop tinnitus, which is a constant ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in your ears.

Sometimes the symptoms can resemble other medical problems so it is best to see your physician for a diagnosis

Causes

Although there could be many reasons why a person has presbycusis but it is most commonly cause of changes that are age-related in these locations

  • Within your middle ear
  • Within your inner ear
  • Along the nerve pathways to your brain

There are also contributors to this condition which can include:

  • A cumulative effect of environmental noises
  • A loss of hair cells, which are the sensory receptors in your inner ear. As you age these hair cells tend to fall out and degrades.
  • Hereditary factors
  • Your general health
  • Your age
  • Damage to the nerves that carry sound to your brain
  • A side effect of some medications
  • Any medical conditions that effect your blood flow like high blood pressure, circulatory problems, diabetes, and other vascular conditions.

Diagnosis

If your physician suspects that you may be suffering from any form of hearing loss including presbycusis they will usually do a hearing test. A hearing test will help to determine your absolute threshold of hearing, the frequencies, and minimum sound you can hear. The fewer frequencies you can hear the worse your hearing damage is. The physician will also do a medical history and ask about the symptoms. They will also do a physical exam of your eardrum and ear canal using a lighted instrument, which is called an otoscope. The physician will probably send you to a specialist that is specifically trained in the diseases of the ear, nose, and throat called an otolarynogologist. You may also have to see an audiologist who will do a complete hearing evaluation. After all of this is done you will know the extent of your hearing loss.

Some of the tests that may be done include:

  • Weber test - this is when the tuning fork is placed on your forehead to determine if you have one-sided hearing loss
  • Rinne test - this when a vibrating tuning fork is placed on the bone behind the ear to test for hearing loss.
  • Audiometry - this is when you wear headphones and listening for different tone. They vary in loudness and pitch.

Treatment

The options for treating hearing loss that is age related is limited because there is no way that your hearing that has degraded over time can be fixed. To help stop further hearing loss there are some preventative measures that you can use, such as using ear plugs to help limit any hearing damage from loud noises.

If your physician decides on any form of treatment they will decide which treatment is best based on the following:

  • Your medical history, age, and overall general health.
  • The extent of the disease
  • What your tolerance is for specific therapies, medications or procedures.
  • What you expect for the course of this disease and your preference or opinion.

Once all these factors are weighed in, here are some of the treatment options that you physician could choose to implement.

  • Reducing noise exposure
  • Avoiding loud noises
  • Hearing aids or a device such as a telephone amplifier.

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    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 3 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Thank you for an interesting, well written and researched article

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

      Kind regards Peter