(Presbyacusis; Age-Related Hearing Loss; Presbyacusia)
Presbycusis is gradual hearing loss in both ears that commonly occurs as people age. Nearly half of all people 75 years and older have this form of gradual hearing loss which can be mild, moderate, or severe. Presbycusis usually involves permanent hearing loss sometimes referred to as nerve deafness. Certain medical problems can also lead to hearing loss. If you suspect you have presbycusis, contact your doctor.
There are several causes of presbycusis including:
- Gradual degeneration of the eardrum or delicate structures within the inner ear (hair cells) due to age
- Changes in the hearing nerve pathways in the ear leading to the brain
- Repeated exposure to loud sounds, music, or equipment which can damage the fragile hair cells within the inner ear involved in hearing
- Hereditary or genetic influences
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
The following factors increase your chances of developing presbycusis:
If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to presbycusis. These symptoms may be caused by other health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.
- Noticeable loss of hearing of higher-pitched sounds, such as female voices, telephone ringing, or bird calls
- Sounds appear less clear and sharp
- Difficulty understanding conversations, particularly in noisy places or while speaking on the telephone
- Ringing in one or both ears, a condition called tinnitus
With presbycusis, hearing loss is usually very gradual, affecting both ears equally.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam of your ear canal and eardrum with a lighted instrument called an otoscope. You will probably need to see a specialist, including an otolaryngologist, a doctor specially trained in disorders of the ear, nose, and throat. You may also see an audiologist who can do a complete hearing evaluation to determine the extent of hearing loss. Your primary care doctor can help refer you to an otolaryngologist, who often works in association with an audiologist.
Tests may include the following:
- Rinne test—involves a vibrating tuning fork placed on the bone behind your ear to test for hearing loss
- Weber test—a tuning fork is placed on the forehead to determine one-sided hearing loss
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Hearing Aids and Assistive Listening Devices
If it is determined that a hearing aid may be useful, the audiologist will conduct several tests to determine the type of hearing aid that will best improve hearing of speech. The extent of benefit varies according to the cause and degree of hearing loss. Sometimes hearing aids will need to be replaced with other models if hearing loss progresses. Some people with presbycusis may benefit from telephone amplifiers that help hear speech on the telephone.
For certain people with very severe hearing loss that is not improved by a simple hearing aid, a cochlear implant device may improve sound generation to the brain. It may provide partial hearing to the profoundly deaf.
To help reduce your chances of developing presbycusis, take the following steps:
- Avoid repeated exposure to loud noises and sounds of any type, including those at work, home, and during recreation.
- When working with loud machinery or in loud environments, wear protective ear plugs or ear muffs.
American Academy of Audiology
American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery
Hearing Loss Association of America
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Canadian Hearing Society
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology
Gates GA, Mills JH. Presbycusis. Lancet . 2005;366:1111-1120.
Hearing loss and deafness. Merck Manual of Medical Information . 2nd ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories; 2003.
Last reviewed November 2008 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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