Five things to know about adult hearing loss

Family Health
Feb 8, 2024

As we age, it’s natural that our bodies experience change. Our bones aren’t as strong, wrinkles appear around our eyes and even our hearts get slower.

You may also experience the need to crank up the volume on the television or radio or find yourself asking family and friends to repeat themselves. That’s because just like every other part of our body, our hearing organ can age as well.

“Inside of the organ are cells for hearing and overtime those cells deteriorate or get damaged due to environmental factors or genetics and that can cause hearing loss as we age,” says Rachel Goldsmith, Au.D., CCC-A, senior audiologist at Georgia Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists. “Not everyone, but a lot of individuals will get presbycusis, which is that natural aging of the ear, which can cause hearing loss.”

Hearing loss is common in the United States, with more than 200,000 cases reported yearly. According to the National Institute on Health, approximately 15 percent of American adults over 18 report some trouble hearing.

Adults can experience hearing loss at any age. Roughly two percent of adults in the 45 to 55 range have disabling hearing loss increasing to more than eight percent by ages 55 to 64, 25 percent from ages 65 to 75 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older.

Here are five things you should know about adult hearing loss:

1. What causes hearing loss?
Besides aging, there are several other factors that can contribute to loss of hearing including exposure to high levels of noise, such as heavy-machinery, loud music or military bombing, and having a family history. For example, if you have a parent or grandparent who suffered hearing loss, then Goldsmith says you are more likely to experience hearing loss.

Other causes may include disorders, such as Otosclerosis, Meniere’s disease, labyrinthitis, autoimmune inner ear disease, head injury, tumors on the hearing nerve, metabolic disorders and disease or illness that result in high fever, such as meningitis. Certain medications, particularly chemotherapy medications, can also cause hearing loss, Goldsmith adds.

2. What are signs of hearing loss?
Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may include:

  • Difficulty understanding words in background noise, such as at a restaurant
  • Needing to turn up the volume on the TV or radio
  • Perception that others are mumbling
  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ear

3. What should I do about it?
If you experience symptoms of hearing loss, you should see a specialist, such as your primary care physician, an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor or an audiologist, as soon as possible, especially if you have a sudden loss of hearing and/or loss of hearing in just one ear, Goldsmith says. You should also see a doctor if you have hearing loss after taking medicine, after having cold or flu symptoms or a medical problem associated with hearing loss.

“There are studies that have looked at long-term effects of not treating hearing loss, and it’s been associated with decreased memory, higher incidences of depression and anxiety, especially with social withdrawal that can come with hearing loss, and a higher risk of falls,” Goldsmith says.

“I think there’s been a little reduction in the stigma of hearing loss and people are more proactive about their health,” Goldsmith adds. “Patients are less resistant to treating their hearing loss knowing the risks associated with untreated hearing loss. I’ve definitely seen more of that since I started working with people with hearing loss more than 10 years ago.”

4. How can an audiologist help me?
An audiologist is a master’s or doctorate level healthcare professional who evaluates, diagnoses, treats and manages hearing loss and balance disorders in adults and children. Audiologists are trained to identify and handle the non-medical side of hearing loss.

With most insurances, you do not need a referral to see an audiologist, Goldsmith says, and the hearing test is usually covered or available at a low-cost. Hearing tests don’t take a long time, but can put you and your audiologist in the right direction to correct your problem.

“We need to rule out obvious things like ear wax or fluid in he ears and perform the hearing test, and then make recommendations, whether that’s annual screening or if a hearing aid could be helpful,” Goldsmith says.

Related Article: Are over-the-counter hearing aids right for me?

5. Should I have regular hearing screenings as an adult?
A lot of primary care offices do a hearing screening during an annual visit. If your primary care doctor doesn’t currently offer this service, you can ask if they have the equipment to start doing so, or you can make an appointment with an audiologist.

Our audiologists at The Listening Center at Ga. ENT also have started doing routine free, community hearing screenings. The next one is the week of February 12th-16th. Please call 912-644-0722 to schedule a screening as spots will fill up fast.


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