2150 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20037
Presbyscusis is the technical name for the common type of hearing loss that comes with age. Hearing lss is very common as we get older, with half of people over the age of 75 having some degree of hearing loss. Many factors contribute to age-related hearing loss especially heredity (inherited diseases from the family) and being exposed to loud noises over time. Sometimes something as simple as a foreign object or earwax building up in the ear canal can lead to loss of hearing. Hearing is much more complex than it seems. Sound waves make their way from the environment to the ear where those waves are translated into a nerve signal that is sent to the brain and interpreted as a sound. The ear is made up of three different areas called the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outside of the ear which is visible on the head is called the pinna and is the beginning of the outer ear. The pinna is designed to help funnel sound into the ear and make its way down to the eardrum (tympanic membrane). At the eardrum, the middle ear begins. The middle ear is where the three smallest bones in the body (the hammer, anvil and stirrup) are located. The sound waves passing through the eardrum cause these tiny bones to vibrate and amplify the sound which is passed to a structure called the cochlea in the inner ear. The cochlea is snail-shaped and filled with fluid and thousands of tiny hairs. As the vibrations in the middle ear bones move to the fluid in the cochlea, those tiny hairs in move back and forth. The hairs are attached to nerves which create an electric signal based on the movement of the hairs and pass the sound to the brain. Hearing loss can occur at any place in the three areas of the ear. At the outer ear, earwax can build up and cause a blockage or a foreign object can get stuck. Hearing loss due to obstruction of the outer ear is good because it can usually be reversed by removing the obstruction. Sometimes, hearing loss comes from the middle ear due to damage to the tympanic membrane (eardrum), hardening of the middle ear bones so they cannot move (otosclerosis), or a even something like a tumor. Most often, hearing loss comes from the inner ear. Listening to loud noises can cause the little hairs as well as the nerves in the inner ear to become damaged. Ageing and heredity also contribute to these hairs and nerves becoming less mobile and less functional. Higher pitched noises usually become difficult to hear first. Also, picking out sounds like conversation from background noise may be more challengine. Risk factors for presbycusis include older age, genetics (or heredity), loud noises from jobs (like construction or working with other loud machinery), recreational noises (like loud music or explosions), certain medications (like gentamicin or chemotherapy), or even some diseases (like meningitis). Unfortunately, this type of hearing loss cannot be reversed. However, learning to live in a way that enhances the hearing you have left and thinking about assistive devices can both be helpful. Hearing loss can have a serious impact on quality of life. People with hearing loss are more likely to have depression and anxiety. Most people do not seek help until they have had hearing loss for quite some time, often withdrawing from friends and family or other social outlets. However, people who seek help for their hearing loss generally report an improved sense of well-being, better outlook on life, as well as closer relationships and higher self-confidence.