Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Approximately 17 percent, or 36 million, of American adults say that they have some degree of hearing loss. Roughly one-third of Americans 65 to 74 years of age and 47 percent of those 75 and older have hearing loss. Men are more likely to experience hearing loss than women.
Hearing loss comes in many forms. It can range from a mild loss in which a person misses certain high-pitched sounds, such as the voices of women and children, to a total loss of hearing. It can be hereditary or it can result from disease, trauma, certain medications, or long-term exposure to loud noises.
Types of Hearing Loss
One form of hearing loss, presbycusis, is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most individuals as they grow older.
Presbycusis can occur because of changes in the inner ear, auditory nerve, middle ear, or outer ear. Some of its causes are aging, loud noise, heredity, head injury, infection, illness, certain prescription drugs, and circulation problems such as high blood pressure. Read more on Presbycusis.
Tinnitus, also common in older people, is the ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in the ears frequently caused by exposure to loud noise or certain medicines. Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease, so it can accompany any type of hearing loss.
Tinnitus can also be a sign of other important health problems, such as allergies and problems in the heart and blood vessels. Tinnitus can come and go, or it can persist or stop altogether. Read more on Tinnitus.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
There are two general categories of hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. This type of hearing loss is permanent.
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot reach the inner ear. The cause may be earwax build-up, fluid, or a punctured eardrum. Medical or surgical treatment can usually restore conductive hearing loss.