Hearing Loss and Aging
Age-Related Hearing Loss
Most hearing loss in seniors is due to aging and is called presbycusis. According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorder (NIDCD), presbycusis is one of the most common age-related problems that afflict seniors and it is estimated that one in three seniors in the United States aged 65-74 show some hearing loss. Almost half of American seniors over age 74 have problems with hearing.
Most Age-related Changes take Place in the Inner Ear
Most age-related changes take place in the inner ear, but sometimes there are also changes in the middle ear. Changes that interfere with nerves that pass between the ear and the brain can also lead to hearing loss.
Hearing Loss can have a Bad Effect on the Quality of Life
When hearing loss progresses to the point where seniors have real difficulty hearing, then it can have a bad effect on the quality of life. For instance, people do not hear the doorbell or phone ringing, do not hear smoke alarms or beeps from timers to let them know when cooking or baking is completed. Probably, what is most frustrating of all is not being able to hear clearly what people are saying to them. This leads to many requests for people to repeat what they are saying and to speak louder. This turn of events, can lead to feelings of isolation in seniors with hearing loss.
Ramsay Hunt Syndrome from Shingles
Aging contributes to the development of shingles and shingles can lead to hearing loss. Shingles only develops in people, mainly seniors, who had the chicken pox virus as a child. The chicken pox virus never leaves the body but becomes dormant. For some reason aging leads to it becoming active again, but this time it becomes a different disease than chicken pox called herpes zoster or shingles. Shingles can cause extreme neurological pain and itching. Shingles attacks blocks of nerves and is usually accompanied by an unusual kind of rash. If the shingles virus attacks the facial nerve this can lead to paralysis on the face and deafness in the ear of the affected nerve. This is called Ramsay Hunt Syndrome or herpes zoster oticus.
High Blood Pressure and Diabetes
Medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes can also contribute to hearing loss.
See our blog post from March 11, 2019 that shows that even moderate drinking of alcohol can raise blood pressure.
Drugs that can Damage Ears and Cause Hearing Loss
Some of the most common over-the-counter drugs that can lead to hearing loss are:
- Aspirin – 8-12 pills a day
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like naproxen and ibuprofen. These can cause damage to the eyes leading to vision loss and they also have many other dangerous side effects.
Some of the prescription drugs that can lead to hearing loss are:
- Drugs to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure like loop diuretics, furosemide (Lasix) or bumetanide (Bumex).
- Some kinds of antibiotics, especially those known as aminoglycosides that include neomycin, gentamycin and streptomycin can cause hearing difficulties particularly in people suffering from kidney disease or who have a history of hearing loss.
- Chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer like bleomycin, cisplatin and cyclophosphamide can damage the ears and lead to hearing loss.
Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Physician and Audiologist
It is imperative to have a proper examination by an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT) to get an accurate diagnosis. Do not assume hearing loss is from aging, especially if it is only in one ear. Hearing loss from aging is usually in both ears, so if your hearing loss is only in one ear it could be from something else like a tumor. The ENT specialist may send you or your loved one to an audiologist or clinic for hearing tests. Special ear phones emit various noises in different pitches. One has to raise their hand every time they hear a noise. The ENT may also order ultrasound, MRI or other tests to find out the exact cause of the hearing loss.
Devices to Assist Hearing
Though it will not restore hearing loss, many seniors can be helped with a hearing aid, which is a tiny battery-operated device placed in the ear, ear canal or behind the ear and it magnifies sounds. Most insurance companies do not pay for the cost of a hearing aid, but some do. Medicare does not pay for hearing aids for adults, but will cover cost of diagnostic tests that are ordered by a doctor. Most companies will agree to a 30-60 day trial period for a hearing aid, and will refund the cost if the hearing aid does not work out.
In cases of more severe hearing loss, the ENT physician may suggest having cochlear implants in one or both ears. These will not restore hearing in someone who is deaf, but can offer a sense of sound that may help a person to understand someone speaking to them face-to-face or over the phone.
Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA)
A bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA) is surgically attached behind the ear and sends vibrations from the skull to the inner ear. Medicare will pay for these.
Preventing Hearing Loss
- Ear plugs should be used around places where there is very loud or ongoing noise.
- Since smokers have more problems than non-smokers it pays to quit smoking.
- Headphones can also damage the ears and lead to hearing loss, especially if they are too loud or used for a long period of time.
Park Crescent Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in East Orange, New Jersey
If you or your loved one are in need of short-term rehabilitation or long-term skilled nursing care, the Park Crescent Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in East Orange, New Jersey offers state-of-the-art sub-acute short-term rehabilitation and long-term skilled nursing care.
Most hearing loss in seniors is age-related, but a true diagnosis must be obtained by seeking the help of an ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician. Steps can be taken to prevent hearing loss from noise-related hearing loss. Physicians should be informed if patients have hearing difficulties, so they will prescribe drugs that do not damage the ears and adversely affect hearing. Hearing aids and implants can usually help seniors hear better, but they do not restore hearing loss.
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