Frequently I see patients who believe aging = hearing loss. In my experience, that’s not necessarily the case. Let’s explore a few other factors that contribute to hearing loss and what you can do to keep your hearing healthy.
Let’s Start With the Myth: Hearing loss is a direct result of the aging process
By far, this is one of the most common myths my patients believe. They ask me, “Is my hearing normal for my age?” I reply, “Whether you’re 5 or 105, you need to hear above 25 dB to hear all the sounds in normal speech. That standard does not change with age.” When patients ask those types of questions, they’re sometimes implying that they don’t need amplification because hearing loss is a normal part of life. Since others their age do not wear amplification, they assume that they, too, can go without it. “My hearing does not bother me,” they say. In my opinion, the excuse “It does not bother me” is something we tell ourselves to avoid the problem at hand. Rather than addressing the issue, we normalize hearing loss and file the problem away until it becomes a bigger issue—an issue that’s too big and problematic to fix through amplification.
The truth is that any hearing loss that impedes your ability to understand speech is a BIG problem. The longer your hearing loss goes untreated, the harder adjusting to hearing using amplifications will be.
- 1 in 5 teenagers have some type of hearing loss.
- 1 in 14 generation Xers (ages 37-48) already have hearing loss
- 1 in 6 baby boomers (ages 49-68) have hearing loss
- 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 have hearing loss
Is AGE the only reason hearing loss occurs?
In a word, no. There are some health conditions connected to hearing loss that most of us may not think of:
An interesting study by Friedland and colleagues suggested that about 85% of diagnosed strokes were associated with individuals who had a certain type of hearing loss. As we know, our inner ears are extremely sensitive to blood flow. This study shows that vascular issues may affect both hearing and cardiovascular structures.
Another interesting study conducted by Horikawa et al showed that people with diabetes were two times more likely to develop hearing loss and that the association between hearing loss and diabetes was stronger among people younger than 60. Many researchers believe that high blood glucose levels may damage the vessels in the inner ear, resulting in hearing loss.
Over 200 prescription and over the counter medications that are known to be ototoxic (literally meaning “poisonous to the ears”) are being sold on the market today. Some well-known ototoxic drugs include aspirin, quinine, loop diuretics, certain antibiotics, some anti-cancer drugs, and some anesthetics.
Case in Point: When people are diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or diabetes, do they think, “Oh, well. This is normal for my age” and avoid treatment? Probably not. No matter your age, when any cardiovascular disease or diabetes is diagnosed, it should be treated and so should your hearing loss.
How to ensure proper hearing health
Healthy hearing is a lifelong commitment, similar to dental and ocular care. Most of us carry sunglasses and floss in our cars or purses and get our teeth and eyes checked routinely. However, many of us overlook using hearing protection and ignore hearing screenings. Since age isn’t a direct link to hearing loss, you should put certain habits in place today to ensure healthy hearing in the future.
Here’s how you can change your habits to protect your hearing:
- Have your hearing screened. A hearing screening performed by someone like me, a doctor of audiology, is a great place to start.
- Wear hearing protection. Hearing loss can be caused by loud noises over time when healthy hearing habits are not practiced on a routine basis.
- Wear hearing aids, if needed. Hearing aids have improved drastically while I’ve been in practice. When fitted by a professional, the direct effects of hearing aids can be amazing. For example, I have witnessed patients with amplification become more socially active and less depressed.
- Form healthy habits. Participating in routine checkups with your primary care physician and heeding their recommendations will lower your risk of developing comorbidities associated with hearing loss.
Overall, I hope this article helps you better understand that age is not always directly associated with hearing loss. I also hope that you never settle for a lesser quality of life based on your age. Hearing loss is a treatable and sometimes preventable health condition. No matter your age, you should be able to hear and participate in conversations.
Through conversations like these, we are decreasing the stigmas associated with age and reducing cognitive decline, social isolation, and depression. Don’t ignore hearing loss; reach out to Hearing Resources and we will provide you with the hearing care and information you need to stay connected to your world..
Friedland DR, Cederberg C, Tarima S. Audiometric pattern as a predictor of cardiovascular status: Development of a model for assessment of risk. Laryngoscope. March 2009;119(3):473–486.
Horikawa C, Kodama S, Tanaka S, et al. Diabetes and risk of hearing impairment in adults: A meta-analysis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. January 2013;98(1):51-58.
Bisht, M., & Bist, S. S. (2011). Ototoxicity: the hidden menace. Indian journal of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery: official publication of the Association of Otolaryngologists of India, 63(3), 255–259. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12070-011-0151-8
The National Institutes of Health (NIH): https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing