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What is Presbycusis?

an audiologist checking on his patient

Presbycusis is a term used to describe hearing loss that is related to age. As it a result, it often known as age-related hearing loss. 

Why do people develop presbycusis? 

Presbycusis is a type of sensorineural hearing loss that develops as a result of the aging process. 

All humans – have tiny hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells are crucial for hearing function, but over the course of a person’s life, they can begin to degrade. While this deterioration can get worse by certain environmental factors, hair cell loss is a natural process. 

Hair cells that degrade and eventually die are regenerated – but not in humans. For us, when hair cells die and can no longer function, they cannot be replaced – essentially, we are born with all the hair cells that we will ever have. When these hair cells are lost, hearing loss can subsequently develop. 

Who is at risk from presbycusis? 

Presbycusis can technically occur at any age, but age is the most significant predictor of the condition.

  • One in three people between the ages of 64-74 are thought to have hearing loss.
  • For those over the age of 75, nearly half of people have hearing loss.
  • By the age of 85, 80% of people will have developed some hearing loss. 

What are the symptoms of presbycusis? 

  • Speech appears to be muffled 
  • Letters such as S and F can be more difficult to hear clearly, or are frequently misheard 
  • Tiredness and headaches, particularly after talking to other people 
  • Frequently needing to increase the volume on televisions, radios or similar devices, in order to hear clearly 
  • Some sounds can seem particularly loud or irritating 
  • Often needing to ask people to repeat something they have said

How is presbycusis diagnosed? 

Hearing tests conducted by an audiologist, such as pure tone audiometry and tympanometry, can be used to diagnose presbycusis. 

How is presbycusis treated? 

Hearing aids are by far the most common treatment for presbycusis and have been proven to be very effective at managing the condition. 

Can presbycusis be prevented? 

It is not possible to completely prevent presbycusis; hair cell loss is just part of being human. However, focusing on improving hearing health can be beneficial, and prevent the acceleration of hair cell loss. 

  • It is always advisable to use hearing protection when exposed to noisy environments 
  • Ensure that health conditions such as high blood pressure or circulatory issues are well-managed 
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in green vegetables 
  • Avoid medications that are ototoxic
  • Attend hearing tests regularly as advised by an audiologist, especially if over the age of 60

While presbycusis is a result of the natural process of aging, it can be treated via the use of hearing aids. If you, or someone you know, develops the signs of hearing loss, an audiologist can administer a hearing test and – if found to be necessary – prescribe hearing aids that can ensure the condition is successfully managed.