What is Presbycusis?

Woman's ear

What is Presbycusis?

Presbycusis is the most common type of hearing loss not caused by trauma or hereditary conditions. This type of hearing loss is caused by simple, natural aging of the auditory system, and typically occurs so gradually that the patient is unaware of it for some time. It's estimated that 30-35 percent of people over the age of 65 have some form of presbycusis, although the degree can vary and can also be affected by a lifetime noise exposure, damage done to the ear and other complications.

Hearing loss due to aging happens so gradually the patient may be unaware for months or even years.

Presbycusis initially affects the ability to hear higher pitched sounds, and over time results in the individual being unable to clearly hear sounds at lower and lower frequencies as the condition progresses. The hearing loss is often initially seen by the patient as a mild inconvenience caused by people around them not speaking clearly, as the loss of progressive frequencies can make it sound as if a speaker is mumbling due to natural changes in pitch during normal speaking patterns.

Some of the first sounds to become indistinct to a person with presbycusis are /s/ and /th/, which can become unclear to the listener and lead to confusion. Crowded or loud locations can be difficult for the individual to navigate due to their new inability to follow conversations and the tendency to mix up sounds such as /sh/ and /f/.  Venues such as bars, cafés, clubs and restaurants may become places of anxiety and frustration and lead to social inactivity.

Noise-induced hearing loss can add to the cumulative effect of hearing loss caused by the normal aging process. Significant noise-Induced hearing loss can exaggerate presbycusis, or cause early onset hearing loss before the individual reaches their 60s. The physical cause of presbycusis can vary, but typically is related to the gradual loss of the nerve hair cells in the cochlea which vibrate and transfer chemical signal to the brain which are interpreted as sounds. Damage to these hairs is caused by aging as well as high level noise exposure and over time the effects manifest as hearing loss. There are also some pre-existing health conditions which can contribute to or hasten the onset of presbycusis, and several medications can also aggravate or worsen hearing loss. Always ask your doctor about possible side effects of medication when it comes to your hearing.

Presbycusis can be treated and managed with the help of a hearing health professional, such as an audiologist who can test your hearing and determine your level of hearing loss and what type of hearing loss you have. Once these factors are determined, the correct type of hearing aid can be recommended and fitted to increase your range of hearable sounds and alleviate the frustration of not being able to hear easily or distinguish sounds.

With the restoration of hearing often comes the return of a social life, as navigating crowds and noisy environments becomes easier. Ask your doctor about being tested for presbycusis associated hearing loss today.

Presbycusis is the most common type of hearing loss not caused by trauma or hereditary conditions, and is caused by simple, natural aging of the auditory system.