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Common Hearing Issues Among Older Adults

By Jessica Thomas October 04, 2020 Aging

Many older adults experience some degree of hearing loss, and this hearing loss can dramatically impact their quality of life. Some hearing issues are simply genetic, whereas traumatic injuries or illnesses may cause others.

Common Hearing Issues Revealed

Our auditory system is quite complex, and like many complex things, is quite susceptible to damage. Our ears allow us to tell the difference between sounds of varying frequencies and can even give us an indication when something is wrong.

However, when our ears aren’t working right, it can make things a little complicated. Below, we’ll uncover common circumstances that cause ear and hearing issues.

Physical Injuries

Physical injuries account for a significant percentage of hearing loss in older adults. These injuries can happen due to falls, car accidents, or other types of traumatic events. Sometimes hearing loss that results from injuries may resolve with time and treatment, and in other cases, this hearing loss may be permanent.

One of the most common treatments for hearing loss related to physical injuries is auditory processing therapy. In addition, patients with traumatic brain injuries will often see improvements in their hearing, as other conditions such as memory loss are also treated.

Loud Noises

Did you know that there is such a thing as a noise-induced hearing loss? Loud noises can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss for some people. Oftentimes, the damage caused by loud noises builds up over time, but it can also occur immediately, which is why it is so important that workers in noisy environments wear appropriate ear protection.

Statistics suggest that at least 10 percent of adult Americans have experienced some degree of noise-induced hearing loss, and these numbers are even higher in certain professions. In addition, approximately 12% or more of the global population is at risk for hearing loss from noise.

Hearing loss from noise often leads people to feel as if conversations are muffled or distorted. Another common warning sign is when people feel the need to turn their television and radio volume up regularly.

Ototoxic Medications

Ototoxic medications are medications that can damage the health of a patient’s ear. Therefore, when a person is taking a drug known to be ototoxic, it is imperative for their medical provider to monitor their hearing and ear health carefully.

Many different medications may be ototoxic for some patients. Common drugs that have this side effect include Lasix, certain chemotherapy types, and large doses of aspirin.

Antibiotics, such as gentamicin, may also be ototoxic. In addition to regularly speaking with your doctors while you are on these medications, it is also important to be aware of potential early warning signs, such as a loss in balance or ringing in the ears.

In general, ototoxicity is not reversible. Instead, doctors focus their treatments on either hearing aids or cochlear ear implants.

Acoustic Neuromas

Acoustic neuromas may also explain some people’s hearing loss. This neuroma is a non-cancerous growth inside the ear. It can cause a range of problems, including ringing in the ear, a loss of hearing, and unexplained dizziness.

Generally, hearing loss in this condition is relatively gradual. However, this does not mean that the condition does not need to be treated. Radiation therapy and surgical interventions are the most common types of treatment for this condition.


Presbycusis is generally associated with the aging process. The condition is prevalent. Roughly 1 in every 3 adults over the age of 65 have presbycusis, and these figures are even higher for people over the age of 75.

Unlike other types of hearing loss, presbycusis may not affect all sounds or pitches equally. Often, people first lose the ability to hear high-pitched noises, such as a ringing telephone. People may also note that it is difficult to follow conversations and that it often seems like other people are mumbling.

Many older adults with this condition may see a dramatic improvement in their quality of life when they start wearing a hearing aid. However, not all hearing aids are the same. That is why it is crucial to work closely with your medical providers to determine what hearing aid works best for you and your unique health needs.

It would also be beneficial if your loved ones worked on speaking more clearly in a direction facing you. Effective communication strategies can make all the difference in the world.

Meniere’s Disease

Meniere’s Disease is a disease of the inner ear that most commonly impacts people between 30 and 50. This condition is primarily a unilateral problem of the ears that leads to both ringing in the ear and hearing loss.

In some cases, medical professionals can slow the disease’s progression. However, there is no treatment for associated hearing loss. Instead, treatment mainly focuses on addressing vertigo, which is a troubling symptom of the disease.

Additional research is still needed to determine the cause of Meniere’s Disease. Some studies suggest that it may be autoimmune, whereas there also seems to be a genetic predisposition to the condition. It may take time and the involvement of a highly-skilled professional to diagnose Meniere’s accurately.

Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease

With this ear condition, the patient’s own immune system begins to attack the body’s ear(s). This process can lead to a loss of hearing as well as balance issues.

Sometimes, autoimmune ear disease occurs as a standalone condition. However, many people with autoimmune ear disease often have other autoimmune disorders, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

A wide range of blood work is needed to diagnose the condition effectively. Health professionals will look for various inflammation markers and rule out other potential sources of hearing loss.

The most effective treatment for this disorder to date is high course steroids in an attempt to minimize inflammation. However, steroids are often not a long-term answer. Therefore, many doctors embrace various chemotherapy drugs in an effort to mitigate the patient’s symptoms.

Also, many patients ultimately have an implant to help with their hearing loss. Most of these patients do very well with this surgical approach.

Hearing Loss: A Common Condition with Treatment Options

As the list of diseases and conditions above shows, the human ear is complex, and it can be impacted by a wide range of conditions and diseases. Some of these conditions are genetic, and other conditions are due to environmental exposure or injuries.

There is also a significant difference in how effective treatments may be depending on the person’s underlying condition. No matter what, treatment is a very important avenue to explore, since a hearing loss can dramatically and negatively affect a patient’s quality of life. In the years to come, technology is likely to change the face of treatment substantially.

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The Author

Jessica Thomas is a Public Health Professional, Health & Wellness Writer, and Entrepreneur. She has a B.S. in Health Administration with a focus on Aging Studies and an M.D. in Public Health. Before starting her business, Jessica worked for over 3 years as a Program Coordinator and Performance Improvement Leader in a hospital setting. Her roles focused on various senior initiatives such as fall reduction, preventing delirium, and addressing barriers in the healthcare system. Today, Jessica enjoys learning and educating others on aging in place, how tech solutions can help seniors, and health and wellness topics.

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