What is presbycusis?

Anatomy of the ear

Presbycusis is the gradual loss of hearing that occurs as people age. It is a common disorder associated with aging. One in three older adults over age 65 has hearing loss. About half of people over age 75 have hearing loss.

Presbycusis usually occurs gradually, and typically in both ears equally, with some people not immediately aware of the change.

What causes presbycusis?

There may be many causes for presbycusis, but it most commonly occurs because of age-related changes in the following locations:

  • Within the inner ear (most common)

  • Within the middle ear

  • Along the nerve pathways to the brain

Contributors to presbycusis include:

  • Cumulative effects of environmental noises

  • Loss of hair cells (sensory receptors in inner ear)

  • Hereditary factors

  • Aging

  • Various health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes

  • Side effects of some medications, such as aspirin and certain antibiotics

What are the symptoms of presbycusis?

The following are the most common symptoms of presbycusis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Speech of others sounds mumbled or slurred

  • High-pitched sounds, such as "s" or "th" are hard to distinguish

  • Conversations are difficult to understand, particularly when there is background noise

  • Men's voices are easier to hear than women's

  • Some sounds seem overly loud and annoying

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) may occur in one or both ears

The symptoms of presbycusis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment for presbycusis

Specific treatment for presbycusis will be determined by the doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment options for presbycusis may include the following:

  • Avoiding loud noises and reducing noise exposure

  • Wearing ear plugs or special fluid-filled ear muffs (to prevent further damage to hearing)

  • Hearing aid(s)

  • Assistive devices, such as telephone amplifiers

  • Training in speechreading (to use visual cues to determine what is being said)