What is presbycusis?

Presbycusis is the name for the gradual loss of hearing you experience as you get older.

It typically affects both ears (known as bilateral hearing loss), and is most common in people aged 65 or older, with 30 - 35% experiencing hearing loss. This makes it one of the most common conditions affecting older people.

Hearing loss can affect how you hear in everyday life, which can make having conversation difficult - especially if you’re in an area with lots of background noise.

While it’s irreversible, there are ways to lessen the impact, which you can find out about here.

Presbycusis causes

There’s no particular cause of presbycusis. Instead, it’s a natural result of the everyday noises - such as music, machinery, office noise and traffic - we hear during our lives.

It’s the cumulative effects of these noises that cause us to gradually lose our hearing as we get older. Over time, the hair-like cells in your inner ear - that are key for passing sound information to your brain - become damaged. And hearing loss occurs because these hairs don’t grow back.   
There are also other factors that cause presbycusis, including:
  • Certain medications
  • Some health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Family history
  • Abnormalities in the inner or outer ear, including reduced function of the eardrum

Changes in the inner ear or middle ear, as well as changes to the nerve pathways that run between the ear and the brain, can also cause presbycusis. 

Presbycusis symptoms

Age-related hearing loss is gradual and usually affects both ears equally, so you may not initially notice that your hearing is affected. It can also vary in degree - from mild to moderate to severe. 

As your hearing diminishes, you may start to notice sounds becoming muffled or even totally inaudible.

Some of these sounds include:
  • Conversations and speech - on TV, in the street or in an environment with lots of background noise, such as a bar
  • Phones
  • Doorbells

High-pitched sounds may also be difficult to hear, and you may find that you struggle to distinguish some parts of speech. Due to the difference in pitch, women’s voices may also be harder to hear than men’s. 

Other sounds may seem overly loud, and you may find that you develop tinnitus (a hissing, ringing or roaring sound) in one or both of your ears.

Presbycusis diagnosis

Routine hearing checks should start from the age of 55, but you should speak to an audiologist, such as our team here at Boots Hearingcare, if you notice any problems with your hearing.

Though they may suspect presbycusis, your audiologist will carry out a full examination of the inside of your ears first, to make sure your hearing loss doesn’t have another cause.

They’ll also carry out a hearing test to assess the extent of your hearing loss. 

The results of both of these tests will determine whether you have presbycusis.

Presbycusis treatment

There’s no cure for presbycusis, as it’s an age-related condition. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be treated and the symptoms managed. There are several options for this, including:
  • Hearing aids - boost the sounds you struggle to hear
  • Assisted listening devices - increase the clarity of the sounds from your TV, phone or other electrical items
  • Cochlear implant - this medical device sits behind your ear and does the same job as the damaged parts inside your ear (an option if your hearing loss is particularly profound)
  • Lip reading - a way to better understand speech that doesn’t rely on hearing. There are plenty of groups who can help with this

Living with age-related hearing loss

While hearing loss can be distressing, it doesn’t have to negatively impact your life.

As mentioned, there are devices you can use that can help improve your hearing, including hearing aids. We have a variety of styles and fittings, and our team will be happy to help you find the most suitable hearing aid for your needs. 

You might also find assisted listening devices helpful. You can use them with your electronic equipment as they connect to devices like your TV and phone, amplifying sounds and making them clearer. And they can be used both with and without a hearing aid. 

As well as listening devices, you can learn to use visual cues to understand what’s being said - something that’s particularly useful when it comes to conversations.

Speak to our team about living with age-related hearing loss.

Frequently asked questions

Do most people get presbycusis?
As presbycusis is part of the aging process, most people will find that their hearing diminishes as they grow older.

However, there are ways to limit the damage to your hearing, including avoiding loud noises as much as possible. Where noise is unavoidable, wearing earplugs and earmuffs can be helpful.
Is presbycusis unilateral or bilateral?
Presbycusis normally affects both ears at the same time, so it’s classed as bilateral hearing loss.

Unilateral hearing loss would only affect one ear.
What can I do to prevent age-related hearing loss?
There’s currently no known way to prevent age-related hearing loss. 

Having said that, there are ways you can limit its impact: protect your ears from hearing loss caused by loud noise by reducing your exposure, and wearing earplugs or earmuffs where necessary
Can age-related hearing loss be reversed?
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to reverse age-related hearing loss. However, it can be managed with hearing aids and assisted listening devices. 
Does hearing loss get worse with age?
As a progressive condition, presbycusis will get worse over time, and once you lose your hearing, it’s permanent.

However, there are ways to manage the condition so that it has less of an impact on your life - including hearing aids.

Speak to our team if you’d like to find out more.

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