Tony is worried about his hearing. His wife complains that his TV programs are too loud, and in crowded, noisy restaurants he can’t hear what the person next to him is saying. Tony wants to find out what’s wrong and if anything can help him. If you or anyone in your family is having trouble hearing, make an appointment for a hearing test. Today, there are a variety of devices that can improve your hearing.
See your doctor if you:
Hearing loss can have many different causes. Here are two kinds of hearing loss common in older people:
Presbycusis (prez-bee-KYOO-sis) is a common type of hearing loss that comes on slowly as a person gets older. It seems to run in families and affects hearing in both ears. The degree of hearing loss varies from person to person. Are you starting to have trouble hearing someone on the phone? That could be an early sign of this type of hearing loss.
Tinnitus (tin-NY-tus or TIN-u-tus) causes a ringing, roaring, or hissing noise in your ear. Tinnitus can go hand-in-hand with many types of hearing loss. It can also be a sign of other health problems, such as high blood pressure or allergies. Often it is unclear what causes tinnitus, which may come and go, disappear quickly, or be permanent.
Loud noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Noise from lawn mowers, snow blowers, or loud music can damage the inner ear. This can result in permanent hearing loss. You can prevent most noise-related hearing loss. Protect yourself by turning down the sound on your stereo, television, or headphones; move away from loud noise; or use earplugs or other ear protection.
Ear wax or fluid buildup can block sounds that are carried from the eardrum to the inner ear. If wax blockage is a problem, try using mild treatments, such as mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial ear drops to soften ear wax. A punctured eardrum can also cause hearing loss. The eardrum can be damaged by infection, pressure, or putting objects in the ear, including cotton-tipped swabs. See your doctor if you have pain or fluid draining from the ear.
Viruses and bacteria, a heart condition, stroke, brain injury, or a tumor may affect your hearing. If you have hearing problems caused by a new medication, check with your doctor to see if another medicine can be used.
Sudden deafness is a medical emergency that may be curable if treated in time. See a doctor right away.
Your family doctor may be able to diagnose and treat your hearing problem. Or, your doctor may refer you to other experts. For example:
Hearing aids. Hearing aids are electronic, battery-run devices that make sounds louder. There are many types of hearing aids. Before buying a hearing aid, ask if your health insurance will cover the cost. Also ask if you can have a trial period so you can make sure the device is right for you. An audiologist or hearing aid specialist will show you how to use your hearing aid.
Hearing aids should fit comfortably in your ear. You may need several visits with the hearing aid specialist to get it right. Hearing aids may need repairs, and batteries have to be changed on a regular basis. Remember, when you buy a hearing aid, you are buying both a product and a service.
Assistive devices. Other products can also help improve your hearing:
Cochlear implants. These electronic devices are for people with severe hearing loss. They don’t work for all types of hearing loss.
Devices That Help You Hear Better
Here are some tips you can use when talking with someone who has a hearing problem:
Many people develop hearing problems as they grow older. Today, there are many ways to improve your hearing. The best way to handle the problem is to find professional help as soon as you notice you are having trouble hearing.
Here are some helpful resources:
American Academy of Audiology
11480 Commerce Park Drive, Suite 220
Reston, VA 20191
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
1650 Diagonal Road
Alexandria, VA 22314-2857
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
2200 Research Boulevard
Rockville, MD 20850-3289
American Tinnitus Association
P.O. Box 5
Portland, OR 97207-0005
Hearing Loss Association of America
7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1200
Bethesda, MD 20814
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
National Library of Medicine
For more information on health and aging, contact:
National Institute on Aging Information Center
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
To sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information from the NIA, go to www.nia.nih.gov/health.
Visit www.nihseniorhealth.gov, a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health and wellness information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to make the type larger.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Publication Date: June 2013
Page Last Updated: October 17, 2013