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Age-Related Hearing Loss - What are the causes, symptoms, treatments and preventions?

Kimberley Bradshaw - Head of Marketing
Written By:
Kimberley Bradshaw

Head of Customer Content Experience

David - Audiologist for Hearing Aid UK
Medically Reviewed By:

Audiology Expert at Hearing Aid UK

Updated: 23rd May 2024
Age-Related Hearing Loss

Age-related hearing loss (Presbycusis)

What are the causes, symptoms, treatments, and preventions?


Age-related hearing loss overview

Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is a common condition where hearing deteriorates gradually over time. It typically affects higher frequencies and worsens with age. Factors include genetics, noise exposure, and changes in the inner ear. Symptoms include difficulty understanding speech, particularly in noisy environments. Treatment often involves hearing aids for improved communication.

In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatments for age-related hearing loss and how we can prevent it or slow it down.


What are the causes of age-related hearing loss?

Is age-related hearing loss common and can age-related hearing loss affect quality of life? Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is common and affects older adults. Age-related hearing loss can also have a significant impact on quality of life, which can lead to communication difficulties, social isolation, and mental health issues.

Age-related hearing loss can be caused by various factors, some of these include:

  • Damaged to the hair cells: Hair cells in the inner ear convert sound waves into electrical signals which are then sent to the brain. As we age, these cells can naturally become damaged or die off - leading to hearing loss.
  • Changes to the inner ear: The inner ear contains structures that are important to the hearing process.  These include the cochlea and the vestibular system. As we age, these structures can change which can affect hearing.  This could be changes in fluid levels or the actual structure of the cochlea.
  • Genetics: Some genetic factors can increase the risk of age-related hearing loss.
  • Exposure to loud noise: Exposure to loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss. 


What are the symptoms of age-related hearing loss?

The symptoms of age-related hearing loss can vary depending on the level and type of hearing loss.  Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds: One of the early signs of age-related hearing loss is difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds, such as birds singing.
  • Difficulty understanding speech: People with age-related hearing loss may have difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy environments.
  • Tinnitus: Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears that is not from an external source. 
  • Turning up the volume: People with age-related hearing loss may need to turn up the volume on the TV to hear it properly.
  • Social isolation: People with age-related hearing loss may begin to withdraw from social situations due to difficulty hearing and understanding speech.


What are the treatments for age-related hearing loss?

While age-related hearing loss is usually permanent, several treatments can help manage the condition.  These can be:

  • Hearing aids: Hearing aids are devices that amplify sound to support and improve hearing. There are many different types of hearing aids available - an audiologist can help you find the right one for you.
  • Cochlear implants: Cochlear implants are devices that are implanted in the inner ear surgically. They bypass the damaged hair cells and stimulate the auditory nerve directly, allowing for better hearing.
  • Assistive listening devices: Assistive listening devices, such as amplified telephones can help improve hearing in specific situations.
  • Lip reading and sign language: Lip reading and sign language can help improve communication for people with severe hearing loss.
  • Counselling and support groups: Counselling and support groups can help people with age-related hearing loss manage the emotional and social strains of hearing loss.


Age Related Hearing Loss

Age-related hearing loss

Can age-related hearing loss be prevented?


Can you prevent age-related hearing loss?

While age-related hearing loss is a natural part of the aging process, some steps can be taken to reduce the risk or slow it down.  These are:

  • Protect your ears from loud noise: Exposure to loud noise risks age-related hearing loss. To protect your hearing, wear ear protection when you are in noisy environments.
  • Manage underlying health conditions: Some underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, can increase the risk of developing age-related hearing loss.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help improve blood flow to the ears and reduce the risk of hearing loss.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and nutrients can help protect the ears from damage and reduce the risk of hearing loss.
  • Get regular hearing check-ups: Regular hearing check-ups can help identify hearing loss early, allowing for quick treatment and management.


In conclusion

While age-related hearing loss is typically permanent, there are several treatment options available that can help manage the condition and improve quality of life.  If you are experiencing symptoms of hearing loss, talk to your doctor or audiologist to discuss your options for treatment and management.


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Common FAQs about hearing aids and hearing loss

Is this the best model for me?

If you are looking at this page then it is likely that an audiologist has suggested that you purchase this particular hearing aid, so is this the best model for you?

In general, any audiologist will always be recommending to you the model that best suits your needs. Here is a useful check list to make sure that is the case.

  • Audiologist level of knowledge. The audiologist you have seen will hopefully have a wide knowledge of all available hearing aids, however some will only be familiar with a small number of brands and therefore may not really be in a position to know which model is the best for you. It is OK to challenge their recommendation and ask them to justify why this particular brand is the one for you.
  • Do research. Read about the hearing aid that was recommended. Does it seem like it will suit your lifestyle? Does it have more or less features than you need? 
  • Be aware of sales targets. Many high street retailers have specific tie-ins to a particular manufacturer/brand. The hearing aid they have suggested may still be the correct one for you, but do your research so that you know why they might have recommended it.

If in doubt, feel free to give us a call. That's what we're here for.

Do I need one hearing aid or two?

If you have a significant hearing loss in both ears, you should be wearing two hearing aids. Here are the audiological reasons why:

Localisation. The brain decodes information from both ears and compares and contrasts them. By analysing the miniscule time delays as well as the difference in loudness of each sound reaching the ears, the person is able to accurately locate a sound source. Simply put, if you have better hearing on one side than the other, you can't accurately tell what direction sounds are coming from.

Less amplification required. A phenomena known as “binaural summation” means that the hearing aids can be set at a lower and more natural volume setting than than if you wore only one hearing aid.

Head shadow effect. High frequencies, the part of your hearing that gives clarity and meaning to speech sounds, cannot bend around your head. Only low frequencies can. Therefore if someone is talking on your unaided side you are likely to hear that they are speaking, but be unable to tell what they have said.

Noise reduction. The brain has it’s own built in noise reduction which is only really effective when it is receiving information from both ears. If only one ear is aided, even with the best hearing aid in the world, it will be difficult for you to hear in background noise as your brain is trying to retain all of the sounds (including background noise) rather than filtering it out.

Sound quality. We are designed to hear in stereo. Only hearing from one side sounds a lot less natural to us.

What are the benefits of rechargeable hearing aids?

For most people, the main benefit of a rechargeable hearing aid is simple convenience. We are used to plugging in our phones and other devices overnight for them to charge up. 

For anybody with poor dexterity or issues with their fingers, having a rechargeable aid makes a huge difference as normal hearing aid batteries are quite small and some people find them fiddly to change.

One downside is that if you forget to charge your hearing aid, then it is a problem that can't be instantly fixed. For most a 30 minute charge will get you at least two or three hours of hearing, but if you are the type of person who is likely to forget to plug them in regularly then you're probably better off with standard batteries.

Rechargeable aids are also a little bit bigger and are only available in behind the ear models.

Finally, just like with a mobile phone, the amount of charge you get on day one is not going to be the same as you get a few years down the line. Be sure to ask what the policy is with the manufacturer warranty when it comes to replacing the battery.


Are behind the ear aids better than in the ear aids?

For most people, the answer is yes. But it's never that simple.

The majority of hearing problems affect the high frequencies a lot more than the low ones. Therefore open fitting hearing aids sound a lot more natural and ones that block your ears up can make your own voice sound like you are talking with your head in a bucket. Therefore in-ear aids tend to be less natural.

However the true answer is we can't tell until we have had a look in your ears to assess the size of your ear canal, and until we have tested your hearing to see which frequencies are being affected.

People with wider ear canals tend to have more flexibility, also there are open fitting modular CIC hearing aids now that do not block your ears.

There is also the age old rule to consider, that a hearing aid will not help you if it's sat in the drawer gathering dust. If the only hearing aid you would be happy wearing is one that people can't see, then that's what you should get.

Most people can adapt to any type of hearing aid, as long as they know what to expect. Have an honest conversation with your audiologist as to what your needs are.

What are channels, and how many do I need?

Generally speaking, six or more. Unless it's none at all.

The number of channels a hearing aid has is often a simplistic way an audiologist will use to explain why one hearing aid is better than another, but channels are complex and it is really not that straightforward.

Hearing aids amplify sounds of different frequencies by different amounts. Most people have lost more high frequencies than low and therefore need more amplification in the high frequencies. The range of sounds you hear are split into frequency bands or channels and the hearing aids are set to provide the right amount of hearing at each frequency level.

Less than six channels and this cannot be done with much accuracy, so six is the magic number. However, a six channel aid is typically very basic with few other features and is suitable only for hearing a single speaker in a quiet room. The number of channels is not what you should be looking at, it's more the rest of the technology that comes with them.

As a final note, different manufacturers have different approaches. One method is not necessarily better than any other. For example some manufacturers have as many as 64 channels in their top aids. Most tend to have between 17 and 20. One manufacturer has no channels at all.

Where can I get the hearing aids covered?

Hearing aids are easily lost, misplaced or damaged and typically are one of the most expensive personal possessions an individual can own. We offer hearing aid warranty cover for £80 per year per aid.  Find out more here

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All our audiologists use the very latest technology and provide the full range of tests to accurately measure your hearing for free.  Find out about what we offer all our customers here

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Hearing Aid UK offers all their customers free home visiting services and home visits for hearing aids - Including hearing tests, fittings, maintenance, check-ups and much more in the comfort of your own home and at your convenience.  Find out more information here

How come you're much cheaper than other places?

Here, at Hearing Aid UK, we are dedicated to offering low hearing aid prices. We achieve this by having no head office and low marketing costs.   Our hearing aid prices are amongst the lowest you will find anywhere in the world.

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