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Why does our hearing deteriorate as we age?


“Excuse me?”. “What did you say?’. “Pardon”. “Can you repeat that?”. As we get older, these are all phrases we often find ourselves needing to use with increasing frequency. It’s often taken as a natural sign of our age that our hearing is no longer as sharp or responsive as it once was. But have you ever wondered why our hearing deteriorates? And is there anything that can be done to prevent it?

Why is this happening? One of the main causes is ‘Noise-related’ hearing loss. This deterioration in hearing that results from prolonged exposure to noise or exposure to significantly loud noises. These noises damage the tiny hairs in your ears that enable you to hear, and once these are damaged it is irreversible. This is a very common form of hearing loss as many of us have experienced some exposure to such noise over our lifetime and later-life is when we experience the full effects of this. A less common cause of hearing loss in later life is illness. Diabetes and high blood-pressure have both been found by studies to cause hearing loss in some cases. Although it is still unclear how this happens, it’s thought that high glucose levels in the blood restrict the supply of oxygen to those tiny hair-nerves in your ear. Some medicines may also be responsible for hearing loss, but don’t worry, these are mostly more specialist medication for serious illnesses, such as chemotherapy. A third cause of hearing loss, is something a bit less severe. Temporary loss of hearing or reduced hearing ability can be caused by more simple problems like a build-up of ear wax, a perforated eardrum or infection, which can all be treated medically. This type of problem is known as ‘Conductive’ hearing-loss.

What Can You Do about it? Currently, science doesn’t yet have an answer for preventing age-related hearing loss entirely, but there are some simple ways you can improve your hearing or prevent further loss. Firstly, make a habit of regularly cleaning out your ears and removing any excess wax, which can be a simple cause of minor loss of hearing. Taking steps to improve your diet and lifestyle are of course important for general wellbeing, but as mentioned, conditions like diabetes and high blood-pressure can cause loss of hearing, and these are both preventable or manageable through maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle.

To fight noise-induced hearing loss, always be sure to take care when you’re exposed to very loud noises. Do your best to reduce your exposure time, or take further precautions and use ear defenders or ear plugs. Some examples of potentially damaging noises are everyday sounds like leaf-blowers, loud music or lawn-mowers. Being careful now can significantly reduce your hearing-loss in later life. If your hearing-loss becomes more advanced, and preventive measures are no longer relevant, technology can still help you! The use of hearing-aids is very common these days, particularly among those in later-life, and while you may not need one just yet, it is worth considering one in future if hearing-loss is affecting your quality of life. They are easily obtainable, and becoming more and more discreet, and effective as technology advances. They are also easily adaptable and removable as required. With so much new technology still being developed, we really don’t need to fear hearing-loss.

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