You’ve relied on your ears all your life without really thinking about it. But recently, you find it more difficult to understand what people are saying, especially women and children. You also have a hard time following group conversations, and there’s an annoying ring in your ears. What’s going on? Probably, you’re noticing the signs of age-related hearing loss.
As we age, wear and tear takes its toll on the cochlea (the snail-shaped cavity in the inner ear). There, thousands of tiny hairs convert sound vibrations into electrical signals, which are sent to the brain for interpretation. When those hairs or the nerves attached to them are damaged, the messages aren’t sent properly. The result: a type of hearing loss described as sensorineural.
This type of hearing loss happens so gradually that many people pay no attention to it. That’s unfortunate because, in some cases, the damage can be halted. For example, if you take the subway frequently or if driving a snowmobile is your favorite pastime, you can start to wear earplugs.
There’s no medical or surgical treatment for age-related hearing loss, but a hearing aid can help you keep up with the conversation around you. If you’ve noticed hearing loss or tinnitus (noise in the ear), see your healthcare provider. He or she can determine what type of loss you have (some types are treatable) and refer you to an ear or hearing specialist, if necessary.