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Common Causes Of Hearing Impairment In Seniors


Hearing loss is a natural consequence of aging. One in four people over the age of 60 have measurable hearing loss. Over the age of 70, the numbers jump to one in two. The older we get, the more likely it will be that we will experience some hearing impairment.

Types of Hearing Loss

When we talk about hearing loss, it’s important to distinguish the type. The three main types of hearing loss are conductive, sensorineural and central. The type of hearing loss will determine which kind of treatment is most suitable.

Conductive hearing loss refers to an interruption in the transmission of sound from the outer ear to the inner ear. One reason for this could be an obstruction in the ear canal by wax or some other substance. A loss in mobility of the ear drum, perhaps due to a build up of fluid, could be another cause. A cause that is specific to older individuals is Otosclerosis, that is, arthritis of the middle ear bones.


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Ear wax build-up is a very common cause of hearing loss. Ear wax (cerumen) is produced by glands in the ear canal. Its function is to trap dust and dirt and prevent it from damaging the ear. Excess wax usually dries and falls out during normal washing, but some people produce wax faster than it can be excreted, causing a build up which eventually blocks the ear canal. The result is temporary hearing loss, which, fortunately, can be easily remedied by flushing the ear canal with warm water.

Infections are another reason for the ear canal to become blocked. Infections may cause the ear drum to become red and swollen, and fluid may get trapped in the ear canal.

People with conductive ear loss often say that their own voice sounds loud while other voices are muffled. They may also experience ringing in the ears.

Conductive hearing loss can usually be corrected with medicine or surgery. If neither of these methods help, hearing aids are very useful for this condition, because the patient simply needs sound to be amplified because the auditory nerve is still functioning well.


The hair cells of the cochlea in the inner ear are susceptible to damage from many causes. Long term noise exposure, diseases causing ear infection and head trauma can damage the delicate hair cells. Causes of nerve damage include tumors and disease such as multiple sclerosis. Some medications are referred to as “ototoxic” because they are associated with hair cell damage. These include some chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, diuretics, and pain killers in extremely large quantities.

A person with sensorineural hearing loss may have a loss of hearing in only part of the sound spectrum. Frequently, older individuals with sensorineural hearing loss have worse hearing in the higher frequencies than the lower frequencies. Modern digital hearing aids are extremely beneficial for this condition because they can amplify just the parts of the sound spectrum that have been lost, while filtering out background noise.

To identify the nature of your hearing loss, an audiologist will measure your ability to hear various frequencies at different intensities. Using this information, the audiologist can suggest treatment options such as which type of hearing aid will be the most useful. Family members may also be trained to recognize which sound environments may cause difficulty, and perhaps the acoustics of the home can be changed to eliminate problems such as echoes.


Much of the hearing loss we experience in later years can be connected to previous events or trauma. In order to minimize hearing loss, prevention is the best solution. Everybody at every age should be aware of what can cause hearing loss and try their best to avoid situations that can damage their hearing, or at least to protect their ears and their hearing as much as possible.


When working in a noisy environment, always wear ear protection The accumulated effect of noise over a lifetime should not be overlooked. Common household tasks like cutting the lawn should always be performed with ear protectors. When listening to music on a personal music system, always keep the volume low enough to prevent future hearing loss.

Overall Health

Maintaining overall good health is good for your hearing. Healthy eating habits and a regular exercise regimen will improve all aspects of your life. Regular medical checkups can help catch health problems before they cause long term damage. If there is a history of hearing loss in your family, be sure to schedule annual exams to monitor your hearing.

State of the art diagnostics, combined with the selection of appropriate hearing aids and skilled, professional programming and fitting, like that provided by the audiologists at the Hearing Device Center of the California Ear Institute, combined with assistive listening devices and acoustical modifications may help create the optimal listening environment for any hearing impaired senior. Click here to make an appointment to improve your hearing today !

For more information about hearing loss, visit this web site:

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

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1900 University Avenue Suite 101
E. Palo Alto, CA 94303
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California Ear Institute