Question: Why does hearing get worse as we get older?
Answer: As we age, our hearing typically starts to fail. Hearing loss normally begins in the very high frequencies, but we seldom notice it until it works its way further down the frequency scale to the speech frequencies as the years go by. Is this just a normal part of the aging process or is something more insidious going on?
For many years hearing health care professionals thought that much hearing loss was a product of our age—that our ears simply were wearing out as the years went by. They even coined the dreadful-sounding term “presbycusis” (press-bee-KOO-sis) to define this process.
In some cultures, the majority of the people have incredible hearing right up into their old age. Obviously then, age alone does not cause hearing loss. If hearing loss is not due to age, then what causes it? Why is it so common among older people today?
There are several factors involved in this process. As a result, a new word is creeping into our vocabulary. This word more accurately reflects the real causes of hearing loss as we age. It is the word “sociocusis” (so-see-oh-KOO-sis).
Sociocusis is really the result of the accumulated deleterious effects that living in modern society has on our hearing. Lets look at three of these nefarious factors that are so common in our world today.
The first factor is loud noise. Noise is ubiquitous—it is everywhere. In our kitchens, we use loud appliances like blenders. To clean our houses, we use loud vacuum cleaners. In our garages, we use loud power tools. Outside we follow behind our loud lawnmowers. When we go for a walk, raucous traffic noise assaults our ears.
Every time a loud sound blasts our ears, a few more of our tiny hair cells cease to function properly or die. Slowly and insidiously, we begin to lose our hearing. This can take many years. Often, it is only when we are older that we begin to notice that our hearing is not as acute as it once was, but we simply put it down to aging. However, the culprit that did the dastardly deed was loud sounds day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year—slowly robbing us of our hearing.
The second nefarious factor that robs us of our hearing is stress. We live in a society full of stress, and this stress is increasing day by day. The workload we carry increases. The pace of life increases. We worry how we will make ends meet. We are tense and irritable.
All this stress and tension not only damages our health, but also our hearing. Here’s how it happens. The tiny hair cells in our cochlea are like any other cells in our bodies. They need an adequate supply of blood carrying nutrients and oxygen to them in order to remain healthy.
Guess what? Stress causes our blood vessels to constrict which in turn reduces the amount of blood that can pass through them. Our hair cells are particularly sensitive to the results of stress. When we are stressed, they don’t get enough of the oxygen they so desperately need through the minute capillaries that supply them. As a result, they get “sick” and even die. We notice this when we lose more of our hearing.
Typically, the longer we live, the more stress we have experienced—hence the older we get, the worse our hearing.
Medications and Drugs
The third nefarious factor is medications. Yes, there are many drugs and medications that can damage our ears. The fancy word for such drugs isototoxic (ah-toe-TOX-ik) drugs. Unfortunately, as we age, typically we take more and more medications. In so doing, we destroy more of our hearing.
Doctors have not been quick to recognize this. In my research, I have identified over 550 drugs that can damage our ears. Unfortunately, some of them are the most popularly prescribed drugs in America today. With many of these drugs, ear damage is not always immediately and readily apparent. The dastardly deed is done little by little. If everyone who took a drug woke up deaf—there would be a huge outcry. However, when the damage is not readily apparent and may take months or years before we notice anything wrong, no one says anything. These resulting hearing losses are just put down to “normal” aging. The blame is not laid at the feet of these drugs where in rightly belongs.
If you would like to learn more about the many drugs that can damage our ears, check out “Ototoxic Drugs Exposed.”
What Can We Do?
What can we do about all of this? I think the answers are obvious—not easy—but obvious.
First, we must carefully guard our ears from all loud sounds. This means wearing ear protectors when necessary—whether at home, at work or at the football stadium. We need to avoid loud sounds whenever possible. For example, walk on quiet streets—not in the middle of rush hour if at all possible.
Second, we need to simplify our lifestyles in order to reduce our stress. We need to exchange our harried and frenzied existence for a quiet and calm life. We need to learn to relax—to take time to smell the roses and to watch the sun set.
Third, we need to think about our health while we still have it. We need to make healthy choices so we won’t have to take hearing-robbing drugs in order to stay alive. We need to become informed about the ototoxic effects of any medications we take. Also, we need to be aware that there are often good choices in alternative medicine that do not have the harmful side effects that modern drugs have.
Do these things and we can preserve our hearing well into our old age—or at least preserve the remaining hearing we have. We do not have to be blindly slaughtered on the altar of sociocusis. We can make a choice. We can do something about preserving our hearing before it is too late. Let’s make the most of it.