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Most people who experience hearing loss as they get older do so due to a condition called presbyacusis, caused by wear and tear to the tiny hair cells in our inner ear. More than 50 per cent of people over 60 will be affected by some type of hearing loss.
There are two types of hearing problem - 'conductive', when sound is not able to pass through the outer or middle ear, and 'sensorineural', when the inner chamber of the ear (cochlea) or the auditory nerve that transmits the sound signals to the brain are affected.
The sensorineural kind of hearing loss becomes more common as we get older, usually due to a condition called presbyacusis.
Conductive hearing problems can include:
Sensorineural hearing problems can include:
Presbyacusis tends to develop from around the age of 40. It progresses gradually and affects both ears equally, although you may not notice it for quite a few years. The first symptom is problems hearing the high frequency sounds 'sh', 'k', 'p' and 'f' in everyday speech. Children and women's voices tend to be higher pitched and so they may be the ones that initially become more difficult to understand. As presbyacusis progresses it is harder to tell the difference between similar sounds.
Noises in the ears known as tinnitus can be linked to presbyacusis
Miniscule hair cells line the spiral walls of the cochlea. Sound waves travel through the outer sections of the ear to the cochlea, and the hair cells bend when they hit them. This movement produces chemical signals, which are sent via a nerve straight to the brain. The brain interprets the chemical signals as sounds and that is how we hear.
Presbyacusis is caused by the loss of these tiny hair cells from the inner chamber of the ear. We have about 16,000 hair cells in each cochlea, and they play a vital part of the chain of events that enables us to hear.
Unfortunately, we tend to lose about 40 per cent of them by the time we are 65. We cannot regenerate them once they are damaged.
Most of us will lose some of our hearing as we get older because of presbyacusis. The main cause is wear and tear to delicate hair cells over time, but the following factors can play a part:
For more information about hearing loss visit: www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk
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