Moreover, because it comes on so gradually, many of these individuals don't even realize they're hearing impaired. It's their friends, colleagues, and loved ones who are usually the first to notice.

Although some hearing loss is to be expected with age, that doesn't mean you need to allow presbycusis to define your life. Living with untreated presbycusis is not your only choice. You have plenty of options for treatment and plenty of measures you can take now to potentially mitigate its severity later in life. 

Who Is Most At-Risk for Presbycusis?

Presbycusis typically becomes noticeable around age 65-70, although some hearing loss may manifest as early as age 55. Past age 75, nearly one in two people show symptoms of presbycusis. Many of these individuals suffer in silence, either unaware of their hearing impairment or resistant to the idea of treatment.

What Causes Presbycusis?

As we age, our bodies begin to wear out slowly. Where the ears are concerned, this typically involves changes in the inner ear; the breakdown of stereocilia, tiny cells within the inner ear that convert soundwaves to electrical impulses for the auditory nerve. Presbycusis may also be aggravated by other conditions, such as noise-induced hearing loss, health disease, diabetes, and certain medications. 

You're also likelier to experience presbycusis if you have parents or grandparents who've experienced it.

What Are the Symptoms of Presbycusis?

Presbycusis presents similarly to most other forms of impairment. It typically manifests slowly, becoming gradually more severe as the condition progresses. Possible signs of presbycusis include: 

  • Difficulty recognizing or differentiating speech. May be particularly pronounced for higher-pitched voices. 
  • An increasing tendency to read lips. 
  • Turning up the volume for media much higher than ordinary. In many cases, you may not even be aware you're doing it. 
  • Tinnitus, a consistent ringing, buzzing, clicking, rushing, or popping sound in one or both ears. 
  • Hypersensitivity to certain sounds, known as hyperacusis
  • Sounds below a certain threshold seem muffled. 
  • Everyone you talk to seems to be mumbling. 

How Can You Protect Yourself From Presbycusis?

Unfortunately, with current medical science, there's no guaranteed way to prevent presbycusis. However, one can reasonably expect that the standard best practices for protecting your ears apply here as well. This includes: 

  • Taking care of your overall physical health, particularly in terms of managing conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
  • Avoiding loud environments where possible. 
  • Ensuring you wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) if your job involves regular exposure to excessive noise.
  • Wearing specialized earplugs at sporting events, bars, and concerts. 
  • Using a headset instead of earbuds and avoiding turning the volume up too high. 
  • Educating yourself on the possible side effects of your medication and avoiding ototoxic medicines if possible. 

How is Presbycusis Diagnosed?

Because it's a progressive condition with a prolonged onset, it's often difficult to determine if a hearing impairment is age-related or the result of some other factor. Generally, however, it's diagnosed in the same way as any other hearing issue — with a visit to the audiologist and a hearing test. 

The audiologist will then examine the resulting audiogram to determine next steps. They may also use an otoscope to check for infection, inflammation, or damage to the inner ear. 

How is Presbycusis Treated?

Treatment of presbycusis depends mainly on both intensity and underlying causes. In some cases, management of health conditions may alleviate some symptoms. In others, the audiologist may prescribe a hearing aid or other hearing assistance devices, particularly if presbycusis is having a negative impact on your quality of life. 

In some cases, presbycusis could be severe enough to qualify you as a candidate for cochlear implants. 

Unfortunately, beyond that, we don't understand a great deal about presbycusis. Most of what we know is based on observation, and if there's some way to actually prevent the condition, we've yet to discover — though there are some promising treatments just over the horizon.

Ultimately, the best advice we can give is to schedule a regular hearing test with your audiologist, even if you don't think there's anything wrong. The sooner you identify the presence of age-related hearing loss, the sooner you can start mitigating its impact on your life.