AARP Eye Center
l Do you have a hearing problem? Find out what you can do to fix it.
You can lose your hearing for lots of reasons: age, genetics — and all those blaring rock concerts you attended in your youth.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
More than 48 million Americans have some type of hearing loss. For many people, auditory loss happens so gradually that they barely realize it. Others find that their ears seem to be working fine one day and not so well the next.
Check out these four common types of hearing problems and what you can do about them.
1. You have trouble hearing people in a noisy restaurant.
Why it happens: As you age — especially if you've been exposed to frequent loud noises — you might have presbycusis, a type of gradual hearing loss caused by the death of hair cells in the cochlea, in your inner ear. Those are the cells that translate sound vibrations into brain signals.
"The cochlea contains only 15,000 of these hair cells, and they don't regenerate," says Andrea Boidman, executive director of the Osteo Science Foundation, a research organization in Philadelphia. "When they die, it becomes difficult for people to recognize certain sounds or to hear speech clearly."
Difficulty hearing in noisy places is often one of the first noticeable signs of hearing loss. That's because filtering out background noise is a fairly complex process that requires precise auditory input from both ears. Quiet conversations aren't quite so taxing.
How to fix it: Although you can't repair damaged cells, you can prevent further loss by limiting your exposure to loud noises. Most conversations occur between 40 and 60 decibels; any sound higher than 85 decibels puts you at risk. Common culprits include smartphones, music players and sound speakers that can blast out as many as 105 decibels.
"Listening to just one loud song can cause immediate damage to hair cells," says Monica Okun, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Her advice: If others can hear your music while you're using earbuds, the volume is too loud.