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Under 50? Four signs of presbycusis (age-related hearing loss)

Last update on Nov, 09, 2022

Despite what some people may believe, hearing loss can affect anyone, regardless of age. While presbycusis, age-related hearing loss, is common (around one in three people ages 65-74 have hearing loss), other factors can be at play, leading to hearing loss earlier in life. Whether due to noise exposure or heredity, when signs of hearing loss appear, it’s important to pay attention and take action. Learn more about presbycusis and how to detect changes to your hearing.

What is presbycusis?

Presbycusis is the gradual loss of hearing in both ears that occurs as you age. It can be affected by the loss of hair cells, various health conditions, and certain medications or antibiotics. Because presbycusis is such a gradual change, some people are not aware that they have it at first. This type of hearing loss usually affects your ability to hear high-pitched sounds rather than low-pitched sounds. Other common signs of presbycusis include difficulty to understand conversations and tinnitus.

There are three main types of hearing loss

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Different types of hearing loss can arise for a number of reasons. Presbycusis occurs naturally due to changes in the ear and this can be linked to other health conditions. However, environmental factors can also damage hearing and impact people of all ages. Excessive sound exposure is a leading cause of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which is permanent. In fact, according to hearing loss statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, up to 17% of people between ages 12 and 19 have some level of hearing loss due to noise exposure.*

There’s nothing wrong with turning up the volume now and then to enjoy concerts, movies and social events, as long as you’re using hearing protection when needed. But prolonged exposure to noise that is too loud can become problematic, and short exposure to extreme sound levels can do the same. These brief but harmful sounds include explosions like fireworks, or sirens. Even everyday tools like lawn mowers and leaf blowers can lead to hearing loss over time. Sounds at 85 decibels or above (think food blenders and motorcycles) can put you at risk without ear protection, which plays an essential role in preventing hearing loss.

If you’re a music-lover, be conscious of the volume on your earbuds and speakers, especially if playing music is part of your daily routine. Any noise at 70 decibels or below is considered safe, even with regular exposure. This sound level is within the range of normal conversation. Headphones have the potential to be cranked all the way up to a maximum of around 100 decibels, which is unsafe to listen to over a long period of time. Since concerts can also fall into this decibel range, ear plugs are a must.

Signs of hearing loss to pay attention to

If you’ve ever caught yourself saying “what?” more than once, you may have dismissed it as situational. But this can actually be a common early sign of presbycusis and may be the first signal that it’s time to get your hearing checked. Remember that hearing loss can affect anyone, regardless of whether they’re a child, teen or adult. If you’re wondering how to tell if you have hearing loss, here are a few early symptoms to look out for.

1. Missing your alarm clock.

People like to joke about hitting the snooze button on the morning alarm, but if you’re sleeping through the noise because you’re really not hearing it, that may be an indicator of hearing loss.

2. Mishearing staff at restaurants.

If you have hearing loss, it can be especially difficult to understand conversation in noisy, crowded environments with background noise like music or conversation at other tables. Struggling to understand a host, server or other people in your group when going out to eat is a common early sign of hearing loss.

3. Difficulty hearing consonants.

Unlike speech vowels like “a” and “o,” consonants can be easily missed. For example, even if you hear the general sound, rhyming words like “slow” and “snow” can be mistaken for one another. These words are the building blocks of conversation and can cause real miscommunication when mixed up.

4. Asking to repeat what was said.

If you know someone who talks fast or has a soft voice, you might be used to asking them to speak more slowly or louder. But if you find yourself frequently asking “what?” or asking people to speak up, it can be a sign that your hearing has changed. If it happens often while talking on the phone, that can be another sign.

Benefits of a hearing exam

If these seemingly minor signs of hearing loss don’t seem like a big deal, take a step back to consider all the ways hearing health affects your life. From conversing with loved ones to hearing birds chirping outside while walking through your neighborhood, sound makes life feel complete. To preserve the hearing you have, it’s a good idea to consult a professional for a hearing exam and seek treatment if you notice hearing loss symptoms.

There are plenty of hearing facts and myths out there, and being aware of them can make a positive difference. For example, missing out on everyday sounds for a long period of time can lead to other challenges like social isolation and difficulty processing sound. Using hearing aids has also been shown to help relieve these issues, allowing wearers to stay connected to others and continue living their daily life with confidence. This is why it’s so important to consider the solutions available.

When thinking about how to check for signs of presbycusis and preserve the hearing you have, scheduling hearing exams is a key step. This is an opportunity to speak with a professional and have them monitor your overall health in each ear. If you’re under age 60 and have healthy hearing with no symptoms of hearing loss, schedule a test every three to five years. If you’re 60 or older, it’s recommended to get your hearing tested yearly to monitor for age-related hearing loss. If you’re experiencing any hearing changes or noticeable symptoms of hearing loss, book an appointment to speak with a professional and find out more.

* “Noise-Induced Hearing Loss.” National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from

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