Identifying Hearing Problems in Seniors: Possible Causes to Consider
Many changes occur in our senses as we age, but things are not always as they seem, especially when it comes to hearing. A variety of issues could explain a difference in hearing, including several medical problems. It’s important to eliminate these possibilities before coming to a conclusion about the cause of the hearing decline in seniors.
You should see your doctor to discuss any concerns, but in the meantime, you may want to consider the following possibilities.
- It’s an ear infection. An ear infection is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection that leads to inflammation and a buildup of fluids in the ear. It sometimes goes away on its own, but can also be treated with prescription antibacterial ear drops or oral medications.
- It’s the result of a cold, flu, or other viral infection. The common cold or a more serious flu could cause temporary hearing loss. Time and antibiotics prescribed by a primary care doctor should clear up the issue. Additionally, sudden hearing loss is often due to a viral infection that causes inflammation of the inner ear or auditory nerve. It’s important to note that prolonged, untreated infection may lead to more permanent damage due to a loss of hair cells in the inner ear, so you should seek care from a medical professional as soon as this possibility is identified.
- The individual is experiencing a symptom of shingles. Individuals who experience shingles around the face and ear often have temporary or permanent hearing decline due to blisters around the ear. It may be in the form of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, which is caused by a rash on the eardrum and other areas around the ear, or labyrinthitis, which is essentially inflammation of the inner ear.
- It’s caused by emotional factors. Temporary depressive feelings or clinical depression can lead to a lack of interest, which may appear on the surface as hearing loss. An adult who is suffering from clinical depression should seek the guidance of a professional in order to improve their quality of life.
- It’s simply a lack of interest in what is being said. Before jumping to conclusions, consider the possibility that the otherwise happy individual just isn’t all that enthused about the conversation.
- It’s the side effect of certain medications. A side effect of more than 200 ototoxic medications is hearing loss that is usually temporary, but in rare cases may be permanent. The adult may also experience a mild ringing in the ear. These medications include aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, ibuprofen/naproxen, antibiotics, and diuretics. Maintaining a healthy diet, not smoking, and avoiding high-fat foods may help to reduce the possibility of prescription drug-related hearing issues.
- There is a foreign object or wax buildup in the ear canal. Wax buildup or a foreign object in the ear canal can usually be removed by a simple, brief procedure at the doctor’s office.
- The inner ear has been injured. An ear infection or injury can lead to a ruptured eardrum, which can lead to pain that requires urgent medical attention. Fortunately, it’s usually treatable and can heal within a few weeks. A surgical procedure is sometimes required to address the issue.Injuries also can cause dislocation of the middle ear bones, known as ossicular chain dislocation. Surgery will likely be required to treat the condition.
- Abnormal growths or tumors exist. A normally non-cancerous skin growth can develop behind the eardrum due to repeated ear infections. As the tumor grows, it can lead to severe signs and symptoms, such as pain, hearing loss, vertigo, and tinnitus. In rare cases, it can grow large enough to become life-threatening. In any event, you should seek medical treatment to have the growth treated or examined to confirm that it is not malignant.
- It may be an early sign of dementia. Apathy, depression, and confusion are early signs of dementia, all of which may be confused for hearing loss.
If someone you know is showing signs of hearing loss, make an appointment with an ear doctor or a primary care physician for a full evaluation.