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Hearing loss that occurs gradually as you age (presbycusis) is common. Almost half the people in the United States older than age 65 have some degree of hearing loss. Aging and chronic exposure to loud noises both contribute to hearing loss. Other factors, such as excessive earwax, can temporarily reduce how well your ears conduct sounds.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Muffling of speech and other sounds
  • Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise or in a crowd
  • Trouble hearing consonants
  • Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly
  • Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio

When to see a doctor

Talk to your doctor if difficulty hearing is interfering with your daily life. Age-related hearing loss occurs gradually, so you may not notice it at first.

Causes

To understand how hearing loss occurs, it can be helpful to first understand how you hear. Aging and exposure to loud noise may cause wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain. When these hairs or nerve cells are damaged or missing, electrical signals aren’t transmitted as efficiently, and hearing loss occurs. Higher pitched tones may become muffled to you. It may become difficult for you to pick out words against background noise. Gradual buildup of earwax. Earwax can block the ear canal and prevent conduction of sound waves. Earwax removal can help restore your hearing.

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