April 3, 2014

Ask the Audiologist – Is My Hearing Normal for My Age?

By Rachel F. King, Au.D.
Audiology Consultants, P.C.

Most of us know that as we age, it is likely that many of our senses will deteriorate, including our hearing. Hearing loss has been associated with old age for many years, but this isn’t always the case. There are many causes of hearing loss, including aging. But, we do not define what a hearing loss is based on your age.

When an audiologist assesses your hearing, the audiologist is looking at how softly you can still hear sounds, as well as how well your brain can process sound. We have standards for what is considered normal performance on these tests. For how softly you can hear a tone, we consider 20 dB HL (decibels as measured in a hearing test), or lower to be normal. This is true for anyone age 2 years of age and up!

I suppose the easiest comparison could be to vision. There is a set standard for what is considered normal vision. It doesn’t matter how old you are – what you can see on a Snellen eye chart when standing 20 feet away is how you measure up to normal. If you have 20/20 vision and you are 80 years old, you have normal vision. If you have 20/40 vision and you are 20 years old, you do not have normal vision. And, you will likely get glasses if you do not have normal vision!

Hearing loss is the same way. If you can hear sounds at 20 dB HL, and you are 80 years old, you have normal hearing. If you can only hear certain sounds at 60 dB HL, and you are 60 years old, you have hearing loss. The types and degree of hearing loss vary greatly from one individual to the next. And, there are more complicated measures in addition to how softly you can hear sounds that need to be considered, but the idea is the same. It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you have hearing loss, it is not normal and you likely need to do something about it.

It is possible that the reason many look for an age based standard is because accepting hearing loss is a very difficult thing to do, more so than accepting vision loss. It is not fully understood as to why this is. But, acceptance of having hearing loss is a very important step. Until you accept that you have a loss, you will not want to do anything about it. For some, acceptance comes very quickly. For others, it takes years. For most, it will take information and lots of support from an audiologist and family members or friends. But, before you can begin to accept a hearing loss, you first need to know if you have one. Hearing loss has many impacts on our overall health and quality of life. Delaying the process of finding out if you have a loss will delay treatment. We find that the longer a person waits to be fit with hearing aids, if that is the appropriate treatment, the harder it is for that person to adapt to the sounds and be successful. Just like most other health conditions, the sooner you treat, the better off you are.

If you have any concerns about your hearing, no matter what your age, please make an appointment to see an audiologist soon! Start your journey by finding out whether or not you have hearing loss, and if so, how much and what type. Then, work with your audiologist to decide what the next step will be.

Filed Under: Featured, Health & Wellness