Can Your Hearing Improve With Age?

Woman's hearing improved with age

As the saying goes, “Time heals all wounds.” Indeed, there are a wealth of issues that can be handled by simply waiting it out – someone experiencing a cold can persevere for a couple of weeks and not worry about seeing a doctor, while a sprained ankle can be casually nursed back to health.

The origins of this expression go back too far to find – trust us, we’ve tried – but it can be assumed that when it was written, the inner workings of the ear and brain were not widely known information.

Hearing loss is not a scale that goes from “I can hear perfectly” to “I can’t hear.” There are numerous ways your hearing could be affected. This could mean there are some sounds that you can’t quite catch, or some environments where listening is harder than others.

Due to all these variables related to hearing loss, the question of whether or not your hearing can be fixed as you age is a complicated one. Continue reading to find out how you can look after your hearing going into the future.

Why do we lose hearing as we age?

Firstly, what causes hearing loss as we age? The most obvious answer is the morbid response that applies to the whole human body: natural decay. As time goes on, our bodies naturally begin to fail us. Our knees, our eyes, our hair, and of course our ears can all fall victim to time.

But there are preventative measures that can help you resist this slow collapse. When it comes to taking care of your ears, it helps to be proactive, not reactive.

5 steps to improve your hearing

1. Avoid loud noise

One of the most obvious ways to protect your ears is to minimize exposure to loud noises. Whether it’s an active construction site or a favorite song at a concert, always be aware of the kind of sound that your ears are being subjected to. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a lawnmower can do damage to your ears after consistent use, so be sure to wear hearing protection in similar situations.

2. Don’t clean your ears

No matter how satisfying it may feel, forcing a Q-tip (or any foreign object) deep into your ear can cause serious damage. The skin in your ear is quite thin, so any friction can damage or break the skin, leading to infection. A Q-tip can also compact ear wax further into the ear canal, which can muffle sound and only be removed by a professional.

3. Address ear conditions seriously

Ear infections are more common in children, but can still occur at any age. There's a range of natural remedies available to help combat any potential infections which can significantly lower the chance of further damage to the ear. Otherwise, an infection can spread and lead to hearing problems, or even permanent damage.

If you're worried about hearing loss, speak to a hearing specialist today.

4. Ask about receiving medication

Some medications for other health issues, like some antibiotics, chemotherapy agents, and even aspirin, can affect the ears. Before taking a prescription from a doctor, ask if the medication is ‘ototoxic (toxic to the ears.) If so, ask for an alternative medication or a reduced dosage.

5. As with any health concern, diet and general hygiene is important

As if you haven’t been given enough reasons to eat healthily and shun smoking, here is another – tobacco smoke has been found to negatively affect hearing. Similarly, a healthy diet can prevent hearing loss.

Improved hearing over time

So if I follow these steps, my hearing will improve?

Well it’s a great first step, but nothing is that easy! There are four kinds of hearing loss, and each have different, sometimes uncontrollable causes. Here’s a quick rundown.

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss stems from a problem in the outer or middle ear. The problem may be as simple as an excess of wax, or something as complicated as an ossicular chain dysfunction – the official term for when one of the tiny bones inside the ear has a fault.

In simple terms, if your hearing system was a computer, conductive hearing loss would be like a key missing from the keyboard, or too much dust in a plug port. After a cleaning or replacement, the system would be back to peak performance in no time.

Sensorineural hearing loss

The main culprit behind hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss, which is a lot more serious than its conductive brother. This kind of hearing loss accounts for around 90% of all hearing loss cases.

The science behind the way an ear picks up on noise involves tens of thousands of sensory hair cells within the cochlea. These hairs pick up on vibrations in the ear, which are then translated into sound for your brain. Due to the sheer amount of hairs within the ear, it wouldn’t be surprising if a few of these hair cells were to die or fail every now and then. The problem arises when a substantial amount of these cells stop doing their job.

These cells can be destroyed by infection, loud noise, medication, disease, or simple aging. The failure of these cells as we age is known as presbycusis, and is the form of hearing loss that most of us are familiar with. Once these cells are damaged, they cannot be restored, making this condition impossible to cure. Returning to our computer analogy, sensorineural hearing loss is a problem in the wiring of the computer. It’s as if some of the cables within your computer have been fried. It’s a lot trickier to figure out, and will require more attention to solve, as the only way to address sensorineural hearing loss is with either a hearing aid or cochlear implant.

Mixed hearing loss

As the name would imply, mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. The conductive half can be addressed as it would be normally, but this still leaves the sensorineural half in its untreatable state.

Neural hearing loss

The rarest and most unfortunate form of hearing loss is neural hearing loss. This occurs when there is damage to, or a complete lack of the auditory nerve. As with any nerve damage (e.g. harm to the spinal cord,) this cannot be addressed at all. Hearing aids or implants wouldn’t help, as the nerve won’t pass on sound to the brain. It is as if your computer had no battery or power source – it simply wouldn’t work.

If my hearing is already bad, what can be fixed?

So what issues can be addressed? There are a couple of conditions that can lead to hearing loss which can be fixed in a single day, and generally require no further attention.

Common and easily treatable forms of hearing problems are associated with conductive hearing loss – the first kind we discussed. Most conductive hearing loss issues can be solved with medical attention, whether it’s a simple cleaning or a bone replacement.

The most common reason for conductive hearing loss is an ear infection, which are very frequent among children. These infections can be treated with antibiotics or surgery, and are generally resolved permanently.

If you're worried about hearing loss, speak to a hearing specialist today.

If your hearing loss is sensorineural, you may be offered the purchase of a hearing aid. This can help amplify sounds appropriately, while making sure not to damage the remaining unscathed hair cells.

Remember – with the exception of neural hearing loss, all hearing loss can be prevented (or at the very least slowed down) using the five methods we listed above. As sensorineural conditions are untreatable (except with constant use of a hearing aid,) maintaining good hearing practices is especially important.

The future of hearing restoration

While research is focusing heavily on the restoration of sensory hair cells in the ear, as of 2019, there are no medical processes that can repair or replace these crucial cells. Hearing aids can help assuage sensorineural conditions, but if a hearing aid is removed or lost, the condition will remain.

Stem cell research and gene therapy are both being heavily researched with the intention of use in hearing restoration. However, with no concrete results on the horizon, prevention will always be the name of the game.

If you think you are undergoing hearing loss, it would be worth booking a free consultation with a hearing specialist near you. If you’re interested, follow this link to be directed to your nearest qualified hearing specialist. Any consultation is free, and they will be able to tell you what kind of hearing loss you’re experiencing – as well as the best way to address it.

Written by:

Duncan is an Australian-born American-raised creative writer with a passion for healthy ears. He continues to build upon his audiology qualifications with research and various courses.

Reviewed by:

Leave a reply

Clear Living values your comments but kindly requests all posts are on topic, constructive and respectful. Please review our commenting policy.

  • renate clynes walken
    I have had hearing loss for approx 10 years.I have spent twice approx $ 2500. Unfortunately both Hearing aids only work only for one week. I have a small ear canal. I am told that my ear canal gets clogged . It is very frustrating. I have tried other cheap Hearing Aids. They work but keep falling out So I bought Wireless Smart EarBuds. But I cannot understand your instructions. Also I do have a "Consumer Cellular" phone. I do not know whether that would work. If I can not use the Smart Phone earbud could I return it to you. Thank you Renate Clynes
  • Glen
    Can bilateral hearing improve in time without hearing aids?
    • Lindsey Banks, Au.D.
      Hi Glen, It is very unlikely, however your hearing is dependent on your overall health so I would suspect that if you went from bad to good health you may also see an improvement in your hearing. I don't have the research to back this up but do associate hearing health to overall health. Otherwise in most cases a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss is a permanent condition.
  • Dee Dee
    Hello My hearing has improved with age, both distant and up close. I am 59 and hear very well. I take St Johns Wart and Gingko Balboa for my mood and memory. I'm not sure if one of these is helping my hearing but my memory has improved also.
    • Lindsey Banks, Au.D.
      Hi Dee Dee That's great to hear!
      • Mike
        Hi, I'm 49 years old and the past several month my hearing has improved also. It's difficult to explain but not I'm not only hearing better but I experience sound differently. I have no idea why.
        • Lindsey Banks, Au.D.
          That's interesting Mike. Has anything else changed around the same time your hearing changed, like a medication you were taking, or dietary changes? That may explain the improvement in your hearing?
  • Darryl
    It sounds like crickets in my head and ears. At the same time it.seems my hearing from distances has improved.
    • Sara Olson
      Hey Darryl, Your comment that it seems your hearing from distances has improved really hit home with me - I feel the exact same! I've always had excellent hearing, but lately it seems as if it's gotten better... it seems as if I can hear softer sounds and sounds from a distance even better than I always have. Not a sensitivity, nothing uncomfortable - just seems that it's gradually improved over the past few months until it became very apparent. Is there anything else going on in your life related to health? I have a long term issue with systemic inflammation..... seems curious to be mid 50's and have something actually improve with age :D
      • T C
        Same with myself always excellent. Hearing. But over the past year or two i call bionic hearing it feels like easdropping on peoples conversations. At 10 year of age i had a soundwave treatment for abnormal amout of ear infections and never. Had another age 53 today
        • T C
          Correct. Email