From your 50s and 60s onwards, you are likely to suffer a degree of hearing loss. It may be more difficult to hear conversations at a party, or in a busy restaurant. But becoming deaf is far from inevitable – especially if you safeguard your ears throughout your life. Diet, too, has a role to play.

Children generally have much better and more acute hearing than adults. They can hear higher frequencies, which is why sonic deterrents – devices that emit shrill ultrasonic tones that older people usually can’t detect – have been successful in dispelling gangs of loitering teenagers. But in our noisy society, young people are starting to suffer the effects of cumulative exposure to loud noise, resulting in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Exercise noise can damage the tiny sensory cells (also known as hair cells) in your inner ear, which detect and convert sound to nerve impulses.

Hearing loss may also be described as conductive (when something, often earwax, blocks the transmission of sound waves to the inner ear), sensorineural (damage to the hair cells or to the auditory nerve), congenital (present from birth) or central (a rare condition caused by damage to the auditory pathways or centres in the brain).

Age-related hearing loss
With age, your ear-drum thickens and the tiny bones of your middle ear (the ossicles), which convey sound vibrations to the inner ear, stiffen. Inner ear damage, together with slowed nerve and brain function, may further reduce your hearing capacity. Age-related hearing loss- called presbycusis – occurs naturally as part of the ageing process. It affects a third of people over 65 and up to half of those over 75.

There are other factors that contribute to hearing loss, such as noise exposure, genetic factors, disease and individual susceptibility. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension – all common over the age of 60 – can worsen hearing loss, and it can also be associated with stroke and various neurological conditions.

hearing loss becoming worse too. fatty acids, found in oily fish and some plant foods, the lower the risk of developing age-related hearing loss; higher omega-3 consumption reduced the risk of established hearing loss becoming worse too. Atherosclerosis both contributes to hearing loss and exacerbates noise damage. But forewarned is forearmed, because it is possible to fight back, both against the diseases that can rob you of your hearing and against noise pollution.

Noise reduction
In the 1960s, ear specialists conducted hearing tests on the Mabaan people, whom they described as living in Stone Age condition in a remote area of Sudan. Even those in their 70s had excellent hearing, comparable with that of 20 to 30 year olds in Western civilizations. How come? The answer is that these people quite literally lived a quite life – other than transient animal noises, few environmental sounds were intense enough even to register on a sound meter.

Follow-up studies showed that when Mabaan people moved to urban areas, hearing loss became more common, along with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Here are there simple ways to reduce unnecessary noise:

  • Turn it down Keep the volume low on your radio, television and sound system (in the car and at home).
  • Get earplugs Wear them when you can’t avoid loud noise: using power tools, mowing the lawn, at the cinema, riding a motorbike.
  • Stand back At any event with amplified sound, position yourself as far away from the speakers as possible.

    While it’s easy to shut your eyes and imagine how it feels to lose your sight, it’s much harder to envisage hearing loss. It tends to creep up on you, isn’t readily noticeable and often causes no other symptoms, so people with early hearing loss are often causes no other symptoms, so people with early hearing loss are often the last to know about it. What’s more, it can be hard to admit that there’s anything wrong – hearing loss is one of those things that there’s anything wrong – hearing loss is one of those things that makes you feel old. Yet experts stress that hearing loss itself is much more noticeable to other than a modern hearing aid.
  • Early hearing loss typically begins with difficulty in hearing high-frequency (pitch) sounds – women’s voices, telephones ringing, birdsong.