Sensitivity to Sound As We Age

Many people, especially as we get older, have difficulty understanding talks in noisy environments. Do you find it difficult to tune out background noise? According to a recent study, it could be a problem with your aging brain rather than your ears. Neuroscientists at Western University in Canada discovered that our brains become more sensitive to noises as we age by examining changes in how younger and older persons respond to sounds. This could cause hearing problems for the rest of your life.

Your brain on hearing loss

Damage to the tiny hair cells that line the inner ear and transmit sound impulses to nerve fibers that lead to the brain is mainly the cause of hearing loss in adults. Hair cells can degrade due to aging, damage, and noise exposure. According to new research, the synapses that connect hair cells to nerve fibers are considerably more sensitive and incur lasting damage long before the hair cells degenerate, making selective listening difficult.

As we get older, we become more sensitive to sound

According to a new study from Western University, as people age, their brains become more sensitive to all sounds and are less able to shut out background noise. The findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed that young adults’ brains become less aware of relatively quiet sounds around them when they are in a loud environment, such as a busy restaurant. The study discovered that older adults’ brains did not adjust to their surroundings and the brains of younger people. The older listeners were more sensitive to disturbances and had a more challenging time tuning out distracting noises.

Björn Herrmann, a Western postdoctoral fellow and study lead author, said, “It’s a fundamental property of the auditory system to be able to respond fairly quickly to any environment a person enters into.” He added: “If you can’t do that anymore, your auditory system might be a little off in each setting. This means that sounds may easily distract and overwhelm elderly people, or they may find them too loud.”

Aging and the Auditory Cortex

Herman compared the auditory cortex of people in their 20s and 60s and discovered significant differences. According to the researchers, this could explain why some people become overly sensitive to sounds as they become older. The hair cells and nerve fibers in our inner ears degrade as we age. Reduced blood flow, a natural component of aging, has been found to produce alterations in our ears in certain studies. It could also result from a mix of events, such as extended exposure to loud noises. The hair cells do not heal after they have been harmed.

A medical cure for hearing loss?

While there are no quick solutions, there is reason to believe that the damage can be reversed. Researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that injecting mice with neurotrophin-3, a protein that stimulates neuron growth, allowed them to mend cochlear synapses after being exposed to loud noises. Scientists at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, lead by otolaryngologist Charles Liberman, demonstrated in a significant study in 2009 that mice exposed to loud noises lost up to 50% of their synapses, even though their hair cells quickly restored to normal.

Hearing aids can help with sound sensitivity. Although this research is exciting, it will be decades before we see a cure for hearing loss. In the meantime, hearing aids remain today’s most effective way to manage hearing loss. 

Correcting hearing loss using hearing aids will lower the effort required to hear, reducing the tension associated with straining to hear. Hearing aids today are pretty adaptable in how they can be customized to meet your specific needs. Various features and functionalities can be enabled or automatically built in to prevent being bothered by loud noises. 

Addressing Your Hearing Health

Hearing is one of the basic senses that impacts a variety of areas of your health and well-being. We offer a full range of hearing health services, including hearing tests and hearing aid fittings. If hearing aids are required, we will work with you to select a model and design that is most comfortable and practical for you. For better hearing and less irritation from the sounds around you, contact us immediately.