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Effects of Aging on the Ears, Nose, and Throat

By

David M. Kaylie

, MS, MD, Duke University Medical Center

Last full review/revision May 2019| Content last modified Jan 2020
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Topic Resources

Aging affects the function of the ears, nose, and throat in varying degrees. The effects of aging result from many factors such as wear and tear caused by overuse of the voice, exposure to loud noise, and the cumulative effect of infections, as well as the effect of substances such as drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Some older people are affected more than others.

A progressive loss of hearing (presbycusis Ears The body changes with aging because changes occur in individual cells and in whole organs. These changes result in changes in function and in appearance. (See also Overview of Aging.) As cells... read more ), especially for higher-pitched sounds, is common. Hearing impairment is common among older adults, and the rate of hearing impairment increases with age. Over one quarter of people age 65 years and older have hearing impairment. By age 75, one third of people have signs of hearing impairment. Hearing impairment can alter a person's ability to understand speech. Vestibular imbalance and ringing in the ears (tinnitus Ear Ringing or Buzzing Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) is noise originating in the ear rather than in the environment. It is a symptom and not a specific disease. Tinnitus is very common—10 to 15% of people experience... read more ) are also more common among older people but are not normal. Changes occur because some structures in the ear that help with hearing or balance deteriorate slightly, or a tumor or disorder may have developed. Hearing aids Hearing Aids Many causes of hearing loss have no cure. In these cases, treatment involves compensating for the hearing loss as much as possible. Most people with moderate to severe loss use hearing aids... read more Hearing Aids can help many people with hearing loss hear better.

Changes in the voice also occur with age. The tissues in the larynx may stiffen, affecting the pitch and quality of the voice and causing hoarseness. Changes in the tissues of the throat (pharynx) may lead to the leakage of food or fluids into the trachea during swallowing (aspiration). If persistent or severe, aspiration may cause pneumonia Overview of Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection of the small air sacs of the lungs (alveoli) and the tissues around them. Pneumonia is one of the most common causes of death worldwide. Often, pneumonia is the final... read more Overview of Pneumonia .

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