Ageing: Hearing Loss, Snoring & Swallowing Problems

  • June 1, 2023
  • 2 minutes read

As humans age, our muscles atrophy, our eyesight deteriorate and our hair turn grey. Similarly, the deterioration of hearing “hair cells” (nerve endings) will cause hearing loss as we age. Generally, above age 60, one decibel (or about 1%) of hearing is lost every year, starting with the high frequency range.

Since hearing loss comes with age, we should slow the process by:

  • Practising proper ear hygiene and care – the ear is self-cleaning. Digging with cotton buds and “diggers” can cause infections, impacted wax and trauma or rupture of the ear drums.
  • Avoiding exposure to loud noise and protect your ears when it is unavoidable
  • Avoiding ototoxic drugs (which may damage the inner ear).

Hearing aids can help to improve hearing, failing which, cochlear implants have been proven to be highly effective in restoring hearing. Implants are more expensive than hearing aids.


Snoring is the noise that occurs when air flows through a partially obstructed and collapsible airway. The upper airway is made up of muscles and soft tissues like ligaments, soft palate and fat, lined with a mucosal layer. The snoring sound is produced by the vibration of these parts, as the air squeezes past. When a patient snores, these parts are constantly being stretched and over time, the airway becomes progressively more stretched and floppy, causing more vibration and obstruction. Snoring, therefore, generally worsens with age.

Prevent this progression by early treatment of snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). OSA is a disorder where the obstruction is so severe, and air flow so greatly reduced, that there are periods of no air flow, leading to a lowered oxygen saturation in the blood. The heart and lung muscles work harder to get enough oxygen to the brain and body organs, increasing the risk of hypertension, heart attack and stroke. Prevention includes lifestyle changes and medical treatment to reduce snoring and airway collapsibility, including:

  • Keeping within normal BMI levels. Excess fat in the neck “strangulates” the airway.
  • Not sleeping on your back, which leads to the tongue and soft palate falling back to block the airway
  • Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, which relax the muscles around the airway, making them more collapsible
  • Treating blocked nose, which often leads to mouth-breathing (which encourages airway obstruction)

Swallowing and Voice Problems

 Swallowing is a partly voluntary and partly involuntary action requiring complex coordination of muscles in the mouth, palate, tongue, pharynx, larynx, breathing and oesophagus. With age, weakness of muscles and nerves will affect swallowing. Food must be chewed thoroughly before swallowing to avoid choking. Voice is dependent on the length, laxity and strength of many small muscles in the larynx.  Vocal cords lengthen and muscles weaken with age, hence voices deepen accordingly. A person’s age can be estimated by their voice. Voice and breathing training by speech therapists may improve voice quality.

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