CONTACT US

When Should I Update My Hearing Aids?

Blog

When Should I Update My Hearing Aids?

When Should I Update My Hearing Aids?

The question of when to replace a set of hearing aids isn’t always easy to answer. Ultimately, it’s about what you want to get out of a set of hearing aids and how your current hearing aids are working for you. Hearing aids are a considerable expense, and any quality set of hearing aids is built to last, yet they still have to live in or around our ears for most of the day. Unlike a cell phone or tablet, you can’t put them in a protective case, and they’re exposed to the elements just as much as we are!

Different For Everybody

Some people seem to have it easy with hearing aids. Their body chemistry is such that their hearing aids don’t really accumulate too much skin oil or earwax, and their lifestyle keeps them from getting too sweaty, which helps keep their hearing aids moisture-free. These are the chosen, lucky few!

Others may live in a less-hospitable climate, or may produce more earwax, or sweat more profusely. Some people are more physically active than others, or may be less fastidious in maintaining their hearing aids. Keeping moisture out of hearing aids is an uphill battle: about 60% of out-of-warranty repairs are made due to moisture-related damage.

Each night when we remove our hearing aids, it is important to wipe them down with a clean, dry cloth. If they use disposable batteries, leave the battery compartments open overnight to let some moisture evaporate. These practices alone can considerably extend the life of a set of hearing aids. Regular professional cleanings can also help, in addition to the occasional repair. Sometimes, after a professional cleaning, it can seem like a “veil has been lifted” from the sound of our hearing aids. Because the buildup occurs so slowly, we might not even realize that our hearing aids are functioning suboptimally until they’ve been cleaned up!

After a while, your hearing aids will likely show signs of wear that indicate it is time to replace them. They may start to funciton erratically, or provide inadequate sound. Sometimes repairs can help with this, but eventually the hearing aids’ misbehavior will become frequent enough that it’s time to replace them.

All of that being said, the lifespan you can expect from a set of hearing aids is around 3–7 years. That’s a wide range, due to all the considerations above, but that’s the long and short of it!

Changes in Prescription

While some models of hearing aid can provide assistance for all degrees of hearing loss, some may be appropriate for only mild or mild-to-moderate hearing loss. These can be a great option, especially for new wearers.

But hearing loss is a process. Usually, hearing loss progresses for a while and then plateaus at a certain point. We can’t be certain where anyone’s hearing will plateau until it happens, so it may be that after wearing your hearing aids for some time, you’ll need to switch to a model that provides more power.

Meeting Your Needs

After wearing hearing aids for a while, we get a sense of where they’re working well and where they leave something to be desired. You might have a basic software package that works well at home, but you have trouble hearing in some public places. It could be that a more sophisticated software package could be right for you.

It’s also the case that hearing aid manufacturers release new models regularly. Much the same as the latest generation of smartphones is more powerful and capable than the previous, so it is with hearing aids. It may be that a newer hearing aid can solve a specific problem you’ve been experiencing with your current aids.

New Technology

This is a similar consideration to the last, but sometimes new technology is valuable on its own terms. Maybe you haven’t thought about video-conferencing directly through your hearing aids, but once you experience the high quality of direct sound through wireless Bluetooth connectivity, you might appreciate being able to hear your friends and loved ones more clearly on the phone and through your computer.

Most manufacturers now have Bluetooth connectivity that allows you to control a lot of the programming of your hearing aids from your smartphone. We can even adjust the deeper programming via telehealth, right through your phone, without an office visit!

If you’re thinking of upgrading your hearing aids, or thinking of getting your first set, make an appointment for a hearing test and find out what’s on the market today!

Connecting People | May is Better Hearing and Speech Month!

Connecting People | May is Better Hearing and Speech Month!

Connecting People | May is Better Hearing and Speech Month! The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) celebrates Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) every May. This is a time to help spread awareness of communication disorders—such as hearing loss—and promote some of the life-altering treatments and prevention measures that are out there. If you’ve ever been concerned about hearing loss, read on!

Connecting People

This year, ASHA has chosen the theme of “Connecting People.” When you think about it, that’s what treating hearing loss is really about: maintaining our ability to connect with others. And sometimes, getting the treatment you need is all about getting connected to the right people!

ASHA has split the month into weekly sub-themes:

Week 1: Schools
Week 2: Inpatient Settings
Week 3: Outpatient Settings
Week 4: Home and Workplace


Each week, they plan to focus on the audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and other professionals who are available to assist those with communication disorders in each of these settings. While the program for each week will be revealed as the month progresses, they have already published information regarding Week 1.

Schools

About 15% of school-aged kids and teens have measurable hearing loss in at least one ear. The extent to which this is a concern of course depends on the amount of hearing loss measured, but studies have revealed that even minor hearing loss (less than what is considered “mild hearing loss”) causes the brain to work a little differently, and can cause problems with attention in the classroom.

Hearing loss that goes untreated can affect success in both academic and social realms. Educational audiologists help children and teens in school by diagnosing and treating hearing loss, as well as recommending accommodations that might include assistive listening devices (ALDs) in the classroom.

Prevention – Safe Listening for Life!

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) was on the decline around the beginning of the century, but is on the rise again. About one-eighth of kids and one-fourth of adults today have some degree of NIHL.

We’re exposed to loud noise in many of the places we go on a daily basis. Motor vehicles, construction sites, trains, and even the level of sound in many bars and restaurants can easily reach dangerous levels. These sounds add up over time to cause NIHL.

Sound levels around 80–85 dBA (decibels A-weighted) can cause hearing loss after about 8 hours. For every 3 additional dBA of volume, the safe period of exposure is cut in half. By the time sound reaches 100 dBA, it can cause hearing loss after only about 15 minutes.

85 dBA is about the volume level of a gas-powered lawn mower. A kitchen blender can reach 94 dBA! While we don’t usually listen to the kitchen blender for the full hour it would take to cause hearing loss, imagine all the other sounds around. If we’re listening to music while we mow the grass or cook a meal, all these sounds can come together to create a very loud day’s work. We might also have hobbies that involve loud sound, which get added to the overall amount of noise exposure we face.

It is important to protect ourselves against overly loud sound whenever it occurs. This may involve hearing protection, or avoiding certain spaces or activities, if possible. ASHA has noted a few major ways we can protect our hearing:

Hearing Protection – There are many varieties of protection, but it’s important to make sure that the protective devices you use are appropriate for the level of sound in your environment. Under-protecting can lead to NIHL, while over-protecting can present its own problems. Custom hearing protection is the best (and best-sounding!) method of protection, for those who are exposed to dangerous sound levels on a regular basis.

Measure the Sound – You can download an SPL (sound pressure level) meter app for your smartphone, or purchase a dedicated SPL meter device. This lets you find out exactly what the average noise levels are in whatever environment you may encounter, and can help you know when to protect your ears or move away from a sound source.

Keep Your Distance – 500 feet is typically a safe distance from a loud sound source, but this also depends on just how loud it is. Buy Quiet – Window air conditioners, heaters, and many other household items and appliances may be offered in a “quiet” version, or may have a “quiet” setting. Check for these and help keep your home as noise-free as possible!

Be Careful With Headphones – Headphones and earbuds are some of the biggest culprits in NIHL. Remember to keep the volume setting to half or lower—just loud enough that you can hear the program material—and take listening breaks every hour. You might also consider purchasing noise-canceling headphones to help reduce the level of ambient sound, which in turn allows you to keep your volume set lower.

If you could benefit from custom hearing protection, or if you think you might have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and celebrate Better Hearing & Speech Month by taking charge of your hearing health!
Why Pretending to Hear Doesn't Help

Why Pretending to Hear Doesn’t Help

Why Pretending to Hear Doesn't Help Hearing loss can be tricky. We want to think we have a handle on it, but it takes a little more care and attention than we’re often ready to give it. Especially when we’re new to hearing loss, we may be more apt to remember the times when we were able to carry on a conversation easily—such as when a friend with a loud voice stopped by for a one-on-one chat—than the times when hearing loss made it nearly impossible to communicate.  

Hearing Loss Can Make Conversation Prohibitively Difficult

We may not be used to thinking of it this way, but one of the biggest problems in the early stages of hearing loss is the exhaustion that it brings with it. Especially in a crowded room, like a restaurant or an extended family gathering, trying to listen to what someone is saying can really wear us out! A lot of people mistake this fatigue for a separate condition, perhaps related to their age— “I just can’t stay out as late as I used to!” If we are reasonably polite people, we may start to feel bad for asking everyone to repeat themselves. At some point, the line gets blurred between our own fatigue and frustration, and our desire to let other people speak freely without asking them to accommodate our hearing needs. Somewhere in that blur, we might start to pretend to hear. We’ve all done it! Even people with normal hearing have been known to pretend to hear in a crowded place, in hopes that the conversation will move forward. Unfortunately, pretending to hear can become a habit, especially for those of us who regularly struggle to hear what another person is saying. At best, this means we’re not really connecting with the people we’re talking to. At worst, we may offend someone, or even make a critical mistake at work.  

Pretending to Hear Is Not a Long-Term Solution

It’s important when we catch ourselves pretending to hear, to note that we’re doing it, even if it didn’t cause any problems this time. Pretending to hear is not a long-term solution to our hearing issues! We might get away with it once or twice, but over time it whittles away at our feeling of connectedness, and friends and loved ones will start to suspect that we have memory issues when we’re never able to remember our conversations with them!  

Hearing Loss Affects Memory

Even mild hearing loss is known to cause legitimate memory issues. This is likely because the extra effort it takes to understand what we are hearing moves the project of speech comprehension outside our auditory cortex and to other parts of the brain. This affects our memory of our conversations in two ways. First, the auditory cortex is located very close to the center of the brain for short-term memory. Normally, the process of understanding speech and remembering it in the short term happens automatically. By employing other parts of the brain for speech understanding, the distance that our eventual understanding has to travel to be consolidated in short-term memory is greater, and we are likely to lose some of it. Second, this process takes more energy. Those other parts of the brain that we are employing to understand speech are usually used for thinking about the speech we’ve heard, making connections to other things in our memory, and formulating responses. If the conversation is taking place at a normal pace, our brain is simply overtaxed. This is also how hearing loss wears us out, but our decreased ability to remember our conversations happens by the same process.  

Hearing Aids Can Help

If you haven’t kept up with hearing aid technology in the last few years, it may be worth taking a look again. Hearing aids can now perform some pretty magical operations, thanks to advances in computer audio processing technology. Nearly all hearing aids employ DSP (digital signal processing) which reduces background noise at the same time as it amplifies speech. This technology is extremely useful in more chaotic environments and can help you follow a conversation much more closely even when other conversations may be happening nearby. Directionality is also common in hearing aids today. By engaging the directional program in your hearing aids, they will automatically prioritize sound that is coming from in front of you. Simply look in the direction of the sound you want to hear, and it will be louder than everything else around you. If you or a loved one is having hearing issues, don’t pretend to hear! Make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to ensure you never miss a word!
Ways to Accommodate Your Loved Ones with Hearing Loss

Ways to Accommodate Your Loved Ones with Hearing Loss

Ways to Accommodate Your Loved Ones with Hearing Loss Hearing loss is a reality for some 48 million Americans. About 1 out of 500 babies is born with some type of hearing loss, and it can appear in the course of our lives in a number of ways— But, by far, the most common type of problematic hearing loss is age-related hearing loss, or “presbycusis.” About one-third of those aged 60–69 have hearing loss, and two-thirds of those aged 70 and up have it. By age 100, nearly everyone has hearing loss, suggesting we will all experience it eventually if we only live long enough. Hearing loss can bring with it a few unfortunate side effects, like depression, anxiety, brain atrophy, and even earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia. New studies are released all the time outlining the damage that untreated hearing loss can do. But before hearing loss causes any health problems, it is first and foremost an impediment to connection. Hearing loss makes it harder to communicate, and that throws up a barrier between us and the people we love. If someone you love is having hearing issues, it’s important to do your best to maintain a connection with them. Hearing loss can be frightening, and people often go through a period of denial before accepting that they have hearing loss and need to start treating it with hearing aids. There are a few things you can do to help your loved ones with hearing loss to stay connected, wherever they are along their hearing journey.  

A Little Empathy, a Little Patience

Hearing loss is frustrating for everyone involved. It’s important to try to remember that your loved one’s experience of the world around them is different than yours as a result of their hearing loss. While it can be frustrating to see them struggle differently in different situations, it’s important to try to understand what they’re experiencing, as this will help them to better-understand their experience, as well. The more they can articulate their own concerns about hearing loss, the more it will become clear to them that hearing aids are a good idea!  

Avoid Bustling Environments

Hearing loss may not pose that much of a problem in the course of a one-on-one conversation in a quiet room, but things can change drastically inside a restaurant or bar, when the environment becomes more chaotic. Add in more voices to the conversation, and it becomes worse. Trying to hear in these conditions is exhausting for a person with hearing loss, so try to understand they may need to leave early, or that they may not want to go to a busy restaurant or bar, even if that means you have to miss out on your favorite meal or cocktail. Some larger restaurants have some quieter areas that may be appropriate. When you’re being seated, keep this in mind and ask for the quietest table they have. This will usually be away from the kitchen, the register, and the doorway. Some places may even accommodate a request to have the music turned down, or the lights turned up.  

Emphasize the Visual

Dimly lit environments can also be problematic, as lips and facial expressions are harder to read. Hearing loss makes us more reliant on these visual cues to follow a conversation, so try to keep the light levels up and keep your lips visible while you speak. Similarly, if you’re used to having phone calls with your loved one, suggest that maybe they’d prefer a video call. This might be more fun, anyway!  

Conversational Tips

A few guidelines can go a long way in terms of making yourself verbally understood.
  • Don’t Shout – Speaking a little louder is a good idea, but don’t break out of your normal speaking voice. Shouting sounds different than talking, and words might get confused. Shouting can also distort the ears, or a set of hearing aids, which can make what you’re saying even less intelligible.
  • Insert Some Space – Don’t draw out your vowel sounds, but simply add a little extra pause between each word you speak.
  • Rephrase – If your loved one didn’t understand what you just said, try saying it a different way, rather than saying the same thing again. By rephrasing, you add more information that will provide a different set of context clues, and your loved one will be more likely to comprehend.

Suggest Hearing Aids

Some people are more receptive to hearing aids than others, but it’s worth mentioning. If your loved one is resistant, try not to push hearing aids too hard, but you can remind them of the benefits that hearing aids have for our health and well-being, and how they do a great job of facilitating communication. If you or your loved one is in need of a hearing test, make an appointment today and get started on your journey toward better hearing!
Musicians & Hearing Loss

Musicians & Hearing Loss

Musicians & Hearing Loss When we think of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), many of us immediately conjure an image of a rock concert—a big stage with huge guitar amplifiers, and a massive PA system that seems like it could project sound to the other side of the world. Maybe you’ve been to a concert like this, without wearing hearing protection, and had the experience of your ears ringing for a day or two afterward.  

Musicians Are at an Increased Risk of Hearing Loss

Of course, the musicians and other professionals who put on these concerts are not exposed just once, but nearly every night for the duration of the tour. While the use of hearing protection is now ubiquitous among entertainment professionals, this was not the case for the first few decades in which these “megaconcerts” were taking place. The list of famous entertainers who have hearing loss and/or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is long. Huey Lewis canceled his tour in 2018, announcing that he could no longer hear music clearly enough to sing. Both Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who have lived with hearing loss for many years now. Neil Young, Jeff Beck, and even Coldplay’s Chris Martin suffer from persistent tinnitus. Martin says his tinnitus is even accompanied by debilitating headaches.  

Not Just Rock&Rollers

While it’s tempting for those in the hearing care industry to lean on the stories of these rock musicians to spread the word about hearing loss, focusing on famous rock and roll stars can be misleading. This is because it doesn’t take a stadium full of sound to cause NIHL, and the majority of musicians who suffer from hearing loss are not rock musicians. Legendary jazz musician Herbie Hancock has also battled hearing loss, and was fitted with hearing aids in 2006, saying at the time that he wished he had worn earplugs throughout his career. While jazz is often played in smaller clubs and sometimes even without sound reinforcement, the sound produced by horns and drummers can easily damage hearing, especially when we consider that performance is only part of a jazz musician’s routine. Practice, teaching, and rehearsal can all contribute to the development of hearing loss, even though these activities may not reach the loudness levels of a Who concert. Classical musicians, just the same as jazz musicians, spend a great deal of time in practices, rehearsals, and teaching. Orchestral players, by and large, have the greatest likelihood of developing hearing loss among musicians. Regular exposure to the sound levels achieved inside an orchestra is a recipe for hearing loss.  

About NIHL

Noise-induced hearing loss isn’t just about the loudness of the sound you experience, but also the duration. While it is possible for a sound to be so loud that it instantly causes permanent deafness, this is extremely rare. Most NIHL is accrued over a long period of time, little by little, day by day. Sound levels averaging as soft as 85 dBA (decibels A-weighted) can cause permanent hearing loss after about 8 hours of exposure. 85 dBA is the low end of a cello’s dynamic range. For every additional 3 dBA, the safe time of exposure is cut in half. That means that sound levels reaching 100 dBA cause hearing loss in about 15 minutes. The upper end of a cello’s dynamic range is around 111 dBA. At that volume level, hearing loss occurs in a little over one minute. Decibel levels get lower as we move further away in space from the sound source. In fact, for every doubling of distance from the position at which dBA is measured, the level will drop a little over 6 dBA. So if we stand two feet from a cellist and measure the average level of their music at 110 dBA, by simply taking a step back (2 more feet) we reduce our experienced sound level to 104 dBA. Take two more steps back (now a total of 8 feet away) and our ears are receiving about 98 dBA. Understanding this principle can make it easier to see why a musician themself would be more likely to sustain hearing loss than even their most ardent supporter!  

Custom Hearing Protection

If you are a musician or music fan, custom hearing protection is a must-have. Many OTC earplugs claim to offer “natural sound” but always seem to change the sound of the music. Custom earplugs are designed to fit your ear canals perfectly, and can be fitted with a range of attenuators that will be appropriate to the sound levels you expect to experience. Best of all, they provide the most accurate representation of the frequency spectrum of any earplugs available. Music sounds truly natural, so you can play naturally.  

Hearing Aids

If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids are the best way to maintain your ability to enjoy music, and have been shown to have many benefits for maintaining health and well-being. Make an appointment for a hearing test today, and take charge of your hearing health!
Going Digital With Your Hearing Aids

Going Digital With Your Hearing Aids

So you’ve decided to get a set of hearing aids… Good for you! Hearing aids are the best way to keep ourselves healthy, happy and wise once hearing loss comes into the picture. If you’ve looked around at hearing aids at all, you probably have a lot of questions. There are a lot of options on the market in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and feature sets. While there are many resources to help you navigate your options—not to mention the guidance of helpful hearing care professionals!—let’s talk today about digital technology, what it does for hearing aids, and how it can help you stay connected better than ever before.

All Hearing Aids Are Digital

Well, just about all. With very few exceptions, hearing aids today rely on digital technology because of how it allows us to change the sound. While this is an ever-more-complicated process, maybe we can help you get a little insight into it today, and see how these complicated changes make using your hearing aids a lot easier!

Equalizers

First, let’s note that hearing aids don’t simply make sound louder. They make sound louder – for you. At the very minimum, this requires an equalizer—or EQ—similar to the one on your stereo, but much more precise. The equalizer alters the level (volume) of different frequencies coming into the hearing aid based on the frequencies where you have hearing loss. Frequencies are measured in hertz (Hz), which indicates the cycles per second at which the sound vibrates. Low frequencies sound lower in pitch, and high frequencies sound higher. Humans can hear from about 20 Hz to about 20 kHz (20,000 Hz), though most of us lose the ability to hear as high as 20 kHz by our mid-20s. If you have 40 dBHL (decibels hearing level) of loss at 6 kHz, 30 dBHL at 3 kHz, and no loss at 500 Hz, then we want to amplify 40 dB at 6 kHz, 30 dB at 3 kHz, and not at all at 500 Hz. This not only sounds better—as it provides a sound to your brain that looks more like what it is used to hearing—but is also better for your hearing. By not over-amplifying frequencies where you don’t need amplification, we can prevent further hearing damage due to loud noise. Equalizers exist in the analog domain, where sound is manipulated with electrical devices that are not computers. For decades, this was how hearing aids worked. Sound came into a microphone, was equalized for your hearing loss profile using an analog equalizer, then was amplified and sent out to your eardrum.

The Digital Revolution

As we entered the 21st century, digital technology became more common. Digital equalizers can mimic the way analog equalizers work, or do the job in a different way that can improve the sound. How does this work? Analog signal processing is constrained by time and the world of physics. While this is fine for many and maybe most things, what if you want to reduce the level of not just frequencies but of a specific sound? In other words, what if you want to change not just the level of 3 kHz, but of a sound that moves around between 1 kHz and 4 kHz? Now you need to identify that sound, and change the equalizer from moment to moment to reduce the level of sound at the constantly changing frequency! Not only that, but what if there are multiple sounds in the environment that are all moving at the same time? Now you have hundreds of frequencies that need to be altered from moment to moment as the sound changes! Even if you had a team of a hundred hearing care professionals tweaking the equalizer on your hearing aids at the same time, they could never do it!

Never-Before Imagined Sound Processing

With trainable computers available today, we can use digital equalizers and other digital signal processors (DSP) to effectively split the sound coming into a set of hearing aids into “speech” and “everything else.” Once that has been done, we can also change the dynamics of each independently, so that speech never gets too quiet for you to hear or so loud that it is painful. The level of background noise can even be adjusted independently of the level of speech! In some situations, you might wish to hear more of what’s going on around you, while at other times you may only want to amplify speech. With today’s digital hearing aids, you can do that with the simple adjustment of a setting from your smartphone. Some of today’s digital hearing aids will even automatically recognize when the environment is changing and adjust their programming accordingly. They can even communicate with each other to improve the spatial location of sounds in the environment, which helps you feel more comfortable and balanced while walking. That will allow you to amble effortlessly while you concentrate on a conversation with your walking buddy. It’s really amazing how far hearing aids have come since the year 2000, and even in the last decade! If you or a loved one may be in need of hearing aids, make an appointment for a hearing test and find out how today’s hearing aids can help you hear better than ever!
Dealing with Noise Pollution in Your Neighborhood

Dealing with Noise Pollution in Your Neighborhood

Lawnmowers, jackhammers, trucks, trains, buses, and more. The modern world is full of unwanted sounds—many of which we have learned to ignore. Everywhere we go, we encounter sounds that can reach dangerous levels. At home, it may be nearly as bad. Vacuum cleaners, televisions, laundry machines, furnaces, and the noise generated by the people we live with can all classify as noise pollution.

Noise Pollution: A Cause for Concern

We can live with a certain amount of noise pollution, but a constant thrum of activity—especially at higher volume levels—will take its toll not only on our ears but on our physical and mental health, as well. Audiologists often refer to noise pollution as the “modern unseen plague,” as it causes damage of which we’re usually unaware. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that noise pollution is excessive noise that “seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time.” Environmental noise is a growing problem, especially as more areas of the globe are industrialized on a routine basis. It is estimated that 30 million Americans regularly experience unsafe noise levels, whereas just a few years ago the estimate was 10 million.

Types of Noise Pollution

The type of noise pollution you experience may vary depending on where you live, your job, and what kinds of leisure activities you pursue. For example, an airplane mechanic who lives next to a highway and takes the train to work will experience a lot more noise pollution than an insurance salesperson who lives in a small town. Key examples of noise pollution include:
  • Construction sites – Some buildings can take years to construct. If you live or work near the hubbub, you might be exposed to the sound for many hours every day. Construction workers wear ear protection, but those tangentially exposed to the action usually do not.
  • Errant sound – One person’s desired sound is another’s noise pollution. House parties, music venues, sports stadiums, annoyingly loud car audio systems, and more all constitute noise pollution for those who didn’t sign up for the sound.
  • Traffic – The sound of traffic is a concern for those who live on major throughways or next to highways. Airport traffic can also be a major problem.
  • At home – Machines like lawnmowers and leaf blowers create a racket throughout the neighborhood. Even those living in more rural areas are not immune to these sounds. Modern home theater systems can also reach punishing noise levels. Humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, heaters, furnaces, and laundry machines all contribute to noise pollution, as well.

Effects of Noise Pollution

Noise pollution can lead to chronic stress, sometimes without our being able to identify that noise is the cause. If we’re surrounded by constant noise, we might not realize its impact. Excessive noise exposure has been linked not only to hearing loss and tinnitus but to:
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Pain and fatigue
  • Decreased performance at work or school
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Speech anomalies
We want to avoid these outcomes, and recognizing just how unpleasant it is to be continuously exposed to unsafe sound levels is part of that process.

How to Protect Yourself from Noise Pollution

While it is not reasonable to expect perfect quiet—especially in urban areas—there are some things we can do to help deal with noise issues and prevent not only hearing loss but the chronic stress that comes with too much noise.
  • Know the limits – Sound levels reaching above 80 dBA (decibels A-weighted) are considered dangerous. At 85 dBA, permanent hearing loss sets in after 8 hours of continuous exposure. For every additional 3 dBA, the safe exposure time is cut in half. At 100 dBA, hearing loss occurs after about 15 minutes of exposure.
    • 80 dBA – Alarm clock, garbage disposal
    • 85 dBA – Diesel truck, snowblower
    • 90 dBA – Dog’s squeaker toy, lawnmower, welder
    • 95 dBA – Riding on the subway, food processor, belt sander
    • 100 dBA – Riding a motorcycle, hand drill
If you’re not sure about the noise level in your home or workplace, consider measuring iit with an SPL (sound pressure level) meter. While there are apps for smartphones that measure SPL, these are likely to be inaccurate due to the differences between different cell phone microphones. They can, however, be a good rough guide to whether you should be concerned about the sound level.
  • Absorb, absorb, absorb – In your home, the more sound can reflect off surfaces and bounce around, the louder it will effectively be. Simply putting a rug of sufficient size on the floor can help absorb sound and reduce its negative effects on your health and ears. Outside, a hedge, trees, and other plants outside your home can help reduce the amount of environmental sound that makes it indoors from busy streets.
  • Wear hearing protection – If you take the train to work, consider wearing earplugs. Noise-canceling headphones are also a great investment that can allow you to enjoy media at a low volume while canceling out loud environmental sounds.
While noise pollution may be a nuisance, it doesn’t have to dominate our lives. With a few tricks, we can reduce its impact on our ears and our minds, and keep ourselves and our families safe and sane! If you or a loved one may have hearing issues, make an appointment for a hearing test today and start keeping track of your hearing health!
Auditory Deprivation & How It Can Affect You

Auditory Deprivation & How It Can Affect You

If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t spent much time mulling over the idea of “auditory deprivation.” While it is related to hearing loss, it’s not the first thing we think of when it comes to hearing loss. It can take years for it to cause problems, or even for us to notice it! “Deprivation” means we’re taking something away. In the case of auditory deprivation, we’re taking away audio… but from what?—From our brain.

The Auditory Cortex and Auditory Deprivation

A certain area of our brains is designated for processing sound. It’s called the “auditory cortex,” and it sits in the lower part of the brain, behind the ears, right in the center. For human beings, the sound is inextricably linked with speech. We have evolved to communicate with one another, and our auditory cortex is a specialized instrument for recognizing speech, automatically interpreting it as language, and shunting it directly to our short-term memory, which sits directly adjacent to the auditory cortex. The word deprivation is fitting because our brain expects to encounter lots of sound from our ears. Even when we’re not really paying attention, our brain is hard at work interpreting information from our ears. It picks up cues that help orient us in space and monitors the environment for something that should get our attention. When we take that information away from our brain, we are certainly depriving it.

Hearing Loss and Neuroplasticity

For most of us, most of the time, hearing loss sets in very slowly. We don’t notice that we’re hearing less and less. Usually, the first time we notice hearing loss is when another person tells us we have it. On average, from the time a person first notices hearing loss, it takes them seven years to get a hearing test and start the process of getting a set of hearing aids. That’s unfortunate because auditory deprivation can have some pretty unsettling effects on the brain. Even mild hearing loss, when left untreated, will cause changes in the brain. This is because of a process called “neuroplasticity.” When one area of the brain isn’t getting used, our brilliant brains reallocate precious resources to other areas. The auditory cortex begins to literally collapse. It’s not that the brain cells die, but the grey matter between them will dissipate, shrinking the structure. While the brain cells may still be there, they can’t work effectively when they’re so collapsed. There is some evidence that, as the auditory cortex shrinks, the visual cortex is enlarged. This allows our brains to rely more on information from our eyes than our ears. While this may be a good thing for young people being raised in deaf culture, it may not be so good for those of us experiencing age-related hearing loss. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to cognitive decline and dementia, with the risk increasing by the degree of hearing loss:
  • Mild hearing loss – 2x risk of dementia
  • Moderate hearing loss – 3x risk of dementia
  • Severe hearing loss – 5x risk of dementia
Setting the increased risk of Alzheimer’s aside, there is a more immediate reason that auditory deprivation is something you’ll want to avoid: It will take away your ability to understand speech, even when you can hear it clearly!

Get Hearing Aids Sooner, Not Later!

Many people wish to put off getting hearing aids until their hearing becomes “really bad.” While we understand that hearing aids are a major expense that have a non-zero impact on our daily habits, this thinking unfortunately doesn’t hold up when we look at the changes that occur while someone is living with untreated hearing loss. It does seem that the auditory cortex can be rehabilitated, but this takes effort. Training classes are available that can help us learn to listen again. Over time, we can reap the benefits that hearing aids provide. But consider this: What will you have been missing out on during those years of auditory deprivation? It’s not just changes in the brain that concerns us, but changes in lifestyle. How many conversations will you miss out on? How many gatherings with friends and family will you pass up or be unable to enjoy? The best way to deal with a new hearing loss is to start wearing hearing aids as soon as they’re recommended by a hearing care professional. Hearing aids prevent the interruption of “life as we know it,” letting us make the most of our time today and every day. If you or a loved one may be having hearing issues, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to help you live life to the fullest!
Age-Related Hearing Loss is Often Untreated

Age-Related Hearing Loss is Often Untreated

We “Baby Boomers” are not getting any younger. As we age into retirement and start to enjoy our “leisure years,” we want to make the most of our time with children, grandchildren, friends and well-wishers. But just as we start to explore the freedom that comes with retirement, many of us start to experience age-related hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss, or “presbycusis,” is not the end of the world, and it’s incredibly common. About a third of people aged 60–69 have it, and two-thirds of those over 70 have it. Just about every 100-year-old out there has some hearing loss, so it’s likely that we’ll all get it if we just live long enough! A lot of people want to put off getting hearing aids until their hearing loss is “really bad,” and some never get them at all. This is too bad! Hearing aids these days are pretty amazing, and they help us avoid a lot of health concerns that are increasingly linked to untreated hearing loss. Still, it’s likely that only about 20% of people who could use them will ever get hearing aids. This statistic hasn’t changed in over 40 years! And on average, it takes someone about seven years from the time they notice a hearing loss to the time they decide to get hearing aids. Let’s see the Baby Boomers be the generation to break the cycle! Study after study has confirmed the reasons to get hearing aids, even when hearing loss is considered “mild,” so let’s talk about why and see if we can get more Boomers on Board.

Prevent Lifestyle Changes

We all think we can “get by” without hearing aids, and that might even be true for a while. But do you really want to just “get by?” Mild hearing loss makes it much more difficult to understand speech when background noise is present. This makes it harder to participate in conversations at noisy restaurants and bars, or larger family gatherings. If you can follow along, it’s going to take some extra mental effort, and that’s going to make you tired. Yes: hearing loss is exhausting. Many people who are starting to acquire age-related hearing loss mistake the fatigue that comes from hearing loss as a separate age-related condition, when in reality a good set of hearing aids would solve the problem. When we have to work hard to understand a conversation, it becomes less fun. And when social gatherings become less fun, we naturally start to avoid them. We might not even realize we’re doing it—we just won’t “feel like it” today. Over time, this can start a trend toward avoiding social outings altogether. Even if we do attend, we’re likely to feel lonely and isolated from the conversation when we can’t hear clearly. Hearing aids help us to enjoy the time we spend with other people, and that naturally makes us feel better and helps us keep living the life we enjoy!

Better Memory

Those with even mild hearing loss tend to report having more memory issues than those with normal hearing or hearing aids. The greater the hearing loss, the more problematic these memory issues seem to be. This is likely due to the auditory cortex’s close proximity to the center of short-term memory in the brain. When hearing is normal, the auditory cortex identifies and comprehends speech, then immediately shunts it to short-term memory. When our ears aren’t providing reliable information to the auditory cortex, we need to develop work-arounds in order to comprehend what someone is saying. Context clues, guessing, and repetition all come into play, and these utilize other parts of the brain. When we finally do understand, it’s not as simple of a process to commit that understanding to memory.

Prevent Brain Atrophy

Our brains tend to operate on the principle of “use it or lose it.” When the auditory cortex, mentioned above, stops receiving as much information from our ears, it starts to atrophy. This process begins even with mild hearing loss. Brain cells don’t die, but the grey matter supporting the structure dissipates, and the structure collapses. Once this happens, even when you can hear clearly, you won’t be able to understand what’s being said! The ability to comprehend speech can be regained over time, but why wait until that’s necessary? You can start wearing hearing aids once they’re recommended and live your life uninterrupted by hearing loss.

Hearing Aids Are Better Than Ever

Hearing aids today do a lot more than just amplify sound. They separate speech from background noise, processing each differently and helping to ensure you won’t miss a single word that’s spoken to you. Multi-microphone setups utilize artificial intelligence to help localize sound in space, giving you a better picture of where things are. Then, when you turn your head toward the sound you want to hear, it will be amplified above all else, automatically. It’s as close to normal hearing as hearing aids have ever been, and it’s pretty darned good! Hearing aids today can connect wirelessly to smartphones and other devices to stream phone calls, video calls, media content, and more. You can even take a hearing test through an app in your smartphone and have your fitment adjusted remotely! Those who get hearing aids report greater self-confidence and optimism than those with untreated hearing loss. They feel more self-reliant, and are better-able to navigate the world. They suffer fewer accidental injuries, and tend to avoid earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia. If you or a loved one might be in need of hearing aids, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what they can do to improve your life!
Everyday Activities That Could Harm Your Hearing

Everyday Activities That Could Harm Your Hearing

When it comes to our hearing, protection is the name of the game. Sensorineural hearing loss—the kind that results from the damage or death of the tiny, hair-like cells in our inner ears—accounts for 90% of hearing loss, and is unfortunately permanent. When this hearing loss is the result of noise exposure, it’s called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

About Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Modern life is noisy, and there are all kinds of situations when we are exposed to damaging noise levels, often without even realizing it! Everyone knows that a painfully loud sound can cause hearing loss, but it’s not just about volume: it’s also about duration. Sound levels as low as 85 dBA (decibels A-weighted) can cause NIHL after about 8 hours of exposure. 85 dBA is about the volume level of a gas-powered lawn mower, or a leaf blower. Some vacuum cleaners can hit 85 dBA, as well. And for every additional 3 dBA of sound, the safe time of exposure is cut in half. That means by the time sound reaches 100 dBA—about the volume level at a high school dance, or while riding a motorcycle—only 15 minutes of exposure can cause permanent hearing loss. Under normal circumstances, sound will not be painful under 130 dBA, yet as you can see much of the sound we experience at those non-painful levels will cause hearing loss very quickly.

Concerts and Sports Events

Large gatherings tend to be very noisy, and both music concerts and sports events can damage the unprotected ear. We might think of wearing earplugs at a rock concert, but most people do not imagine that sports events will harm their hearing. In fact, they do! The loudest “crowd roar” at a sports event on record happened on September 29, 2014. The Kansas City Chiefs were playing the New England Patriots. With 8 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Patriots’ running back Shane Vereen was stuffed for no gain on a 2nd-down rush. The home crowd went wild, registering a deafening 142.2 dBA roar. It is not recommended to experience sound above 140 dBA even with hearing protection in place! We don’t want to be killjoys about the thrill of an historic moment in sports, but neither do we want to see sports fans losing their hearing unnecessarily! Always be sure to wear earplugs at the game! Custom-molded earplugs can be a great option for those who need regular hearing protection, whether for sports or music. They are comfortable to wear for long periods, and they keep the balance of the frequency spectrum intact much better than foam disposables or even over-the-counter reusable options. Different levels of attenuation are available (up to about 36 dBA) for a variety of activities. Be sure not to over-attenuate for your intended use! Over-attenuation can cut you off from your environment and make communication difficult. If your earplugs make it harder to get along in a given environment, you’re less likely to use them! When you get custom-molded earplugs from a hearing healthcare professional, we’ll make sure that your attenuation level is appropriate for your intended purpose.

Personal Listening Devices (PLDs)

When the Sony WalkmanTM came on the scene in 1979, it immediately caused an uproar in the hearing healthcare community, and rightly so. The maximum volume of the original Walkman was easily capable of causing hearing damage. While, for the first time, people were free to enjoy their music on the go, rates of hearing loss climbed. So over 40 years later, we’ve learned our lesson and stopped making our personal listening devices capable of hurting our ears, right? Unfortunately, not even close! In fact, most of today’s PLDs have an even louder maximum volume than the original Walkman. More efficient battery and amplifier technology, as well as the fact that music players no longer require moving parts, means that manufacturers have been able to crank up the volume even higher. How do you protect yourself while listening to a PLD? You can’t accurately measure the effective sound level you’re experiencing—without a Real Ear Measurement system, at least—and we tend to lose track of just how loud we might be listening in headphones. A useful trick is to always start with the volume low, and turn it up slowly until it is just loud enough to hear clearly. This will be effective and safe in most situations. However, if there is a good deal of background noise, you might need to turn your PLD’s volume up to dangerous levels in order to hear the content comfortably! It’s tricky, right? If you tend to listen in situations where background noise is an issue—such as planes, trains and automobiles—you might consider investing in a set of active noise-canceling headphones. Headphones tend to be less damaging than earbuds in the first place, and active noise canceling will limit the background sound so you can enjoy whatever it is you’re listening to at a lower volume. If you are interested in custom-molded earplugs, or have a concern that you might have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and invest in your hearing health!

Pueblo, Colorado