While medical researchers must often focus on one system in the body when conducting a study, the additive effect of that research always seems to point to a few lifestyle recommendations that improve health overall. Importantly, hearing ability emerges as something like the “canary in the coalmine” of the body’s systems—the things that harm our hearing tend to harm everything else, too, but hearing loss is often the first consequence to ensue.
Most of us are familiar with the most important—and frequently suggested—aspects of a healthy lifestyle:
Eat a healthy diet
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
Don’t smoke tobacco
Avoid chronic stress
Get enough sleep
Each of these suggestions comes up so frequently for a very good reason: They are the things that healthy, modern people do! The correlations between these positive lifestyle choices and good overall health are undeniable throughout the medical literature.
Today we’ll talk about smoking, blood pressure, and hearing loss. Smoking and high blood pressure are strongly correlated with hearing loss. Let’s explore why that’s the case.
Smoking and Hearing Loss
Smoking reduces the level of oxygen in your blood. When you think about your blood vessels, you can imagine different gauges of pipe, like those used in a municipal water system. Big pipes bring lots of water to a neighborhood, smaller pipes carry the water to individual households, and even smaller pipes feed the different fixtures within a single house.
As a faucet is to a municipal water system, so are our ears to the body’s cardiovascular system. A small piece of debris will not stop water from flowing to a whole neighborhood, or even a house, but a few pieces of debris can easily slow or stop the faucet at the kitchen sink!
When you smoke, your blood is picking up a few things that it shouldn’t have—like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, arsenic, benzene, and formaldehyde, just to name a few. While these chemicals do their own nasty work throughout the body, they also squeeze out oxygen from the bloodstream.
The tiny blood vessels inside your ears, which feed the delicate structures in your inner ear, need plenty of oxygen and nutrients to function properly. Adding in these harmful chemicals, while reducing the amount of nutrients, creates an imbalance that is hard for those tiny structures to survive.
Blood Pressure and Hearing Loss
When your doctor takes a measurement of your blood pressure, they document it as two numbers. The first, or “top,” number measures the pressure at the moment that your heart is actively pushing blood into your arteries. The second, or “under,” number measures the pressure between those moments, when blood flow is ebbing. Essentially, this gives a measure of how hard your heart has to work in order to make blood flow through your body.
High blood pressure makes it more difficult for your heart to move blood through your body effectively. This can happen for a number of reasons. It may be that fatty plaques have built up along the walls of your blood vessels, creating less space for blood to move through easily. To return to the municipal water system, this would be like having an old service line that had a lot of mineral build-up, increasing pressure and limiting the amount of water that can reach the home.
Another cause of high blood pressure is the constriction or hardening of the arteries (hypertension). Nicotine, from smoking, constricts the arteries while it is in the bloodstream, temporarily increasing blood pressure. But it also promotes hypertension, over time, creating a more permanent state of high blood pressure. Again, to put this in terms of the municipal water system, it would be like replacing a main line with a service line. The smaller pipe would make the pressure increase, while also limiting the amount of water that can be used in the home.
Quit Smoking and Lower Blood Pressure for Better Health and Hearing!
To avoid the build-up of fatty plaques, choose to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Quitting smoking is also essential in order to avoid negative outcomes for the cardiovascular system.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake, not smoking, taking steps to avoid chronic stress, and getting the right amount of sleep (7–9 hours per night) are all important to maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system, and, consequently, healthy hearing!
If you or a loved one may have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing loss treatment can help you live a healthier and more fulfilling life!
In the hearing care industry, we often think of hearing as the “canary in the coal mine” of the body’s systems. The delicate structures in the inner ear—which are responsible for converting mechanical sound into the electrical impulses that can be understood by the brain—are more easily harmed in the early phases of medical issues than other, larger systems in the body. For example, hearing loss that progresses faster than normal can be the result of an undiagnosed cardiovascular issue that has not yet become acute.
New Research Links Diabetes to Increased Risk of Hearing Loss
New research has found that diabetes also poses an increased risk of hearing loss. It turns out that hearing loss is twice as common in those with diabetes. For those with prediabetes, hearing loss is 30% more common than in those whose blood glucose is at normal levels.
It is not yet clear just how diabetes may cause hearing loss, but it is possible that elevated blood glucose might damage the tiniest blood vessels in the inner ear. It has been known for some time that diabetes can also damage the eyes and the kidneys, and this same mechanism may be at play in the increased risk of hearing loss, as well.
Whether you have diabetes or hearing loss, or not, it’s a good idea to get a regular hearing test. It’s American Diabetes Month, so why not schedule a hearing test as part of an overall program of maintaining your best health and well-being?
American Diabetes Month
Each November, the American Diabetes Association hosts American Diabetes Month. This is a time to spread awareness about the diabetes epidemic. Millions of people who are at risk for type 2 diabetes can gain valuable knowledge that can help them prevent its onset. Many people who are at risk may not even know it, and it’s important that everyone be aware that diabetes may become an issue for them someday. For those who are currently living with diabetes, American Diabetes Month is an opportunity to tell their stories and encourage progress toward a cure.
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
A “non-modifiable” risk factor is one that you do not have control over, while a “modifiable” risk factor can be altered. Some of the non-modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:
Family Medical History – Some of the factors that determine our risk for diabetes are inherited from our parents or other close relatives. If you have a close blood relative with diabetes, your doctor should be aware of that.
Age Group – Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes generally affect those older than age 40. However, it is becoming more common for children and adolescents to develop type 2 diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes – If you temporarily experienced diabetes during pregnancy, you are at a higher risk of developing it again later in life.
You can make changes in your lifestyle and choices that can affect your risk of diabetes. With proper attention to modifiable risk factors, you can prevent or delay diabetes. While it may be a lot to try all at once, start by changing one thing, and slowly work to make more changes in your life to improve your health and avoid diabetes.
Weight – For those who are overweight, losing 5–10% of your body weight and getting regular physical exercise can significantly decrease your risk of developing diabetes. The more weight you lose, the more your risk is reduced.
Physical Activity – Even just as much as a 30-minute walk, 5 days a week, has been found to significantly reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The ideal amount of physical activity for good health is:
150 minutes/week of aerobic exercise, moderate intensity
OR 75 minutes/week aerobic exercise, vigorous intensity
AND weight lifting, two or more days per week
Blood Pressure – High blood pressure can be reduced by avoiding alcohol and tobacco, getting exercise, limiting stress, lowering weight, and eating a healthy diet.
High Cholesterol – Lowering the level of “bad” cholesterol in your blood can be achieved by the same methods as lowering your blood pressure.
Smoking – Stopping smoking should be a major priority for better health and avoiding diabetes. There are online resources that can help you make a plan to quit.
Alcohol – Excessive drinking inflames the pancreas and limits its production of insulin. Alcohol is also high in sugar and starch—these calories must be used or stored as fat, which additionally contributes to the development of diabetes. It is recommended to drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women, or two for men, though there is evidence that even half that amount causes undesirable changes in the brain and body.
Diet – Diet is among the most significant predictors of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Recent studies have also found that eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet—such as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or AMED (Alternate Mediterranean Diet)—can significantly reduce your risk of hearing loss, independently of diabetes.
Stress and Sleep – High stress and too little sleep can add up to poor health, over time. Find time to relax every day before bedtime, preparing yourself to get 7–9 hours of good, uninterrupted sleep.
Remember, whether you have diabetes or hearing loss, or not, it’s important to have your hearing tested routinely. If you haven’t been tested in a while, take the opportunity this American Diabetes Month and take charge of your hearing health!
Most of us are used to seeing our general practitioner on a regular basis, whether we are ill or not. General checkups are understood to be an important part of maintaining our best health and well-being. We dutifully visit the dentist once a year, and get a regular vision test. However, hearing tests are not as routine a part of our normal health maintenance routines.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) Is On the Rise
This is unfortunate, because the world is noisy, and our hearing is often at more risk than we realize. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), after showing some signs of decline around the beginning of the 21st century, is on the rise again. While about 10% of millennials have hearing loss, about 17% of Gen-Z has it. This is especially concerning, considering that Gen-Z is the younger of the two generations!
Hearing Tests Help Prevent Hearing Loss
Hearing tests are not just for those who need hearing aids. Hearing tests keep us informed about the state of our hearing health over time. We can find out if noise might be whittling away at our hearing ability, and make changes in our lifestyle or hearing protection measures in order to prevent more NIHL going forward. While NIHL is unfortunately permanent, it is also completely preventable.
How Often to Schedule a Hearing Test
So, exactly how often should you get a hearing test? The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit organization, has recommended getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years after that. Those in higher-risk professions or with a medical history indicating an elevated risk for hearing loss should be tested once a year.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), however, suggests that healthy people aged 18–40, who do not have any noticeable hearing loss, should be tested every three to five years. This is probably a safer bet, since the rate of hearing loss in the population appears to be increasing for reasons we do not fully understand.
Some people should be tested more frequently. Consider being tested once per year if you are:
Over Age 60: Hearing loss is very common in people over age 60. About one-third of those aged 60–74 have hearing loss, and about half of those 75 and up have it. It’s important to have your hearing tested whether or not you think you have hearing loss. Perhaps the only thing more common than having hearing loss is not realizing that you have it! Hearing tests give you an objective measure of the state of your hearing ability, and an early start to treatment helps prevent complications from untreated hearing loss.
Regularly Exposed to Loud Noise: Whether your profession requires you to spend time around loud noises, or you engage in recreational activities that involve loud noise, if you are exposed on a regular basis, you should be tested once a year. Construction workers, factory workers, hunters, motorcyclists, musicians, concertgoers, and other people who are regularly exposed to sound levels above 85 dBA (about the volume level of a gas-powered lawn mower) should a) protect their hearing whenever they are engaged in loud activities and b) get their hearing checked once a year to make sure their protection measures are adequate.
Already a Hearing Aid Wearer: It may not seem necessary to get your hearing checked once you are wearing hearing aids, but it can make all the difference. Hearing loss tends to progress for some amount of time, and then plateau. The trajectory is different for everyone, but it’s important to have regular hearing tests to ensure that your hearing aid programming is appropriate for the hearing loss you have now, not when you got your hearing aids two years ago or more. We want to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your hearing aids, and regular testing helps make that possible.
Hearing tests are fast, painless and non-invasive. Depending on how often your lifestyle and medical history indicates you should be tested, set aside a morning or afternoon on the appropriate timeline and get your hearing tested! It can save you a lot of strife down the road. If and when the time comes for you to start wearing hearing aids, you’ll know you have done what you can to minimize your risk of more severe hearing loss over the years.
If you’re due for a hearing test, make an appointment today and take charge of your hearing health!
Yes, a heart-healthy diet helps you keep your hearing in better shape over time. This may not come as much of a surprise, since a healthy diet is good for just about everything when it comes to your physical, mental and emotional health. When we make sure to eat a diet full of important vitamins and minerals, we give our body what it needs to keep performing its best, and nowhere does that apply more immediately than in terms of our hearing health.
Good hearing depends on the proper functioning of the 16,000-ish stereocilia, inside the cochlea in the inner ear. These tiny, hair-like cells convert the mechanical energy of sound into the electrical impulses that our brain can understand. Because they’re so small, they’re among the first parts of the body to be adversely affected by poor blood flow—one of the consequences of poor cardiovascular health. Indeed, hearing loss that proceeds faster than normal can be the result of an underlying cardiovascular condition that has not yet been diagnosed.
How Do We Know That Diet Affects Hearing?
Research into the subject is relatively new, but the Nurses’ Health Study II, conducted in 2018, showed a strong correlation between a healthier diet and a lower incidence of hearing loss. Building on that study, another one published in 2019 suggested so strongly that a heart-healthy diet protects hearing ability, we can be almost sure that future studies will confirm, support, and expand these results.
The 2019 study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, was conducted by researchers at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. The study followed 3,135 women over a four-year period, around the age when age-related hearing loss often becomes measurable (around age 55–60). The women’s hearing was measured at a number of clinics in different parts of the US.
Those who closely followed an anti-inflammatory diet were 25% less likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss, and 30% less likely to develop mid-frequency hearing loss. This is a considerable reduction in risk—one which many in the medical community may not have thought possible.
The Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss has noted that nearly every type of hearing loss has some genetic component to it, but that does not mean there is nothing we can do to prevent hearing loss. Protecting ourselves from loud noise, quitting smoking, exercising, and eating a healthy diet have all been indicated to lower the risk of hearing loss.
Which Diets Can Help Reduce the Risk of Hearing Loss?
There are three specific diets that have been named in the reduction of hearing loss risk.
AMED (Alternate Mediterranean Diet) – This diet leans heavily on fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and olive oil. While not every meal needs to involve a protein dish, it encourages more fish, and one serving of beef or lamb per week. It also allows for moderate alcohol drinking.
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) – Similar to AMED, this diet involves lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish. It also encourages low-fat dairy, lean meats, and emphasizes low sodium, sugar and fat.
AHEI-2010 (Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010) – This diet also involves lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Like DASH, it limits sodium, sugar and animal fats.
There is a wide array of cookbooks available to help guide you down the path of any or all of these diets. It may be worth trying each of them out, one week at a time.
If you would like to switch to a more heart-healthy diet but are concerned about making a big change in your eating habits, a piece of advice that has helped many people is to “add in the good stuff.” That means, rather than trying to simply switch everything over in one fell swoop, start adding a healthy side dish to something you eat regularly, and over time integrate more and more healthy foods until you find yourself eating healthy all the time!
Vegans, Vegetarians, and Hearing Loss
One important thing to note is that the B-vitamins Folate and B-12 have both been shown to provide protection against hearing loss. These vitamins are largely present in animal proteins. It is fine to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, but those who do so should also find a good B-vitamin supplement!
If you or a loved one may have hearing loss—or if you’re simply due for a hearing test—make an appointment today, and take charge of your hearing health!
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, most workplaces went online in order to continue operations. Meetings that would have been held in person became virtual, almost overnight. The service provided by the company Zoom became the most popular of these virtual meeting places. While many workplaces are returning to something more like “normal” operations, Zoom meetings don’t seem to be going anywhere. They still hold a lot of value for companies whose workforce is more spread out, or who offer work-from-home days to their employees. Zoom is also a popular platform for families who are not all in the same place at the same time. In short, the uses and benefits are many!
Zooming Toward Better Intelligibility!
For those with hearing loss, Zoom meetings can actually provide a few benefits over traditional meetings. Zoom allows you to see everyone who is talking, in real time, on your computer screen, while hearing their voice processed through Zoom’s algorithm. This algorithm reduces background noise and helps maintain a consistent volume level between voices, making it easier for those with hearing issues, especially if they wear hearing aids. Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids allow you to stream the audio from a Zoom call directly to your hearing aids, improving the sound even more!
Zoom offers free 40-minute sessions. If you pay for Zoom, you can have unlimited time on your sessions. Features like background blurring and background replacement offer ways to emphasize the speaker or have fun with others in the session.
There are two types of Zoom sessions: Meetings and Webinars. While Meetings are appropriate for just that, Webinars are more oriented toward real-time events meant to be viewed by a larger audience. Both platforms now offer some features specifically for the hearing impaired.
Zoom and Captioning
One of the major complaints about Zoom, when it exploded in popularity at the beginning of the pandemic, was the limited resources it provided for the hearing impaired. Since then, Zoom has expanded their options for the hearing impaired to include manual open captioning, third-party captioning services, and auto-generated captions.
This service, also known as “live transcription,” has been available for about a year, and is free to all users. It is available on free Zoom Meetings accounts, as well as paid accounts for Meetings and Webinars.
Just like it sounds, the “auto-generated captions” feature uses software that automatically transcribes what is audibly spoken in a meeting or webinar into written captions. This must be enabled by the host in the Zoom web portal. Participants can privately request that live transcription be enabled during a session, in case it has not been enabled at the outset. Functionality includes the ability to allow a full transcript to scroll while the meeting is in progress, as well as giving participants the opportunity to save this transcript for themselves at the end of the meeting.
At the time of writing, auto-generated captioning is available in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian, and in Beta versions of Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
While live transcription is a major step forward in terms of accessibility, it still has some issues. Jargon and proper nouns are hard for it to handle, so in cases where a Webinar is being given on a specific topic, it may be beneficial to enlist the assistance of a human captioner.
Zoom makes this pretty simple. You need to have a stenographer on the session, but you can hand off captioning to them easily. It must be turned on in the web portal, but then the host can type or assign any other participant to type. Captions appear in the same place as the auto-generated captions.
In the web portal, check “Allow use of caption API Token to integrate with 3rd-party Closed Captioning services.” This will give you an API token (link) to send to the third-party captioner, who can then participate through this discreet channel without appearing in the Meeting or Webinar.
We have focused here on how to make Zoom a more accessible platform for the hearing impaired. There are even more options available, including the ability to spotlight a live sign language translator. If you are concerned about making Zoom or other platforms as accessible as possible for your hearing-impaired guests, there are plenty of options!
And, of course, if you or a loved one could benefit from hearing aids, that may be the greatest step toward accessibility you can take. Make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing aids can improve your life—both on- and off-line!
Hearing aids are crucially important devices that help us lead healthy, happy lives, just like a pair of glasses. Once hearing loss enters the picture, hearing aids are the best thing we can do to ensure that hearing loss does not control our lives.
Hearing aids are, however, a significant expense for most people. Given the relatively high purchase price of a set of hearing aids, it’s natural to want them to last as long as possible!
In general, a set of hearing aids can be expected to last somewhere between three and seven years. That’s a pretty wide range! The range is so wide because of the many differences in the ways people use their hearing aids. Some people live in dry climates, have relatively little earwax, and don’t sweat very much. These are things that can help a set of hearing aids to survive for a long time! Others may have different body chemistry, and live somewhere where it rains every day. This might shorten the lifespan of a set of hearing aids by exposing them to more moisture.
Regardless of the environment your hearing aids have to work in, here are a few things you can do to ensure they last as long as possible.
Every night, when you take your hearing aids out, wipe them down with a clean, dry cloth. If your hearing aids use disposable batteries, open the battery compartments to let the accumulated moisture evaporate.
Even with this routine, eventually earwax and environmental debris may clog the tiny openings in your hearing aids. This will reduce their effectiveness, and also strain the sensitive components inside. It’s a good idea to periodically clean these openings with a clean brush.
Your ears may react to your hearing aids as though they are a foreign object, and accordingly produce more earwax. Talk to your hearing care provider about how best to remove excess earwax from your ears, but it is not a good idea to use cotton swabs or “ear candling” to accomplish this. Keeping your ears clean is a great way to help keep your hearing aids clean!
It’s also a good idea to bring your hearing aids in for regular professional cleaning. A professional cleaning will leave your hearing aids completely dry and clean, inside and out, and help ensure their greatest longevity.
Some parts of hearing aids, like tubes for BTE (behind-the-ear) models, require periodic replacement. By scheduling a regular appointment with your hearing care provider, you’ll be able to take a hearing test—to see whether your hearing aids’ programming may require an adjustment—as well as have them take a look at your hearing aids. Any wear-&-tear should be repaired right away. What might seem like a small problem can become much bigger, if it allows moisture and debris to get inside to the delicate parts in your hearing aids.
Keep Them Out of the Bathroom During Routines
Even if your hearing aids are water resistant or waterproof, it’s best to keep them away from water as much as possible. Keeping them out of the bathroom is a great way to do this. Showers generate a lot of moisture, so even if you’re not wearing your hearing aids in the shower (which you should never do!) they will still be exposed to a great deal of moisture simply by being in the bathroom.
Similarly, applying makeup, hairspray, face lotion, and other products can unnecessarily expose your hearing aids to moisture and debris. It’s best to leave them out of the bathroom during your routines. You can put them in after your morning routine, and take them out before your nighttime routine.
Hearing Aid Dehumidifiers
While not necessary for everyone, those who live in especially moist climates or who sweat more profusely can benefit from a hearing aid dehumidifier. Simply place your hearing aids in the dehumidifier at night, after wiping them clean and opening the battery compartments, and moisture will be actively removed while you sleep. For those who wear rechargeable hearing aids, dehumidifying and disinfecting chargers are available from most reputable hearing aid companies.
If you or a loved one may need hearing aids and isn’t currently wearing them, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing aids can help you live life to the fullest!
We all have our ways of making sure our ears feel clean, but it may be worth asking at some point: Is there a better way? A few of the most common cleaning techniques might be doing more harm than good!
What Is Earwax?
Most of the time when we feel the need to clean our ears, it’s earwax giving us that feeling. Earwax, or “cerumen,” is a kind of natural cleaning agent produced by our bodies, and it serves a few functions:
Keeps skin moisturized and protected in the ear canal
Collects bacteria and debris, preventing it from entering the ear
While it’s important that we have some earwax in our ears, we don’t want so much that it causes us problems! Excessive earwax can cause infection and conductive hearing loss, and may mask more serious underlying issues like fluid buildup and eardrum perforations. Fortunately, having excessive earwax is pretty rare.
The Best Cleaning Is No Cleaning!
Under normal circumstances, our ears will naturally remove earwax. When our jaw moves—usually through the actions of chewing or talking—it changes the shape of our ear canals, and that helps break up old earwax and move it to the outside of the canal.
A good rule of thumb is to never put anything smaller than a towel inside your ear. Cleaning the different parts of the outer ears—and behind them, as we’ve all been told as kids—is a good idea, but leave the inside of the ear canal alone. It’s the job of earwax, itself, to keep that clean!
When To Clean
Earwax buildup is a rare problem for most people, but it can happen. When there’s too much earwax inside the ear canal, it can close off the ear canal to sound, creating conductive hearing loss. This is called “impaction,” and requires intervention to clear out. Symptoms of impaction include:
Feeling of “fullness” in the ear
Ringing and/or hearing loss
Odor coming from the ear
Some people are more likely to experience impaction than others. For example, those who wear hearing aids or earplugs throughout the day. Older adults and those with developmental disabilities are also at a higher risk. Still others may have an ear canal shape that makes the natural removal of earwax more difficult.
Ways to Clean
There are a few safe ways to go about cleaning your ears.
Visit Your Doctor or Hearing Care Provider
Doctors and/or hearing care providers can provide safe and guaranteed earwax removal. From a hearing care provider, this service is usually quite inexpensive. Your doctor or hearing care provider may use one of a number of approaches to wax removal, including irrigation, a cerumen spoon, forceps, or a suction device. Your doctor or hearing care provider may also be able to give you advice on home cleaning, if you have recurring issues with earwax impaction.
Ear Drops / Bulb
Ear drops are a solution that is designed to soften earwax and lubricate the ear canal, easing the way for removal. Different brands might contain mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, peroxide, or saline solution. Usually, ear drops are used in conjunction with an ear bulb. Once the ear drops have worked their way into the earwax (the package will specify this duration), you can use the ear bulb to wash out the wax. While the bulb can be used on its own, it is usually more effective when ear drops are used first.
Irrigation kits rely on the same principles as the drops / bulb approach, but allow you to stream more water into your ear canal. If the bulb doesn’t seem to provide enough water for your needs with a single filling, it may be useful to you to use an irrigation kit.
Methods to Avoid
We’ve all probably heard at this point that cotton swabs should not be used to clean our ears. It’s true! Cotton swabs are just as likely to create impaction as remove wax, and should be avoided.
Ear candles should also be avoided. They are not effective at removing wax, and pose a fire hazard as well as an infection hazard. Some users have also reported having their ear canals chafed or abraded by the ends of the cones.
Cerumen spoons for home use may be right for some people, but consult your doctor or hearing care provider before going this route. There is always a risk, when inserting anything into your ears, of rupturing the eardrum.
If you are in need of a professional ear cleaning, a hearing test, or have other hearing care needs, make an appointment today and take charge of your hearing health!
About 48 million Americans, or 14% of the population, are living with some type of hearing loss. Among those aged 60–69, the percentage climbs to about 33%, and to 66% for those aged 70 and up. If you don’t have hearing loss yourself, it’s likely that you know someone who does!
Still, hearing loss is sorely undertreated. Only about one out of five people who need hearing aids is wearing them, and people tend to wait an average of seven years from the time they notice a hearing loss to the time they get a hearing test and seek treatment for it. While it’s a shame to imagine so many people living with a reduced quality of life when a set of hearing aids could help them engage so much more easily with the world around them, it’s also becoming understood as a public health crisis.
Hearing Loss Brings Health Risks
While hearing loss was once considered a benign—if annoying—part of getting older, we now know that it tends to set off a kind of cascade of negative outcomes. Those with hearing loss are more prone to complications like depression, social isolation, accidental injury, decreased physical activity, and an earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia.
Recent studies have found that the risk of dementia increases substantially with an increase in the severity of hearing loss. Those with mild hearing loss (26–40 dBHL) are at double the risk of those with normal hearing. Those with moderate hearing loss (41–60 dBHL) are at triple the risk, and those with severe hearing loss (61–80 dBHL) are at five times the risk.
While this may sound alarming, it should still be noted that hearing loss is by no means a guarantee of dementia. For those whose risk of dementia is very low, even quintupling that risk may still leave them with a relatively low risk.
How Does Hearing Loss Lead to Dementia?
It is not yet understood how exactly hearing loss seems to provoke dementia, though there are a few promising theories that are being studied.
One theory is that the extra cognitive load caused by hearing loss promotes dementia. Those with hearing loss know how exhausting it can be to try to follow conversations and get other information from sound. It may be that all that extra work wears the brain down over time, drawing resources away from working memory and other cognitive systems. This might create a situation where dementia can more easily set in.
The auditory cortex is responsible for assembling all the bits and pieces of sound that our ears pick up into a cohesive sonic image of our environment. It also automatically comprehends speech, and shunts it directly into short-term memory. When our ears stop delivering the normal amount of information to our brain, the auditory cortex begins to shrink. It’s not that the brain cells die, but the grey matter between them begins to dissipate, allowing the structure to collapse. It’s really true that we have to “use it or lose it” when it comes to the brain. This drawing away of resources from one part of the brain may contribute to the onset of cognitive decline and dementia.
A third theory is that hearing loss tends to promote less social activity, and the social isolation that can result, in turn, promotes dementia. Spending time with other people is one of the most engaging things we can do with our brains, and if we become isolated we may not be providing our brains with enough activity to keep them healthy.
While the link between social isolation and dementia has been confirmed, newer research suggests that hearing loss also promotes dementia aside from the incidental link between hearing loss and social isolation.
Hearing Aids Can Help
A French study found that older adults with profound hearing loss actually showed a reverse in cognitive decline when fitted with a cochlear implant. While research into whether hearing aids help reduce the risk of dementia is still in its infancy, there are strong suggestions that early adoption of hearing aids can help prevent dementia, or delay its onset.
New research into Alzheimer’s disease has also found that many people who pass away having never experienced dementia actually have all the signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It is thought that this is possible because the brain has enough resources to reorganize itself around the diseased areas, and the person is still able to function normally. By getting hearing aids, you can ensure that you’re doing everything you can to provide your brain with the information it needs to keep functioning at its best. While there is no guarantee that hearing aids or any other intervention will completely prevent the onset of dementia, research is strongly suggesting that hearing aids are an important part of mitigating the risk.
If you or a loved one may have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing aids can help you maintain your best health and well-being.
Hearing loss is much more than just struggling to hear during conversations. Communication issues can affect every aspect of life, including putting a strain on your most cherished relationships, your ability to succeed at work and can cause chronic depression. In addition to these far-reaching effects on mood and mental health, untreated hearing loss affects another area of our lives: spatial mobility and safety. This surprising side effect of hearing loss can quickly affect our quality of life.
Quality of Life
Quality of life is an abstract term which can mean many things to different people. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as “”an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns”. This could be the quality of your relationships, your ability to pursue your joys, your hobbies and explore new things. When Hearing loss sets in it affects your ability to stay active because you are less aware of your environment. This means you may miss important warning sounds and alerts. You may miss an oven alarm or doorbell, an important call or the sounds of a dog collar jingling in the room. Hearing is a connection to the world and helps us react quicker in an emergency. This is why those with untreated hearing loss are at a higher risk of falls and accidents leading to hospitalization.
Study on Age Related Hearing Loss and Quality of Life
Hearing loss can affect anyone of any age, however one in three over the age of 65 are affected by hearing loss and this number jumps to half for those 75 and older. A recent study from the University of Jyvaskyla and the University of Tampere in Finland found that “older people with hearing problems have more limited life space, and that these problems lower their quality of life,” and that “the movement of older people is often negatively affected by their hearing loss.”
To compile this data, researchers monitored 848 older people (ages 75 to 90) over two years and analyzed their movements in conjunction with hearing loss. The data showed that “people who experienced hearing problems in different everyday situations moved less within their local area than those who considered their hearing to be good.”
However, it’s not just movement that matters. When you are proactive about treating your hearing loss, you can connect to the people in your life and less likely to feel isolated socially. This can allow you to pursue the activities and hobbies that you enjoyed before hearing loss. Treating hearing loss keeps you connected to your friends and the communities of which you are a part.
One of the key researchers, Hannele Polku, explains, “a person with many everyday social contacts and communication with others may feel that even a minor hearing loss may affect by everyday functioning. On the other hand, a person more inclined to enjoy domestic tasks carried out on one’s own doesn’t experience the same number of problems due to a change of similar degree in hearing.” Regardless of if you love to stay social, it’s important to be able to connect to people in your life by treating hearing loss.
Treating Hearing Loss with Hearing Aids
While there is no cure for hearing loss, it can be treated effectively with hearing aids. Hearing aids are tiny electronic devices worn in or around the ear canal which, based on a hearing exam can amplify only the sounds you need to hear. Hearing aids have been found to make it easier to hear the people and the sounds around you. This can boost confidence, improve relationships, and help to keep older adults more active and connected to the life they love. However, of those 69 and older who could benefit from hearing aids, only 20% have ever tried them. It’s important to pay attention to your hearing health. If you’ve witnessed a decline in your closest relationships, it’s time to act now. Schedule a hearing exam with us. We can help you find the best treatment for your hearing issues and help you access the highest quality of life possible. Call today!
The movie industry is still in recovery mode after years of an unpredictable pandemic. However, with the news of movie pass returning, it seems to be a sign that, despite obstacles, going to the movies is a tradition which is starting to come back strong. For those of you who have spent the past 2- or 3-years watching movies at home, you may be more sure than ever that there really isn’t anything like the watching a movie on the big screen. Besides a bigger picture, it’s the joy of going into a dark movie theater with popcorn and candy. It’s that thrill when the lights go on and the sound and light start booming over everything. It’s a totally immersive experience, which is how most movie makers first intended their films to be viewed.
However, it’s important to consider how loud the sound in the movie theater may be. As great as amazing going to see a movie at the theater can be, it often comes with an unrecognized health risk: hearing damage. Today’s theaters offer cutting-edge surround sound which can reach decibels which have the potential to leave you with permanent hearing loss.
What Is Too Loud?
Sounds feel us with joy, like when we hear the voice of someone we love or even elation when our favorite song comes on. However, even sounds that we love can damage our hearing when the volume is turned up too loud. The volume of sound is measured in decibels. Any sound which surpasses a safe listening decibel threshold, can cause such extreme vibrations within our inner ear that it damages the tiny cells which transmit sound from our ears to our brains. To be specific it’s not just the level of decibels but the length of exposure. For instance, the threshold for safe listening ends at an exposure of 85 dBA for eight hours or more. However, the louder the exposure the less time it takes for permanent hearing damage to occur. At 95 dBA it only takes under an hour and at 105 it can take as little as 15 minuets! As damage occurs, we slowly collect less cells which can transmit sound as the fewer of these working cells we have available to us, the less accurate our hearing becomes.
Back to the Movies
The problem is that many of us won’t even realize when we are damaging our hearing. Many of us are acclimated to a loud environment as we run from place to place through construction and traffic or listen to headphones for hours on end. If you’ve ever left a loud concert or movie theater with a buzzing in your ears, it’s a sign that you were exposed to sounds which has caused some degree of hearing loss. It’s surprising that an experience as joyous as a movie in the theater could be the source of hearing damage.
Exploring Sound Levels in the Movie Theater
To explore the extent of this potential damage, a recent investigation tested the sound levels theaters are exposing their audience too. Loud noise is a very concerning issue for older adults but hearing damage due to noise exposure is an issue for people of all ages including children. Children’s hearing can be more vulnerable to loud sounds due to smaller ear canals. This can be particularly damaging for early childhood development and speech acquisition. While there are limits in place to keep sound levels at a safe volume often even children’s movies frequently are measured at volumes that top 85 dB and even peak close to 100 dB even for short amounts of time.
However, movies for adults tend to be even louder. Even if you aren’t seeing the latest blockbuster full of explosions, a non-action film can still have a sound level which are measured around 90 dBA, while Hollywood blockbusters typically swell over 100 dBA. While there is a cap to the average decibel level throughout a movie these swells of heightened decibels can still cause hearing damage!
Protecting Your Hearing
Come prepared next time you go to the movies with hearing protection. Even portable foam ear plugs can lower the decibel volume by 15-33 dBA – enough to keep your hearing safe while enjoying the latest film. If you suspect you already have some degree of hearing loss, don’t let it go unaddressed. Contact us today to schedule a hearing exam.