Hearing Loss & Vertigo: All About Meniere’s DiseaseYou might have heard that balance was maintained in the ears, but what exactly does that mean? How do we use our ears to balance the precarious human structure of the upright homo sapiens? Some of the clues to how the ears help maintain balance can be seen in balance disorders. Vertigo, which can cause fainting, dizziness, or falls, can come from a number of causes. One of these is a relatively rare condition called Meniere’s disease. This condition affects the balance function of the inner ear with an excess of fluid, causing some of the symptoms of vertigo. Let’s take a look at some of the basics of Meniere’s disease, as well as the triggering habits that you can avoid. What is Meniere’s disease? Although it only affects about 1 in 1,500 people, Meniere’s disease is a serious condition of equilibrium. Those in their 40s and 50s are most susceptible, and it is considered to be a chronic condition, meaning that it does not completely go away once a person is diagnosed. Although there is no known cure for Meniere’s disease, several treatment regimens have been successful at reducing the effects. What causes Meniere’s disease? Doctors don’t know exactly what causes Meniere’s disease, but they have identified several triggering occurrences that can lead to the condition. In general, Meniere’s is defined by an excess of fluid in the inner ear. Those who have had head injuries, allergies, sleep apnea, and respiratory infections are more likely to get Meniere’s disease, as are those who have a family history of the condition. Some unhealthy habits like excessive drinking and smoking are linked to higher rates of Meniere’s disease or a trigger for the related balance issues. Stress, fatigue, anxiety, and migraines can all be considered triggers for an episode, as well. What are the symptoms of Meniere’s disease? How do you know if you might be experiencing Meniere’s disease? The main symptoms include muffled hearing or hearing loss, a feeling of pressure in the ear, dizzy spells, and tinnitus, that ringing, whistling, buzzing or other persistent noise that comes from within the body. Meniere’s disease episodes can last anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours. These symptoms can be linked to other health issues, so Meniere’s disease is sometimes misdiagnosed. It is important to work with a doctor to get a full diagnosis of your condition rather than making an assumption based on your own research. These symptoms can be related to other health problems, so it is important to assess your health in a holistic manner when you work with your primary care physician. What are the treatments for Meniere’s disease? In the event of a Meniere’s disease episode, there are a few steps you can take. The episode tends to begin with the feeling of pressure in the ear, leading to tinnitus, muffled hearing, and finally vertigo. Before you reach the point of vertigo, it is important to find a safe place to experience the episode. The greatest risk to those with Meniere’s disease comes from driving or other activities that become life-threatening when vertigo strikes. Lying down, focusing on a non-moving object, and trying to sleep is the most common response to an episode. Some medications, such as anti-anxiety and anti-nausea can help with the symptoms, as well. Dietary approaches to Meniere’s treatment include avoiding changes in sodium levels, reducing caffeine intake, and liming alcohol consumption. Certain foods can be triggering for individuals, as well, such as gluten in some Meniere’s patients. Smoking cessation and stress management are good long-term responses to Meniere’s disease, reducing the likelihood of an episode. For those with advanced cases of Meniere’s, medical interventions include steroids injected into the inner ear to reduce inflammation and gentamycin injections to reduce the feeling of dizziness. If you are concerned with any of the symptoms related to Meniere’s disease, it is important to seek a consultation and exam with your physician. If you are concerned about hearing loss, you can call our offices to schedule a hearing test. Though we will refer you to your physician to assess the possibility of Meniere’s disease, we can help diagnose your hearing ability and provide treatment options to help improve your hearing.
How Loud Is Too Loud for Kids?Headphone listening has been popular for decades, since the advent of the Sony Walkman in the late 1970s. At the time that device came on the market, news outlets published numerous articles about the dangers of listening at high volume, and a measure of paranoia swept the population about the dangers of headphone listening. How much of that paranoia was justified? Well, loud sound is certainly something to be cautious about. Even 85 dBA (decibels A-weighted) can cause some degree of permanent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) after about 8 hours of exposure, and for every additional 3 dBA of volume the safe listening period is cut in half. For small children, the decibel range is about 10 dBA lower, starting around 75 dBA. That’s just a bit louder than a group conversation.
Personal Listening Devices (PLDs) Are OK, at Safe VolumesYou see, it’s not the use of a personal listening device (PLD) like the Walkman that causes hearing loss in itself, but the volume at which we listen, and the length of time we do it. There has never been any problem with listening to music in headphones at a safe volume. One cause for concern though—today’s PLDs like Apple’s iPhone have a maximum volume that is significantly higher than the original Walkman. The iPhone’s maximum volume can deliver about 102 dBA to our ears, which causes permanent hearing loss in only about 10 minutes. It’s estimated that around 20% of people have measurable hearing loss by the time they reach the end of their teenage years. “Measurable” means we can see it on an audiogram (the printed result of a hearing exam), though it may not be noticeable to the person who has it. That might not sound like much of a problem, but if the practices that created that hearing loss in the first place are continued, it will add up to noticeable hearing loss before too long. Then consider that most of us will experience age-related hearing loss at some point in our lives. If we’re adding age-related hearing loss—or “presbycusis”— to the NIHL we already have, it’s a recipe for serious concern.
How to Listen Safely to PLDsThere are a number of things we can do to set our kids up for a lifetime of safe listening enjoyment. The earlier we teach them the importance of protecting their hearing, the better-prepared they’ll be to protect themselves from the loud sounds they’re sure to experience throughout their lives.
- Lead by Example – When you listen to music, whether in headphones or in the room, keep the volume at a safe level, and talk about why you’re setting it there. Whenever sound is too loud, protect your ears and your children’s ears and tell them why.
- Start Quiet – Whenever you’re starting to listen, set the volume low, then turn it up just loud enough to hear it clearly.
- Pay Attention to Background Sound – If there is a lot of background noise, it might be better not to listen to something additional, as it may be adding to an already dangerously loud environment, or contributing enough additional sound to create a dangerous listening environment.
- Consider Headphones for Kids – A number of companies manufacture headphones that are designed to keep the volume at a safe level for kids. While these may be effective, some of them have been shown to limit the volume to a level that is still dangerous. Everyone is different and has different needs, but it may be more desirable to teach your children to listen safely of their own volition, rather than providing a limiting device.
- Consider Noise-Canceling Tech – Noise-canceling headphones use microphones to pick up environmental sound, then produce an opposite-polarity version of that sound, such that it sums to zero by the time it reaches the eardrum. Essentially, the headphones produce the opposite of the sound in the environment, so when you add the two sounds together you get no sound at all. Effectiveness varies from device to device, but these can be a great way to reduce the volume of background sound such that desired content can be enjoyed at a lower volume.
- Encourage LIstening Breaks – No matter the volume at which your kids might be listening, encourage them to take a break at least once every hour. This gives their ears a chance to “reset.” They’ll be less likely to experience hearing loss as a result of continuous listening, and they’ll be less likely to desire a higher volume when they return from the break.
How Smoking & Drinking May Affect HearingIn 2022, most of us are generally concerned about how to promote our best health and well-being. We try to eat right, exercise, avoid substances that harm us, get enough sleep, and generally try to do things that make us feel like we’re in good health! But we also like to unwind from time to time! Most of us enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, and some people may still smoke cigarettes. As a hearing health organization, we’re interested in what, if any, effect these substances have on our health and hearing ability!
SmokingSmoking is quite simply an incredibly unhealthy habit! Through repeated studies, smoking has been shown to cause cancers of the lungs and other parts of the body, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and even arthritis. Those who smoke, even if they don’t have acute illnesses related to smoking, generally have lower health, compromised immune systems and decreased energy levels compared to non-smokers. Smoking is responsible for one out of five deaths in the United States. If you are a smoker, quitting now reduces serious threats to your health and well-being!
Smoking and Hearing LossAs if there were not enough health-related reasons to quit smoking, we can add hearing loss to the list. According to a study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, smoking 10 cigarettes per day increases the risk of high-frequency hearing loss by 40%, and low-frequency hearing loss by 10%. At 20 cigarettes per day, the increased risk of high-frequency hearing loss increases to 70%, and low-frequency hearing loss to 40%. This finding is consistent with other studies that have been done on smoking and hearing loss. The first study on smoking and hearing loss was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1998. It, too, determined that the risk of hearing loss increased with the number of cigarettes smoked per day. A study from 2004 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, however, found no correlation between smoking and hearing loss. This study does seem to be an outlier, as many studies since that time have confirmed that hearing loss and smoking do seem tied.
How Smoking Causes Hearing LossNicotine is a vasoconstrictor (it makes the blood vessels smaller), and smoking also deprives the body of oxygen. The tiny structures responsible for hearing, in the inner ear, are fed by very tiny blood vessels. It makes sense that a drug which constricts blood vessels and reduces oxygen content would have an adverse impact on hearing! Cigarette smoke is also full of lots of other nasty chemicals, many of which are known to be ototoxic (poisonous to the ear). Some may harm the ear directly, or indirectly by additional blood-related effects.
Alcohol and Hearing LossWhen it comes to alcohol, studies are less conclusive. Some have demonstrated that 1–2 alcoholic beverages per day can actually decrease the risk of hearing loss, while others have shown that any amount of alcohol is likely harmful. Whatever the case may be, the positive effects of alcohol on hearing ability are easily achievable by other means, such as drinking chamomile tea. We don’t have to drink to hear well! Alcohol may affect hearing by two different means: harming the ear directly, or harming the brain. Since our brain is where sound is actually interpreted, any damage to the auditory cortex (the part responsible for sound interpretation) is just as bad as direct damage to our ears… And maybe worse! Hearing aids can help you hear better if the problem is in your ears, but not if it’s in your brain! A study from the University of Ulm in Germany found a connection between heavy drinking and the kind of brain damage that affects hearing ability. You have to drink a lot for a long time in order for this to become an issue, but it is possible. Very heavy drinking can also result in direct damage to the ears, where the elevated level of alcohol in the blood can kill the delicate structures in the inner ear. A British study also found that excessive alcohol consumption caused temporary hearing loss. The more alcohol that was ingested, the greater the temporary hearing loss became. These researchers noted that excessive consumption could lead to permanent hearing loss in the long term, as well.
The TakeawayWhile more research is needed to demonstrate anything conclusive, it seems very likely that smoking contributes substantially to hearing loss. Any amount of smoking at all is never a good idea, and if we smoke, we should quit! Alcohol causes us to lose hearing ability temporarily, while we are under its influence. This might not seem like such a bad thing, but it also seems that excessive drinking can likely contribute to permanent hearing loss, even in the form of brain damage. While it may be the case that a very small amount of alcohol might actually promote hearing health, regular drinking seems likely to harm us. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, reach out to a Colorado Addiction Counselor. If you or a loved one may have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and take charge of your hearing health!
Things to Consider when Selecting Hearing AidsIf you’ve decided to get a set of hearing aids, good for you! Once hearing loss becomes an issue, hearing aids help us to continue to live our best and help prevent a host of potential negative outcomes that untreated hearing loss can bring. The hearing aid marketplace can be daunting. There are a lot of options to suit the many different needs of individual hearing aid wearers! Your hearing care specialist will help you navigate your way to the hearing aids that are most likely to work best for your needs and lifestyle, but it is still helpful to have an idea of what those needs might be and what some of the options are before you arrive at your care provider’s office. Let’s take a look at a few things to keep in mind when you’re selecting a set of hearing aids.
Bring a FriendIf possible, have your spouse, friend, or family member come with you to your appointment. There’s a lot of information to take in, and also to provide. With the help of a buddy, you’ll be more likely to remember more.
Know What’s Important to YouYour hearing care specialist should ask you questions about your lifestyle, to get a sense of which hearing aids will work best for you. Do you lead a very active lifestyle, or do you generally prefer more peace and quiet at home? Where does your hearing loss pose the biggest challenges? The better you can describe the situations in which you need to hear your best, and the activities you’ll be engaged in while wearing your hearing aids, the more likely your care provider will be able to recommend the perfect set for you.
Rechargeable vs DisposableOne of the major decisions you’ll have to make is whether to get a set of rechargeable hearing aids, or hearing aids that use traditional zinc-air disposable batteries. Rechargeables tend to be more resistant to debris and moisture and can last for a full day’s wear before needing to be recharged. Disposable batteries last longer (up to around 20 days) but have to be replaced, meaning you’ll need to keep fresh batteries on hand and dispose of your used batteries appropriately. Rechargeable batteries are typically only offered as an option with BTE (behind-the-ear) and RIC (receiver-in-canal) hearing aids, though there are now a few ITE (in-the-ear) models that make use of rechargeable technology. Smaller hearing aids will require the use of disposable batteries to provide enough power in a small enough package.
Think About Add-OnsTypical add-ons for hearing aids include special drying devices, premium chargers for rechargeable hearing aids, wireless microphones, TV adapters, and more. While it is rare that someone might need all the add-ons, there are usually one, two, or three that can be very helpful. But remember, you can always purchase an add-on later if you start to notice some areas where your hearing aids are struggling to provide the intelligibility you need on their own.
Ask to Try Them OutYou can “test drive” many models of hearing aids. Your care provider can fit a disposable tip to the earpiece, program the device based on your hearing test, and give you a chance to see if you like the sound. You may wish to try more than one before making your decision. Remember, the better your hearing aids sound to you, the more you’ll want to wear them!
Get a ContractHearing aids take time to adjust to and may need adjustments of their own as you’re getting used to them. They will likely need a periodic repair or a reprogramming due to changing hearing needs. When you purchase a set of hearing aids, you should consider it more like entering into a relationship with a provider, rather than simply purchasing a product. Most reputable hearing aid manufacturers offer a 30- to the 60-day trial period and a warranty, including follow-up visits. All of this should be laid out in a contract that makes it clear what additional services you are entitled to, and for how long they’ll be available. If your provider is not offering you a contract, it could be a bad sign and you might want to look elsewhere to purchase your hearing aids. Congratulations on doing the best thing you can do for yourself and getting a set of hearing aids! If you haven’t yet made an appointment for a hearing test, do it today and take charge of your hearing health!
A Link Between Hearing Loss and DiabetesWe all need to exercise a little caution when it comes to our hearing. We want to make sure we’re not exposed to extremely loud noise—or if we are, we need to make sure our hearing is protected. But noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is only one of the ways we can end up having hearing trouble. Even if we’re never exposed to a loud sound in our whole life—sayonara, music fans!—we might still end up with hearing loss from other causes. About a third of people aged 65–74 have hearing loss, and about half of those 75 and up have it. Almost 100% of centenarians have it, suggesting we’ll all lose some hearing eventually! But that doesn’t mean we need to be fatalistic about losing our hearing! There’s a wide range of hearing loss, and the better we do at protecting ourselves from the causes of hearing loss, the less hearing loss we may have later on, which can make life a lot easier. New research has found a striking link between diabetes and hearing loss. Let’s dig in and see what that means for us!
More Hearing Loss Among Those With DiabetesHaving diabetes raises our statistical risk of hearing loss by double. Having prediabetes increases the risk by 30%. A “statistical risk” means that people with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss as those who do not have diabetes, all other things being equal. That doesn’t mean it’s pure chance whether or not you’ll have hearing loss, but it does mean you may need to watch out for it more carefully. The link between hearing loss and diabetes is somewhat complicated, but it is related to the increase in sugar it causes in our blood. Cardiovascular health, in general, is important to maintaining the health of our ears, and diabetes is one of the ways it can be compromised.
How Diabetes Causes Hearing LossDiabetes promotes something called “microangiopathy,” or “small blood vessel disease.” This causes anomalies in the smallest blood vessels in our body—the ones that provide energy to the tiny structures in our inner ears. Our ability to hear is reliant on the proper functioning of the stereocilia—tiny, hair-like cells—that reside in our cochleas. There are some 16,000 stereocilia in each ear, and when they don’t get what they need from the tiny blood vessels that feed them, they die. Once they are dead, they do not regenerate, and this causes hearing loss. Microangiopathy can also affect nerve cells, which carry signals from the ears to the brain. This, too, can result in hearing loss, albeit of a slightly different kind. An additional risk factor for those with diabetes is that some of the drugs that are recommended for controlling diabetes can cause hearing loss, themselves. Aspirin, certain antibiotics, and drugs designed to lower blood sugar can all cause hearing loss.
Additional Noise RiskIn addition to the other ways diabetes can cause hearing loss, it also increases the risk of hearing loss due to noise exposure. Essentially, this means it may take less noise than normal to cause noise-induced hearing loss.
Additional Precautions Against Hearing Loss for Those With DiabetesDiabetes is not a guarantee of hearing loss, but it is worth taking additional precautions. Especially if we have diabetes, we should follow these guidelines:
- Check blood sugar regularly and control it carefully
- Eat a healthy diet – such as the Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED) or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)
- Move our body regularly, or get regular exercise
- Get an annual checkup
- Investigate medication with medical personnel, regarding the risk of hearing loss associated
- Avoid noise exposure, and protect hearing whenever necessary
Hearing Loss Is Not the End of the World!If we do have hearing loss, treatment is available that can make life a lot easier. It’s hard to estimate the impact that hearing loss can have until we’re actually living with it, and even then many of us don’t realize how much of a problem our hearing loss is causing until we start wearing hearing aids! Even for those with diabetes, hearing loss tends to come on slowly, so it can be difficult to see the effects it has on our lives until we “zoom out” and start treating it. If you or a loved one may have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to help you stay healthier!
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.
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!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 PeopleThis 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.
SchoolsAbout 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 HelpHearing 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 DifficultWe 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 SolutionIt’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 MemoryEven 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 HelpIf 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 LossHearing 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 PatienceHearing 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 EnvironmentsHearing 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 VisualDimly 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 TipsA 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.