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!


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!
The Causes of Acquired Hearing Loss

The Causes of Acquired Hearing Loss

When it comes to hearing loss, the names of the game are treatment and prevention. Some of us are born with hearing loss, and in these cases treatment is the only option, but for the rest of us, prevention is really important to make sure we have the best hearing we can throughout our lives. The broad categories of hearing loss are sensorineural, conductive, and mixed. Sensorineural hearing loss accounts for 90% of the hearing loss in the world, and it’s the kind that results from damage to the tiny, hair-like cells in the inner ear, called stereocilia. Most cells in the body are born, die, and are replaced on a regular basis, but when it comes to the stereocilia, the ones we’re born with are the only ones we’ll ever have. Stereocilia can be damaged by exposure to loud noise, physical trauma, and other medical conditions. They also tend to stop working as we get older. In fact, the description of “normal” hearing changes through the human lifespan. Normal hearing for a 20-year-old involves a lot more high-frequencies than normal hearing for a 40-year-old. And while one-third of those aged 60–69 have hearing loss, two-thirds of those over age 70 have it. Nearly 100% of centenarians have hearing loss, suggesting that we’re all likely to experience it if we just live long enough! Let’s talk about some of the causes of acquired hearing loss:

Loud Noise

Noise is a major cause of hearing loss today. Our world just seems to keep getting louder. While noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) was on the decline around the turn of the millennium, it’s back in a big way today. About 10% of millennials have hearing loss, while already 17% of Gen-Z’ers have it. Especially considering that Gen-Z is the younger of the two generations, this spike is pretty alarming! Lots of people think that sound has to be painful to cause NIHL, but this isn’t true. In fact, sound levels as low as 85 dBA (decibels A-weighted)—about the level of a gas-powered lawnmower—can cause permanent hearing loss after about 8 hours of exposure. For every additional 3 dBA in level, the safe time of exposure is cut in half. By the time we reach 100 dBA—the average volume of a high school dance—permanent hearing loss occurs after only 15 minutes of exposure. If you spend time around loud noise, the solution is pretty simple—just wear hearing protection! Earmuffs are a good choice for many activities, and it’s always a good idea to carry a set of earplugs with you. There’s a wide range of quality and specifications when it comes to earplugs, so give us a call if you have questions about the best option for yourself.

Physical Trauma

Car accidents, sports injuries, and other head injuries can cause hearing loss. “Physical trauma” also includes catastrophically loud sounds, like a bomb going off nearby. These kinds of explosions can cause immediate hearing loss. Repeated, low-level physical traumas, like those experienced by American football players, can lead to something called “hidden hearing loss.” Under normal circumstances, the electrical impulses that carry sonic information travel from our ears to the auditory cortex of our brains via the auditory nerves. Nerves are surrounded by a fatty substance called “myelin,” which functions like the rubber jacket around an electric cord. It keeps the information that the nerve is sending on that nerve. When the sheath is damaged, information can leak, and that’s what happens with hidden hearing loss. In the context of a pure-tone hearing test, someone with hidden hearing loss will appear to have normal hearing. This is because the leaky auditory nerves are only transferring one sound at a time. When the same person goes out to a restaurant, the chaotic sonic environment will become difficult to comprehend, as a lot of the information coming into their ears will never make it to their brain.

Medical Conditions

Our hearing ability can indeed be like the “canary in the coal mine” of our bodies. When we have chronic inflammation, the restricted blood flow will eventually cause hearing loss. Underlying issues like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some viral infections, and obesity can all cause hearing loss. An underlying cardiovascular condition can cause age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) to progress much faster than normal. By getting a regular hearing test, this might be discovered and result in a life-saving intervention! If you or a loved one may be experiencing hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today! Hearing aids are better than ever, and are still the best treatment for most sensorineural hearing loss!
Acknowledging the Reality of Hearing Loss

Acknowledging the Reality of Hearing Loss

About 48 million Americans are living with some form of hearing loss, in one or both ears. Hearing loss can range from mild to profound, and should be treated regardless of the severity. Sometimes hearing loss can be cured by removing blockages from the ear canals, repairing perforated eardrums, or other surgical means. But most hearing loss is “sensorineural,” meaning it is caused by problems in the inner ear or auditory nerves. Sensorineural hearing loss is the larger umbrella category under which we find both age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss. While these types of hearing loss are not curable, there is still treatment available.

Resistance to Hearing Aids?

Hearing aids are by far the most common and most effective means of treating sensorineural hearing loss. Still, some people are reluctant to start wearing them. We understand: It can be frightening, daunting, or just seem downright unpleasant to start wearing these devices throughout your day. Some people feel their hearing loss “isn’t that bad,” or that they’re “getting by just fine” without the use of hearing aids. While hearing loss is certainly not a life-or-death matter, at least at the outset, it is best to start treating hearing loss with hearing aids as soon as the results of a hearing evaluation indicate that they would be helpful.

Ears vs Eyes

Our hearing doesn’t work the same as our eyesight. If you are near- or far-sighted, you’ll notice that things in the world are very blurry. If you have cataracts, you’ll know that your vision is being obstructed. When you have hearing loss, you simply don’t hear certain things. You might think people are mumbling. You can probably hear the television just fine, as long as the volume is set so high that people with normal hearing find it unbearably loud! In fact, it’s normal for another person to notice that we have hearing loss before we know it ourselves. If someone else is trying to point out a sound that we can’t hear, but they can hear it clearly, that’s a good sign that we may have hearing loss.

Regular Hearing Tests

The best way to be sure about whether we have hearing loss is not to try to judge for ourselves, but to schedule a hearing test and receive an objective measure of just where our hearing ability lies. The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit organization, recommends 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 a higher risk for hearing loss, should be tested even more frequently.

Hearing Aids Can Help!

Think about the last time you attended a social function. With background noise, hearing loss becomes that much more of a problem. Did you become tired earlier than usual? Many people with age-related hearing loss mistake the fatigue that comes with hearing loss for a separate age-related condition. In fact, by treating hearing loss you can feel more energized for longer, just like you used to! People who get hearing aids report satisfaction with them at a rate of over 90%, when asked after one year. Those with hearing aids tend to be both physically and socially more active than those with untreated hearing loss. They self-report feeling more confident, capable, independent, and even more optimistic than those who don’t wear hearing aids. If you’re putting off getting hearing aids because you don’t want to feel “old,” you may just find that hearing aids will make you feel much younger than you do when you can’t hear what’s going on! Hearing aids today are better than ever before. They can distinguish between background noise and speech, and raise the level of speech while suppressing background sound. Some hearing aids can even process speech and background sound separately, so both can sound amazing and you can adjust the level of each independently. Hearing aids today connect wirelessly to smartphones and other devices via Bluetooth, making them integrate much more seamlessly into your daily routines. You can stream phone calls, listen to music, and even hear the sound from your television right through your hearing aids, like using a set of wireless earbuds. If you or a loved one may have a hearing issue, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to get your hearing health back on track!
Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

If you have even mild hearing loss, the following scenario will likely be familiar to you: You go out to a restaurant/bar to meet some friends or family. There’s some music playing in the background and there are eight or ten of you around a table. You’re having a hard time picking up what is being said. Even the people who are seated closest to you seem like they’re mumbling through the din of the background noise. You try to keep up, but everyone is talking much faster than you’re able to put together what they’re saying. You think to yourself, “Did she just say ‘peach’ or ‘beach?’ She’s talking about swimming, so probably ‘beach.’” While you went through that logic exercise, two more sentences have been spoken and you got none of them. Pretty soon you give up, maybe you just smile and nod while the conversation swirls around you. You feel exhausted while everyone else is in good spirits and seems to have more energy than ever. After a little while, you excuse yourself and go home, worn out, frustrated, and feeling lonely even though you just passed a couple of hours with some of the people who are closest to you. The next time you have the opportunity to go out, the same thing happens. The time after that, you make up an excuse not to go. You find yourself spending more and more time at home. Does this sound like you?

Hearing Loss & Your Overall Health

Hearing loss is one of the trickiest problems we face as we get older, and it can sometimes be hard to determine what are the effects of hearing loss and what are separate age-related conditions. Studies in recent decades have found that hearing loss tends to promote a lot of other problems, if it is left untreated. As we naturally find social timeless enjoyable, we tend to shy away from it more and more often, as in the scenario above. Over time, the lack of social experiences can result in loneliness, depression, and social isolation. While it isn’t clear exactly why yet, another consequence of untreated hearing loss is a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Intuitively, it makes sense. We use our brains to navigate social situations and take in lots of information from the world. When our ears are no longer providing enough information to our brains, over time, cognitive decline can set in. It really seems true that we must “use it or lose it.”

Higher Rates of Cognitive Decline and Dementia

Even though we’re not entirely sure why this happens, the statistics are clear. Hearing loss is the biggest modifiable risk factor, out of twelve, for eventually developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. Mild hearing loss makes a person twice as likely as a normal-hearing person to experience cognitive decline. Moderate hearing loss makes one three times as likely, and severe hearing loss makes one five times as likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia. Researchers are quick to note that hearing loss is not a guarantee of cognitive decline. If your risk for dementia is low, even five times that low risk will still be very low risk. But, nonetheless, the risk is there.

Hearing Aids Can Help

Evidence is mounting that treating hearing loss with hearing aids all but eliminates the increased risk of dementia that hearing loss brings with it. This is because hearing aids do exactly what is required: deliver more information to the brain. They keep us using our brains! The hearing aids of today are much more sophisticated, powerful, and enjoyable to wear than the hearing aids of the past. They can separate background noise from speech, connect wirelessly to smartphones and other devices, and even allow you to take a hearing test right through a smartphone app. It’s never been easier or more rewarding to use hearing aids! When asked after one year, over 90% of those who wear hearing aids say they are glad they got them. Hearing aid wearers tend to report more self-confidence, more independence, and a greater sense of optimism about their own futures… as well as the future of the world in general! They tend to spend more time outside the house, have more rewarding social relationships, and be in better physical health than those with untreated hearing loss. Wearing hearing aids is not just about trying to prevent the cascade of negative health outcomes that comes along with untreated hearing loss. It’s about actively improving your life, and making sure you get the most out of every day. If you or a loved one is dealing with untreated hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to improve your life!
Communicating with People who Have Hearing Loss

Communicating with People Who Have Hearing Loss

It is a well-studied phenomenon that hearing loss interferes in personal relationships. As communication becomes more difficult, friends, partners and loved ones can experience frustration just as much as the person who has hearing loss. For communication to be effective, all parties must participate in facilitating better communication styles. It’s not simply enough for the person with hearing loss to get hearing aids, or the people with normal hearing to “stop mumbling.” By keeping some things in mind, everyone can be understood, allowing our relationships to deepen and communication to flow freely, even while hearing loss is at play. If you have a partner, friend, loved one or co-worker with hearing loss, keep these tips in mind and you’ll be sure to have more successful communication going forward. In addition, be sure to ask the hearing-impaired person if there’s anything you can do that they have found to be especially helpful in conversation.
  • Visual communication is extra important for those with hearing loss. We usually rely somewhat on body language and facial cues in the course of a conversation, but these become even more important when hearing loss is an issue. People with hearing loss also tend to start reading lips. Make sure to face the person with hearing loss directly, rather than trying to speak into their ears. It’s more important that they see your face than that they hear your voice a little bit louder, which might only make their hearing aid distort.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of light, and if it is directional, make sure it is shining on your face, not the hearing-impaired person’s face.
  • Keep your hands from blocking your face. Eating, chewing gum, smoking, or otherwise occupying or covering your mouth while you talk is going to make it more difficult for the hearing-impaired person to understand you. Keep in mind that beards and mustaches may also reduce a hearing-impaired person’s ability to understand you.
  • Facemasks make communicating with the hearing impaired much more difficult. While it is important to use facemasks in order to prevent the spread of disease, it may be more helpful to back up a few feet in order to achieve social distance, rather than to sit closer while wearing a mask. Ask the hearing-impaired person their preference on this issue.
  • Don’t try to speak from another room. Always make sure you have the hearing-impaired person’s attention before you begin communicating. Say their name and wait for a response, or gently tap them on the shoulder. Don’t start speaking until you’re facing one another.
  • Enunciate, but do not break into a shout. You can speak louder than normal, but use a speaking voice. Shouting can distort hearing aids and make your words more difficult to understand. Shouting also makes your mouth look different, which will make it harder to read your lips.
  • Speak slowly, but do not draw out your words. Just add a little extra space between them.
  • If you’re communicating a lot of information, add small breaks between sentences. Periodically, ask the hearing-impaired person if they’re following what you’re saying. They may need you to say something again, so give them space to ask for that.
  • If the hearing-impaired person has asked you to repeat something you’ve said, try saying it in a different way rather than simply repeating the same word or phrase more loudly. By changing up your phrasing, you’re giving the person with hearing loss more “raw material” to use to put together the context clues and understand what you’re getting at.
  • Hearing loss makes it much more difficult to understand speech when there is background noise. Even a small amount of hearing loss will be much more difficult for a person when there is noise. Try to have important or longer conversations in a quiet, well-lit area. If you’re in a loud group setting and need to communicate something important, ask the hearing-impaired person to move to a quieter space with you.
  • Hearing loss can paradoxically make people more sensitive to loud sounds. This happens because of a phenomenon called “recruitment” that happens in the inner ear. Be aware that especially loud sounds may be really uncomfortable for a hearing-impaired person.
  • If you’re providing specific information—such as an address, telephone number, date, etc.—write it down whenever possible. If you can’t provide a hard copy of the information, ask the hearing-impaired person to repeat it back to you so you can make sure they’ve understood correctly. Many numbers, such as “fifteen” and “fifty,” sound very similar and are easily confused.
  • Hearing loss is exhausting. Understand that a person with hearing loss is working much harder than a normal-hearing person to keep up a conversation. They will likely become tired sooner.
If you or a loved one is dealing with hearing loss and has not had a hearing test or evaluation to determine if hearing aids would be recommended, make an appointment today. Hearing aids are an excellent way to make communication much, much easier when hearing loss is an issue. Find out what they can do to improve your communication, relationships, and life today!

Pueblo, Colorado