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Connecting People | May is Better Hearing and Speech Month!

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Connecting People | May is Better Hearing and Speech Month!

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

Connecting People

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

ASHA has split the month into weekly sub-themes:

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


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

Schools

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

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

Prevention – Safe Listening for Life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Pretending to Hear Doesn’t Help

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

Hearing Loss Can Make Conversation Prohibitively Difficult

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

Pretending to Hear Is Not a Long-Term Solution

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

Hearing Loss Affects Memory

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

Hearing Aids Can Help

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

Treating Hearing Loss Helps You Stay Socially Connected

According to the AARP, 17% of people aged 65 and older are socially isolated. 46% of women over 75 live alone. Recent research has found that feeling lonely puts us at a 26% increased risk of early death. Another study showed that feeling lonely (even if you see people regularly, but feel that they don’t understand you) is as physically harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.   Untreated hearing loss is strongly correlated with loneliness and social isolation. It makes sense, doesn’t it? When we can’t hear people, it’s very difficult to feel connected to them. Conversations move slower, people need to speak differently to try to accommodate our hearing loss, and we simply can’t keep up.   In the early stages of hearing loss, we usually experience social fatigue after a much shorter time than usual. Some people mistake this fatigue for a separate age-related condition—”I can’t stay out as long as I used to.” In fact, the extra mental effort it takes to strain to hear, especially in a busy environment, makes us mentally exhausted much sooner than we’re accustomed to.   From this point, many people recognize that they have a hearing issue. They make an appointment for a hearing test, and may be advised to get a set of hearing aids. This is the right thing to do! Hearing aids keep us in the conversation, help keep our brains sharp, and help us stay connected to those we care about.   Unfortunately, this is not the norm. On average, people tend to wait seven years from the time they notice hearing loss to the time they do something about it. This is likely because they don’t understand the risks of leaving their hearing loss untreated, or don’t understand what is to be gained from a good set of hearing aids.

Being Around People Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Lonely

In order to feel connected, we need to be part of the conversation, not just in the same room. If we have hearing loss, we can be surrounded by family and friends, but still feel left out. Others chat away while we can only hear when someone speaks directly into our ear. With a set of hearing aids, we can be more present with everyone in the room, and be more aware of what’s happening.   Hearing aids have been shown to increase feelings of social connection, as well as confidence and independence. Feeling connected and not being lonely doesn’t necessarily mean we always need to be around people, and hearing aids help give us the independence to choose when we want to see others and when we need some alone time.

It’s Not Enough to Hear “Some of the Time”

While most people consider their hearing very important to them, the rate of hearing aid adoption does not seem to reflect that. This is partly because many people believe that it’s enough to be able to hear when “necessary.” For example, if your partner says loudly in your ear, “It’s time to go!”   It’s easy for us to think that being able to hear the important things means that we don’t need hearing aids. Unfortunately, the science does not back this up.   Even if we were able to hear everything that was said to us, but we couldn’t hear anything else, we would be in trouble. Our brains take in all kinds of information from the environment through our ears: birds chirping, fridges buzzing, feet shuffling, distant sounds and close sounds of all volume levels. These sounds feed our brains information that keeps our cognitive abilities in good order. When it comes to our brains, it really is true that we have to “use it or lose it.”

Hearing Aids Are Better Than Ever

Hearing aids today are technological marvels, housing tiny computers that are powerful enough to distinguish between speech and background sound, reduce reverberation from speech, connect via Bluetooth to smartphones and other devices, and even automatically recognize the characteristics of different environments and switch to the appropriate program. Some hearing aids can even use GPS to automatically return to a program that previously worked in a given space. While hearing aids are more powerful than ever, they also take less effort to use than ever!   If you or a loved one is having hearing issues, don’t hesitate to make an appointment for a hearing test today. Find out what’s going on with your hearing ability and take the right steps to keep yourself in the conversation and stay connected!

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