Most of us are used to seeing our general practitioner on a regular basis, whether we are ill or not. General checkups are understood to be an important part of maintaining our best health and well-being. We dutifully visit the dentist once a year, and get a regular vision test. However, hearing tests are not as routine a part of our normal health maintenance routines.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) Is On the Rise
This is unfortunate, because the world is noisy, and our hearing is often at more risk than we realize. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), after showing some signs of decline around the beginning of the 21st century, is on the rise again. While about 10% of millennials have hearing loss, about 17% of Gen-Z has it. This is especially concerning, considering that Gen-Z is the younger of the two generations!
Hearing Tests Help Prevent Hearing Loss
Hearing tests are not just for those who need hearing aids. Hearing tests keep us informed about the state of our hearing health over time. We can find out if noise might be whittling away at our hearing ability, and make changes in our lifestyle or hearing protection measures in order to prevent more NIHL going forward. While NIHL is unfortunately permanent, it is also completely preventable.
How Often to Schedule a Hearing Test
So, exactly how often should you get a hearing test? The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit organization, has recommended getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years after that. Those in higher-risk professions or with a medical history indicating an elevated risk for hearing loss should be tested once a year.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), however, suggests that healthy people aged 18–40, who do not have any noticeable hearing loss, should be tested every three to five years. This is probably a safer bet, since the rate of hearing loss in the population appears to be increasing for reasons we do not fully understand.
Some people should be tested more frequently. Consider being tested once per year if you are:
Over Age 60: Hearing loss is very common in people over age 60. About one-third of those aged 60–74 have hearing loss, and about half of those 75 and up have it. It’s important to have your hearing tested whether or not you think you have hearing loss. Perhaps the only thing more common than having hearing loss is not realizing that you have it! Hearing tests give you an objective measure of the state of your hearing ability, and an early start to treatment helps prevent complications from untreated hearing loss.
Regularly Exposed to Loud Noise: Whether your profession requires you to spend time around loud noises, or you engage in recreational activities that involve loud noise, if you are exposed on a regular basis, you should be tested once a year. Construction workers, factory workers, hunters, motorcyclists, musicians, concertgoers, and other people who are regularly exposed to sound levels above 85 dBA (about the volume level of a gas-powered lawn mower) should a) protect their hearing whenever they are engaged in loud activities and b) get their hearing checked once a year to make sure their protection measures are adequate.
Already a Hearing Aid Wearer: It may not seem necessary to get your hearing checked once you are wearing hearing aids, but it can make all the difference. Hearing loss tends to progress for some amount of time, and then plateau. The trajectory is different for everyone, but it’s important to have regular hearing tests to ensure that your hearing aid programming is appropriate for the hearing loss you have now, not when you got your hearing aids two years ago or more. We want to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your hearing aids, and regular testing helps make that possible.
Hearing tests are fast, painless and non-invasive. Depending on how often your lifestyle and medical history indicates you should be tested, set aside a morning or afternoon on the appropriate timeline and get your hearing tested! It can save you a lot of strife down the road. If and when the time comes for you to start wearing hearing aids, you’ll know you have done what you can to minimize your risk of more severe hearing loss over the years.
If you’re due for a hearing test, make an appointment today and take charge of your hearing health!
We all have our ways of making sure our ears feel clean, but it may be worth asking at some point: Is there a better way? A few of the most common cleaning techniques might be doing more harm than good!
What Is Earwax?
Most of the time when we feel the need to clean our ears, it’s earwax giving us that feeling. Earwax, or “cerumen,” is a kind of natural cleaning agent produced by our bodies, and it serves a few functions:
Keeps skin moisturized and protected in the ear canal
Collects bacteria and debris, preventing it from entering the ear
While it’s important that we have some earwax in our ears, we don’t want so much that it causes us problems! Excessive earwax can cause infection and conductive hearing loss, and may mask more serious underlying issues like fluid buildup and eardrum perforations. Fortunately, having excessive earwax is pretty rare.
The Best Cleaning Is No Cleaning!
Under normal circumstances, our ears will naturally remove earwax. When our jaw moves—usually through the actions of chewing or talking—it changes the shape of our ear canals, and that helps break up old earwax and move it to the outside of the canal.
A good rule of thumb is to never put anything smaller than a towel inside your ear. Cleaning the different parts of the outer ears—and behind them, as we’ve all been told as kids—is a good idea, but leave the inside of the ear canal alone. It’s the job of earwax, itself, to keep that clean!
When To Clean
Earwax buildup is a rare problem for most people, but it can happen. When there’s too much earwax inside the ear canal, it can close off the ear canal to sound, creating conductive hearing loss. This is called “impaction,” and requires intervention to clear out. Symptoms of impaction include:
Feeling of “fullness” in the ear
Ringing and/or hearing loss
Odor coming from the ear
Some people are more likely to experience impaction than others. For example, those who wear hearing aids or earplugs throughout the day. Older adults and those with developmental disabilities are also at a higher risk. Still others may have an ear canal shape that makes the natural removal of earwax more difficult.
Ways to Clean
There are a few safe ways to go about cleaning your ears.
Visit Your Doctor or Hearing Care Provider
Doctors and/or hearing care providers can provide safe and guaranteed earwax removal. From a hearing care provider, this service is usually quite inexpensive. Your doctor or hearing care provider may use one of a number of approaches to wax removal, including irrigation, a cerumen spoon, forceps, or a suction device. Your doctor or hearing care provider may also be able to give you advice on home cleaning, if you have recurring issues with earwax impaction.
Ear Drops / Bulb
Ear drops are a solution that is designed to soften earwax and lubricate the ear canal, easing the way for removal. Different brands might contain mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, peroxide, or saline solution. Usually, ear drops are used in conjunction with an ear bulb. Once the ear drops have worked their way into the earwax (the package will specify this duration), you can use the ear bulb to wash out the wax. While the bulb can be used on its own, it is usually more effective when ear drops are used first.
Irrigation kits rely on the same principles as the drops / bulb approach, but allow you to stream more water into your ear canal. If the bulb doesn’t seem to provide enough water for your needs with a single filling, it may be useful to you to use an irrigation kit.
Methods to Avoid
We’ve all probably heard at this point that cotton swabs should not be used to clean our ears. It’s true! Cotton swabs are just as likely to create impaction as remove wax, and should be avoided.
Ear candles should also be avoided. They are not effective at removing wax, and pose a fire hazard as well as an infection hazard. Some users have also reported having their ear canals chafed or abraded by the ends of the cones.
Cerumen spoons for home use may be right for some people, but consult your doctor or hearing care provider before going this route. There is always a risk, when inserting anything into your ears, of rupturing the eardrum.
If you are in need of a professional ear cleaning, a hearing test, or have other hearing care needs, make an appointment today and take charge of your hearing health!
About 48 million Americans, or 14% of the population, are living with some type of hearing loss. Among those aged 60–69, the percentage climbs to about 33%, and to 66% for those aged 70 and up. If you don’t have hearing loss yourself, it’s likely that you know someone who does!
Still, hearing loss is sorely undertreated. Only about one out of five people who need hearing aids is wearing them, and people tend to wait an average of seven years from the time they notice a hearing loss to the time they get a hearing test and seek treatment for it. While it’s a shame to imagine so many people living with a reduced quality of life when a set of hearing aids could help them engage so much more easily with the world around them, it’s also becoming understood as a public health crisis.
Hearing Loss Brings Health Risks
While hearing loss was once considered a benign—if annoying—part of getting older, we now know that it tends to set off a kind of cascade of negative outcomes. Those with hearing loss are more prone to complications like depression, social isolation, accidental injury, decreased physical activity, and an earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia.
Recent studies have found that the risk of dementia increases substantially with an increase in the severity of hearing loss. Those with mild hearing loss (26–40 dBHL) are at double the risk of those with normal hearing. Those with moderate hearing loss (41–60 dBHL) are at triple the risk, and those with severe hearing loss (61–80 dBHL) are at five times the risk.
While this may sound alarming, it should still be noted that hearing loss is by no means a guarantee of dementia. For those whose risk of dementia is very low, even quintupling that risk may still leave them with a relatively low risk.
How Does Hearing Loss Lead to Dementia?
It is not yet understood how exactly hearing loss seems to provoke dementia, though there are a few promising theories that are being studied.
One theory is that the extra cognitive load caused by hearing loss promotes dementia. Those with hearing loss know how exhausting it can be to try to follow conversations and get other information from sound. It may be that all that extra work wears the brain down over time, drawing resources away from working memory and other cognitive systems. This might create a situation where dementia can more easily set in.
The auditory cortex is responsible for assembling all the bits and pieces of sound that our ears pick up into a cohesive sonic image of our environment. It also automatically comprehends speech, and shunts it directly into short-term memory. When our ears stop delivering the normal amount of information to our brain, the auditory cortex begins to shrink. It’s not that the brain cells die, but the grey matter between them begins to dissipate, allowing the structure to collapse. It’s really true that we have to “use it or lose it” when it comes to the brain. This drawing away of resources from one part of the brain may contribute to the onset of cognitive decline and dementia.
A third theory is that hearing loss tends to promote less social activity, and the social isolation that can result, in turn, promotes dementia. Spending time with other people is one of the most engaging things we can do with our brains, and if we become isolated we may not be providing our brains with enough activity to keep them healthy.
While the link between social isolation and dementia has been confirmed, newer research suggests that hearing loss also promotes dementia aside from the incidental link between hearing loss and social isolation.
Hearing Aids Can Help
A French study found that older adults with profound hearing loss actually showed a reverse in cognitive decline when fitted with a cochlear implant. While research into whether hearing aids help reduce the risk of dementia is still in its infancy, there are strong suggestions that early adoption of hearing aids can help prevent dementia, or delay its onset.
New research into Alzheimer’s disease has also found that many people who pass away having never experienced dementia actually have all the signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It is thought that this is possible because the brain has enough resources to reorganize itself around the diseased areas, and the person is still able to function normally. By getting hearing aids, you can ensure that you’re doing everything you can to provide your brain with the information it needs to keep functioning at its best. While there is no guarantee that hearing aids or any other intervention will completely prevent the onset of dementia, research is strongly suggesting that hearing aids are an important part of mitigating the risk.
If you or a loved one may have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing aids can help you maintain your best health and well-being.
Hearing loss is much more than just struggling to hear during conversations. Communication issues can affect every aspect of life, including putting a strain on your most cherished relationships, your ability to succeed at work and can cause chronic depression. In addition to these far-reaching effects on mood and mental health, untreated hearing loss affects another area of our lives: spatial mobility and safety. This surprising side effect of hearing loss can quickly affect our quality of life.
Quality of Life
Quality of life is an abstract term which can mean many things to different people. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as “”an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns”. This could be the quality of your relationships, your ability to pursue your joys, your hobbies and explore new things. When Hearing loss sets in it affects your ability to stay active because you are less aware of your environment. This means you may miss important warning sounds and alerts. You may miss an oven alarm or doorbell, an important call or the sounds of a dog collar jingling in the room. Hearing is a connection to the world and helps us react quicker in an emergency. This is why those with untreated hearing loss are at a higher risk of falls and accidents leading to hospitalization.
Study on Age Related Hearing Loss and Quality of Life
Hearing loss can affect anyone of any age, however one in three over the age of 65 are affected by hearing loss and this number jumps to half for those 75 and older. A recent study from the University of Jyvaskyla and the University of Tampere in Finland found that “older people with hearing problems have more limited life space, and that these problems lower their quality of life,” and that “the movement of older people is often negatively affected by their hearing loss.”
To compile this data, researchers monitored 848 older people (ages 75 to 90) over two years and analyzed their movements in conjunction with hearing loss. The data showed that “people who experienced hearing problems in different everyday situations moved less within their local area than those who considered their hearing to be good.”
However, it’s not just movement that matters. When you are proactive about treating your hearing loss, you can connect to the people in your life and less likely to feel isolated socially. This can allow you to pursue the activities and hobbies that you enjoyed before hearing loss. Treating hearing loss keeps you connected to your friends and the communities of which you are a part.
One of the key researchers, Hannele Polku, explains, “a person with many everyday social contacts and communication with others may feel that even a minor hearing loss may affect by everyday functioning. On the other hand, a person more inclined to enjoy domestic tasks carried out on one’s own doesn’t experience the same number of problems due to a change of similar degree in hearing.” Regardless of if you love to stay social, it’s important to be able to connect to people in your life by treating hearing loss.
Treating Hearing Loss with Hearing Aids
While there is no cure for hearing loss, it can be treated effectively with hearing aids. Hearing aids are tiny electronic devices worn in or around the ear canal which, based on a hearing exam can amplify only the sounds you need to hear. Hearing aids have been found to make it easier to hear the people and the sounds around you. This can boost confidence, improve relationships, and help to keep older adults more active and connected to the life they love. However, of those 69 and older who could benefit from hearing aids, only 20% have ever tried them. It’s important to pay attention to your hearing health. If you’ve witnessed a decline in your closest relationships, it’s time to act now. Schedule a hearing exam with us. We can help you find the best treatment for your hearing issues and help you access the highest quality of life possible. Call today!
The movie industry is still in recovery mode after years of an unpredictable pandemic. However, with the news of movie pass returning, it seems to be a sign that, despite obstacles, going to the movies is a tradition which is starting to come back strong. For those of you who have spent the past 2- or 3-years watching movies at home, you may be more sure than ever that there really isn’t anything like the watching a movie on the big screen. Besides a bigger picture, it’s the joy of going into a dark movie theater with popcorn and candy. It’s that thrill when the lights go on and the sound and light start booming over everything. It’s a totally immersive experience, which is how most movie makers first intended their films to be viewed.
However, it’s important to consider how loud the sound in the movie theater may be. As great as amazing going to see a movie at the theater can be, it often comes with an unrecognized health risk: hearing damage. Today’s theaters offer cutting-edge surround sound which can reach decibels which have the potential to leave you with permanent hearing loss.
What Is Too Loud?
Sounds feel us with joy, like when we hear the voice of someone we love or even elation when our favorite song comes on. However, even sounds that we love can damage our hearing when the volume is turned up too loud. The volume of sound is measured in decibels. Any sound which surpasses a safe listening decibel threshold, can cause such extreme vibrations within our inner ear that it damages the tiny cells which transmit sound from our ears to our brains. To be specific it’s not just the level of decibels but the length of exposure. For instance, the threshold for safe listening ends at an exposure of 85 dBA for eight hours or more. However, the louder the exposure the less time it takes for permanent hearing damage to occur. At 95 dBA it only takes under an hour and at 105 it can take as little as 15 minuets! As damage occurs, we slowly collect less cells which can transmit sound as the fewer of these working cells we have available to us, the less accurate our hearing becomes.
Back to the Movies
The problem is that many of us won’t even realize when we are damaging our hearing. Many of us are acclimated to a loud environment as we run from place to place through construction and traffic or listen to headphones for hours on end. If you’ve ever left a loud concert or movie theater with a buzzing in your ears, it’s a sign that you were exposed to sounds which has caused some degree of hearing loss. It’s surprising that an experience as joyous as a movie in the theater could be the source of hearing damage.
Exploring Sound Levels in the Movie Theater
To explore the extent of this potential damage, a recent investigation tested the sound levels theaters are exposing their audience too. Loud noise is a very concerning issue for older adults but hearing damage due to noise exposure is an issue for people of all ages including children. Children’s hearing can be more vulnerable to loud sounds due to smaller ear canals. This can be particularly damaging for early childhood development and speech acquisition. While there are limits in place to keep sound levels at a safe volume often even children’s movies frequently are measured at volumes that top 85 dB and even peak close to 100 dB even for short amounts of time.
However, movies for adults tend to be even louder. Even if you aren’t seeing the latest blockbuster full of explosions, a non-action film can still have a sound level which are measured around 90 dBA, while Hollywood blockbusters typically swell over 100 dBA. While there is a cap to the average decibel level throughout a movie these swells of heightened decibels can still cause hearing damage!
Protecting Your Hearing
Come prepared next time you go to the movies with hearing protection. Even portable foam ear plugs can lower the decibel volume by 15-33 dBA – enough to keep your hearing safe while enjoying the latest film. If you suspect you already have some degree of hearing loss, don’t let it go unaddressed. Contact us today to schedule a hearing exam.
Good nutrition means more than just getting enough food to supply your body with the energy it needs. Eating the right variety of foods can contribute to many aspects of your health. Some current health fads encourage us to eat the right combination of “macros”—protein, carbohydrates, and fats—and to take supplements to get all the micronutrients that are missing, as well.
Although these approaches to nutrition take your intake down to a precise science, you can also seek to eat a variety of healthy foods that will naturally bring these vitamins and minerals into your body. These micronutrients, even in trace amounts, can support specific bodily functions ranging from your core systems of cardiovascular and cognitive health to more subtle needs of the body that provide healthy skin, hair, and strong teeth.
Recent findings in nutritional sciences have even discovered that certain nutrients can support your hearing health. Although these vitamins and minerals will not restore your hearing ability after you have lost it, they can offer a protective effect, maintaining the functioning of the tiny, hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia. Let’s take a look at a few of these crucial nutrients for hearing health, as well as some of the foods that will provide them to you.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A recent study found that those who had two servings of cold-water fish per week had a 42% lower risk of developing age-related hearing loss than those who had less than one serving per week. What might explain this link between fish and hearing health? The results showed that Omega-3 fatty acids were supporting hearing health, as well as a wide range of other bodily functions. If you are interested in increasing your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, you can look for fish like salmon or sardines for a healthy dose. If you prefer, these acids can also be found in eggs, walnuts, flaxseed, and grass-fed beef.
You might think of vitamin C as a good way to promote your immunity, prevent colds, and even as an anti-aging supplement in face creams. Did you know that this super-vitamin can also reduce the effects of sensorineural hearing loss? A study in guinea pigs found that it could protect the auditory nervous system from damage due to noise, and another study in humans found that it can reduce the reactive oxygen metabolites in the inner ear, improving hearing. Citrus fruits are not the only way to get vitamin C. You can also add this vitamin naturally dark leafy greens, papaya, strawberries, and broccoli,
At least two of the B vitamins—folate and B-12—have a relationship with hearing health, as well. Three separate studies found that different groups of people with hearing loss had much lower levels of folate in their lab results. These results were borne out among women, men, and in the general population. You can get more folate in vegetables like spinach, asparagus, and broccoli, as well as eggs, liver, nuts, and beans. Those who have deficiencies in B-12 have higher rates of hearing loss, as well. It is thought that low levels of folate and B-12 both restrict the blood flow to the stereocilia, making them more susceptible to damage. You can get B-12 through eggs, fish, and meat, as well as dairy products. Vegetarians and vegans are wise to take B-12 supplements.
Vitamins A and E
Antioxidants have shown a powerful effect on hearing, as well. Vitamins A and E are both correlated with lower rates of hearing loss over a 5-year research period. These antioxidants seem to assist the stereocilia in much the same way as the B Vitamins do. Almonds, spinach, olive oil, and sweet potato all provide Vitamin E, and carrots, dark leafy greens, broccoli, and eggs all supply Vitamin A. As you can see, these lists of healthy foods overlap in many instances. You might want to make yourself an omelet with spinach to catch several of these healthy nutrients in the same meal. When integrated into a general healthy diet, you can get what you need to support many of the body’s systems, including your hearing.
An annual hearing test is also an important part of your healthy hearing routine! Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
You might have heard that balance was maintained in the ears, but what exactly does that mean? How do we use our ears to balance the precarious human structure of the upright homo sapiens? Some of the clues to how the ears help maintain balance can be seen in balance disorders. Vertigo, which can cause fainting, dizziness, or falls, can come from a number of causes. One of these is a relatively rare condition called Meniere’s disease. This condition affects the balance function of the inner ear with an excess of fluid, causing some of the symptoms of vertigo. Let’s take a look at some of the basics of Meniere’s disease, as well as the triggering habits that you can avoid.
What is Meniere’s disease?
Although it only affects about 1 in 1,500 people, Meniere’s disease is a serious condition of equilibrium. Those in their 40s and 50s are most susceptible, and it is considered to be a chronic condition, meaning that it does not completely go away once a person is diagnosed. Although there is no known cure for Meniere’s disease, several treatment regimens have been successful at reducing the effects.
What causes Meniere’s disease?
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes Meniere’s disease, but they have identified several triggering occurrences that can lead to the condition. In general, Meniere’s is defined by an excess of fluid in the inner ear. Those who have had head injuries, allergies, sleep apnea, and respiratory infections are more likely to get Meniere’s disease, as are those who have a family history of the condition. Some unhealthy habits like excessive drinking and smoking are linked to higher rates of Meniere’s disease or a trigger for the related balance issues. Stress, fatigue, anxiety, and migraines can all be considered triggers for an episode, as well.
What are the symptoms of Meniere’s disease?
How do you know if you might be experiencing Meniere’s disease? The main symptoms include muffled hearing or hearing loss, a feeling of pressure in the ear, dizzy spells, and tinnitus, that ringing, whistling, buzzing or other persistent noise that comes from within the body. Meniere’s disease episodes can last anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours. These symptoms can be linked to other health issues, so Meniere’s disease is sometimes misdiagnosed. It is important to work with a doctor to get a full diagnosis of your condition rather than making an assumption based on your own research. These symptoms can be related to other health problems, so it is important to assess your health in a holistic manner when you work with your primary care physician.
What are the treatments for Meniere’s disease?
In the event of a Meniere’s disease episode, there are a few steps you can take. The episode tends to begin with the feeling of pressure in the ear, leading to tinnitus, muffled hearing, and finally vertigo. Before you reach the point of vertigo, it is important to find a safe place to experience the episode. The greatest risk to those with Meniere’s disease comes from driving or other activities that become life-threatening when vertigo strikes. Lying down, focusing on a non-moving object, and trying to sleep is the most common response to an episode. Some medications, such as anti-anxiety and anti-nausea can help with the symptoms, as well. Dietary approaches to Meniere’s treatment include avoiding changes in sodium levels, reducing caffeine intake, and liming alcohol consumption. Certain foods can be triggering for individuals, as well, such as gluten in some Meniere’s patients. Smoking cessation and stress management are good long-term responses to Meniere’s disease, reducing the likelihood of an episode. For those with advanced cases of Meniere’s, medical interventions include steroids injected into the inner ear to reduce inflammation and gentamycin injections to reduce the feeling of dizziness.
If you are concerned with any of the symptoms related to Meniere’s disease, it is important to seek a consultation and exam with your physician. If you are concerned about hearing loss, you can call our offices to schedule a hearing test. Though we will refer you to your physician to assess the possibility of Meniere’s disease, we can help diagnose your hearing ability and provide treatment options to help improve your hearing.
Headphone listening has been popular for decades, since the advent of the Sony Walkman in the late 1970s. At the time that device came on the market, news outlets published numerous articles about the dangers of listening at high volume, and a measure of paranoia swept the population about the dangers of headphone listening.
How much of that paranoia was justified? Well, loud sound is certainly something to be cautious about. Even 85 dBA (decibels A-weighted) can cause some degree of permanent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) after about 8 hours of exposure, and for every additional 3 dBA of volume the safe listening period is cut in half. For small children, the decibel range is about 10 dBA lower, starting around 75 dBA. That’s just a bit louder than a group conversation.
Personal Listening Devices (PLDs) Are OK, at Safe Volumes
You see, it’s not the use of a personal listening device (PLD) like the Walkman that causes hearing loss in itself, but the volume at which we listen, and the length of time we do it. There has never been any problem with listening to music in headphones at a safe volume.
One cause for concern though—today’s PLDs like Apple’s iPhone have a maximum volume that is significantly higher than the original Walkman. The iPhone’s maximum volume can deliver about 102 dBA to our ears, which causes permanent hearing loss in only about 10 minutes.
It’s estimated that around 20% of people have measurable hearing loss by the time they reach the end of their teenage years. “Measurable” means we can see it on an audiogram (the printed result of a hearing exam), though it may not be noticeable to the person who has it. That might not sound like much of a problem, but if the practices that created that hearing loss in the first place are continued, it will add up to noticeable hearing loss before too long.
Then consider that most of us will experience age-related hearing loss at some point in our lives. If we’re adding age-related hearing loss—or “presbycusis”— to the NIHL we already have, it’s a recipe for serious concern.
How to Listen Safely to PLDs
There are a number of things we can do to set our kids up for a lifetime of safe listening enjoyment. The earlier we teach them the importance of protecting their hearing, the better-prepared they’ll be to protect themselves from the loud sounds they’re sure to experience throughout their lives.
Lead by Example – When you listen to music, whether in headphones or in the room, keep the volume at a safe level, and talk about why you’re setting it there. Whenever sound is too loud, protect your ears and your children’s ears and tell them why.
Start Quiet – Whenever you’re starting to listen, set the volume low, then turn it up just loud enough to hear it clearly.
Pay Attention to Background Sound – If there is a lot of background noise, it might be better not to listen to something additional, as it may be adding to an already dangerously loud environment, or contributing enough additional sound to create a dangerous listening environment.
Consider Headphones for Kids – A number of companies manufacture headphones that are designed to keep the volume at a safe level for kids. While these may be effective, some of them have been shown to limit the volume to a level that is still dangerous. Everyone is different and has different needs, but it may be more desirable to teach your children to listen safely of their own volition, rather than providing a limiting device.
Consider Noise-Canceling Tech – Noise-canceling headphones use microphones to pick up environmental sound, then produce an opposite-polarity version of that sound, such that it sums to zero by the time it reaches the eardrum. Essentially, the headphones produce the opposite of the sound in the environment, so when you add the two sounds together you get no sound at all. Effectiveness varies from device to device, but these can be a great way to reduce the volume of background sound such that desired content can be enjoyed at a lower volume.
Encourage LIstening Breaks – No matter the volume at which your kids might be listening, encourage them to take a break at least once every hour. This gives their ears a chance to “reset.” They’ll be less likely to experience hearing loss as a result of continuous listening, and they’ll be less likely to desire a higher volume when they return from the break.
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!
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.
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.
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!