While medical researchers must often focus on one system in the body when conducting a study, the additive effect of that research always seems to point to a few lifestyle recommendations that improve health overall. Importantly, hearing ability emerges as something like the “canary in the coalmine” of the body’s systems—the things that harm our hearing tend to harm everything else, too, but hearing loss is often the first consequence to ensue.
Most of us are familiar with the most important—and frequently suggested—aspects of a healthy lifestyle:
Eat a healthy diet
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
Don’t smoke tobacco
Avoid chronic stress
Get enough sleep
Each of these suggestions comes up so frequently for a very good reason: They are the things that healthy, modern people do! The correlations between these positive lifestyle choices and good overall health are undeniable throughout the medical literature.
Today we’ll talk about smoking, blood pressure, and hearing loss. Smoking and high blood pressure are strongly correlated with hearing loss. Let’s explore why that’s the case.
Smoking and Hearing Loss
Smoking reduces the level of oxygen in your blood. When you think about your blood vessels, you can imagine different gauges of pipe, like those used in a municipal water system. Big pipes bring lots of water to a neighborhood, smaller pipes carry the water to individual households, and even smaller pipes feed the different fixtures within a single house.
As a faucet is to a municipal water system, so are our ears to the body’s cardiovascular system. A small piece of debris will not stop water from flowing to a whole neighborhood, or even a house, but a few pieces of debris can easily slow or stop the faucet at the kitchen sink!
When you smoke, your blood is picking up a few things that it shouldn’t have—like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, arsenic, benzene, and formaldehyde, just to name a few. While these chemicals do their own nasty work throughout the body, they also squeeze out oxygen from the bloodstream.
The tiny blood vessels inside your ears, which feed the delicate structures in your inner ear, need plenty of oxygen and nutrients to function properly. Adding in these harmful chemicals, while reducing the amount of nutrients, creates an imbalance that is hard for those tiny structures to survive.
Blood Pressure and Hearing Loss
When your doctor takes a measurement of your blood pressure, they document it as two numbers. The first, or “top,” number measures the pressure at the moment that your heart is actively pushing blood into your arteries. The second, or “under,” number measures the pressure between those moments, when blood flow is ebbing. Essentially, this gives a measure of how hard your heart has to work in order to make blood flow through your body.
High blood pressure makes it more difficult for your heart to move blood through your body effectively. This can happen for a number of reasons. It may be that fatty plaques have built up along the walls of your blood vessels, creating less space for blood to move through easily. To return to the municipal water system, this would be like having an old service line that had a lot of mineral build-up, increasing pressure and limiting the amount of water that can reach the home.
Another cause of high blood pressure is the constriction or hardening of the arteries (hypertension). Nicotine, from smoking, constricts the arteries while it is in the bloodstream, temporarily increasing blood pressure. But it also promotes hypertension, over time, creating a more permanent state of high blood pressure. Again, to put this in terms of the municipal water system, it would be like replacing a main line with a service line. The smaller pipe would make the pressure increase, while also limiting the amount of water that can be used in the home.
Quit Smoking and Lower Blood Pressure for Better Health and Hearing!
To avoid the build-up of fatty plaques, choose to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Quitting smoking is also essential in order to avoid negative outcomes for the cardiovascular system.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake, not smoking, taking steps to avoid chronic stress, and getting the right amount of sleep (7–9 hours per night) are all important to maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system, and, consequently, healthy hearing!
If you or a loved one may have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing loss treatment can help you live a healthier and more fulfilling life!
In the hearing care industry, we often think of hearing as the “canary in the coal mine” of the body’s systems. The delicate structures in the inner ear—which are responsible for converting mechanical sound into the electrical impulses that can be understood by the brain—are more easily harmed in the early phases of medical issues than other, larger systems in the body. For example, hearing loss that progresses faster than normal can be the result of an undiagnosed cardiovascular issue that has not yet become acute.
New Research Links Diabetes to Increased Risk of Hearing Loss
New research has found that diabetes also poses an increased risk of hearing loss. It turns out that hearing loss is twice as common in those with diabetes. For those with prediabetes, hearing loss is 30% more common than in those whose blood glucose is at normal levels.
It is not yet clear just how diabetes may cause hearing loss, but it is possible that elevated blood glucose might damage the tiniest blood vessels in the inner ear. It has been known for some time that diabetes can also damage the eyes and the kidneys, and this same mechanism may be at play in the increased risk of hearing loss, as well.
Whether you have diabetes or hearing loss, or not, it’s a good idea to get a regular hearing test. It’s American Diabetes Month, so why not schedule a hearing test as part of an overall program of maintaining your best health and well-being?
American Diabetes Month
Each November, the American Diabetes Association hosts American Diabetes Month. This is a time to spread awareness about the diabetes epidemic. Millions of people who are at risk for type 2 diabetes can gain valuable knowledge that can help them prevent its onset. Many people who are at risk may not even know it, and it’s important that everyone be aware that diabetes may become an issue for them someday. For those who are currently living with diabetes, American Diabetes Month is an opportunity to tell their stories and encourage progress toward a cure.
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
A “non-modifiable” risk factor is one that you do not have control over, while a “modifiable” risk factor can be altered. Some of the non-modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:
Family Medical History – Some of the factors that determine our risk for diabetes are inherited from our parents or other close relatives. If you have a close blood relative with diabetes, your doctor should be aware of that.
Age Group – Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes generally affect those older than age 40. However, it is becoming more common for children and adolescents to develop type 2 diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes – If you temporarily experienced diabetes during pregnancy, you are at a higher risk of developing it again later in life.
You can make changes in your lifestyle and choices that can affect your risk of diabetes. With proper attention to modifiable risk factors, you can prevent or delay diabetes. While it may be a lot to try all at once, start by changing one thing, and slowly work to make more changes in your life to improve your health and avoid diabetes.
Weight – For those who are overweight, losing 5–10% of your body weight and getting regular physical exercise can significantly decrease your risk of developing diabetes. The more weight you lose, the more your risk is reduced.
Physical Activity – Even just as much as a 30-minute walk, 5 days a week, has been found to significantly reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The ideal amount of physical activity for good health is:
150 minutes/week of aerobic exercise, moderate intensity
OR 75 minutes/week aerobic exercise, vigorous intensity
AND weight lifting, two or more days per week
Blood Pressure – High blood pressure can be reduced by avoiding alcohol and tobacco, getting exercise, limiting stress, lowering weight, and eating a healthy diet.
High Cholesterol – Lowering the level of “bad” cholesterol in your blood can be achieved by the same methods as lowering your blood pressure.
Smoking – Stopping smoking should be a major priority for better health and avoiding diabetes. There are online resources that can help you make a plan to quit.
Alcohol – Excessive drinking inflames the pancreas and limits its production of insulin. Alcohol is also high in sugar and starch—these calories must be used or stored as fat, which additionally contributes to the development of diabetes. It is recommended to drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women, or two for men, though there is evidence that even half that amount causes undesirable changes in the brain and body.
Diet – Diet is among the most significant predictors of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Recent studies have also found that eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet—such as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or AMED (Alternate Mediterranean Diet)—can significantly reduce your risk of hearing loss, independently of diabetes.
Stress and Sleep – High stress and too little sleep can add up to poor health, over time. Find time to relax every day before bedtime, preparing yourself to get 7–9 hours of good, uninterrupted sleep.
Remember, whether you have diabetes or hearing loss, or not, it’s important to have your hearing tested routinely. If you haven’t been tested in a while, take the opportunity this American Diabetes Month and take charge of your hearing health!
Most of us are used to seeing our general practitioner on a regular basis, whether we are ill or not. General checkups are understood to be an important part of maintaining our best health and well-being. We dutifully visit the dentist once a year, and get a regular vision test. However, hearing tests are not as routine a part of our normal health maintenance routines.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) Is On the Rise
This is unfortunate, because the world is noisy, and our hearing is often at more risk than we realize. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), after showing some signs of decline around the beginning of the 21st century, is on the rise again. While about 10% of millennials have hearing loss, about 17% of Gen-Z has it. This is especially concerning, considering that Gen-Z is the younger of the two generations!
Hearing Tests Help Prevent Hearing Loss
Hearing tests are not just for those who need hearing aids. Hearing tests keep us informed about the state of our hearing health over time. We can find out if noise might be whittling away at our hearing ability, and make changes in our lifestyle or hearing protection measures in order to prevent more NIHL going forward. While NIHL is unfortunately permanent, it is also completely preventable.
How Often to Schedule a Hearing Test
So, exactly how often should you get a hearing test? The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit organization, has recommended getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years after that. Those in higher-risk professions or with a medical history indicating an elevated risk for hearing loss should be tested once a year.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), however, suggests that healthy people aged 18–40, who do not have any noticeable hearing loss, should be tested every three to five years. This is probably a safer bet, since the rate of hearing loss in the population appears to be increasing for reasons we do not fully understand.
Some people should be tested more frequently. Consider being tested once per year if you are:
Over Age 60: Hearing loss is very common in people over age 60. About one-third of those aged 60–74 have hearing loss, and about half of those 75 and up have it. It’s important to have your hearing tested whether or not you think you have hearing loss. Perhaps the only thing more common than having hearing loss is not realizing that you have it! Hearing tests give you an objective measure of the state of your hearing ability, and an early start to treatment helps prevent complications from untreated hearing loss.
Regularly Exposed to Loud Noise: Whether your profession requires you to spend time around loud noises, or you engage in recreational activities that involve loud noise, if you are exposed on a regular basis, you should be tested once a year. Construction workers, factory workers, hunters, motorcyclists, musicians, concertgoers, and other people who are regularly exposed to sound levels above 85 dBA (about the volume level of a gas-powered lawn mower) should a) protect their hearing whenever they are engaged in loud activities and b) get their hearing checked once a year to make sure their protection measures are adequate.
Already a Hearing Aid Wearer: It may not seem necessary to get your hearing checked once you are wearing hearing aids, but it can make all the difference. Hearing loss tends to progress for some amount of time, and then plateau. The trajectory is different for everyone, but it’s important to have regular hearing tests to ensure that your hearing aid programming is appropriate for the hearing loss you have now, not when you got your hearing aids two years ago or more. We want to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your hearing aids, and regular testing helps make that possible.
Hearing tests are fast, painless and non-invasive. Depending on how often your lifestyle and medical history indicates you should be tested, set aside a morning or afternoon on the appropriate timeline and get your hearing tested! It can save you a lot of strife down the road. If and when the time comes for you to start wearing hearing aids, you’ll know you have done what you can to minimize your risk of more severe hearing loss over the years.
If you’re due for a hearing test, make an appointment today and take charge of your hearing health!
Yes, a heart-healthy diet helps you keep your hearing in better shape over time. This may not come as much of a surprise, since a healthy diet is good for just about everything when it comes to your physical, mental and emotional health. When we make sure to eat a diet full of important vitamins and minerals, we give our body what it needs to keep performing its best, and nowhere does that apply more immediately than in terms of our hearing health.
Good hearing depends on the proper functioning of the 16,000-ish stereocilia, inside the cochlea in the inner ear. These tiny, hair-like cells convert the mechanical energy of sound into the electrical impulses that our brain can understand. Because they’re so small, they’re among the first parts of the body to be adversely affected by poor blood flow—one of the consequences of poor cardiovascular health. Indeed, hearing loss that proceeds faster than normal can be the result of an underlying cardiovascular condition that has not yet been diagnosed.
How Do We Know That Diet Affects Hearing?
Research into the subject is relatively new, but the Nurses’ Health Study II, conducted in 2018, showed a strong correlation between a healthier diet and a lower incidence of hearing loss. Building on that study, another one published in 2019 suggested so strongly that a heart-healthy diet protects hearing ability, we can be almost sure that future studies will confirm, support, and expand these results.
The 2019 study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, was conducted by researchers at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. The study followed 3,135 women over a four-year period, around the age when age-related hearing loss often becomes measurable (around age 55–60). The women’s hearing was measured at a number of clinics in different parts of the US.
Those who closely followed an anti-inflammatory diet were 25% less likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss, and 30% less likely to develop mid-frequency hearing loss. This is a considerable reduction in risk—one which many in the medical community may not have thought possible.
The Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss has noted that nearly every type of hearing loss has some genetic component to it, but that does not mean there is nothing we can do to prevent hearing loss. Protecting ourselves from loud noise, quitting smoking, exercising, and eating a healthy diet have all been indicated to lower the risk of hearing loss.
Which Diets Can Help Reduce the Risk of Hearing Loss?
There are three specific diets that have been named in the reduction of hearing loss risk.
AMED (Alternate Mediterranean Diet) – This diet leans heavily on fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and olive oil. While not every meal needs to involve a protein dish, it encourages more fish, and one serving of beef or lamb per week. It also allows for moderate alcohol drinking.
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) – Similar to AMED, this diet involves lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish. It also encourages low-fat dairy, lean meats, and emphasizes low sodium, sugar and fat.
AHEI-2010 (Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010) – This diet also involves lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Like DASH, it limits sodium, sugar and animal fats.
There is a wide array of cookbooks available to help guide you down the path of any or all of these diets. It may be worth trying each of them out, one week at a time.
If you would like to switch to a more heart-healthy diet but are concerned about making a big change in your eating habits, a piece of advice that has helped many people is to “add in the good stuff.” That means, rather than trying to simply switch everything over in one fell swoop, start adding a healthy side dish to something you eat regularly, and over time integrate more and more healthy foods until you find yourself eating healthy all the time!
Vegans, Vegetarians, and Hearing Loss
One important thing to note is that the B-vitamins Folate and B-12 have both been shown to provide protection against hearing loss. These vitamins are largely present in animal proteins. It is fine to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, but those who do so should also find a good B-vitamin supplement!
If you or a loved one may have hearing loss—or if you’re simply due for a hearing test—make an appointment today, and take charge of your hearing health!
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, most workplaces went online in order to continue operations. Meetings that would have been held in person became virtual, almost overnight. The service provided by the company Zoom became the most popular of these virtual meeting places. While many workplaces are returning to something more like “normal” operations, Zoom meetings don’t seem to be going anywhere. They still hold a lot of value for companies whose workforce is more spread out, or who offer work-from-home days to their employees. Zoom is also a popular platform for families who are not all in the same place at the same time. In short, the uses and benefits are many!
Zooming Toward Better Intelligibility!
For those with hearing loss, Zoom meetings can actually provide a few benefits over traditional meetings. Zoom allows you to see everyone who is talking, in real time, on your computer screen, while hearing their voice processed through Zoom’s algorithm. This algorithm reduces background noise and helps maintain a consistent volume level between voices, making it easier for those with hearing issues, especially if they wear hearing aids. Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids allow you to stream the audio from a Zoom call directly to your hearing aids, improving the sound even more!
Zoom offers free 40-minute sessions. If you pay for Zoom, you can have unlimited time on your sessions. Features like background blurring and background replacement offer ways to emphasize the speaker or have fun with others in the session.
There are two types of Zoom sessions: Meetings and Webinars. While Meetings are appropriate for just that, Webinars are more oriented toward real-time events meant to be viewed by a larger audience. Both platforms now offer some features specifically for the hearing impaired.
Zoom and Captioning
One of the major complaints about Zoom, when it exploded in popularity at the beginning of the pandemic, was the limited resources it provided for the hearing impaired. Since then, Zoom has expanded their options for the hearing impaired to include manual open captioning, third-party captioning services, and auto-generated captions.
This service, also known as “live transcription,” has been available for about a year, and is free to all users. It is available on free Zoom Meetings accounts, as well as paid accounts for Meetings and Webinars.
Just like it sounds, the “auto-generated captions” feature uses software that automatically transcribes what is audibly spoken in a meeting or webinar into written captions. This must be enabled by the host in the Zoom web portal. Participants can privately request that live transcription be enabled during a session, in case it has not been enabled at the outset. Functionality includes the ability to allow a full transcript to scroll while the meeting is in progress, as well as giving participants the opportunity to save this transcript for themselves at the end of the meeting.
At the time of writing, auto-generated captioning is available in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian, and in Beta versions of Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
While live transcription is a major step forward in terms of accessibility, it still has some issues. Jargon and proper nouns are hard for it to handle, so in cases where a Webinar is being given on a specific topic, it may be beneficial to enlist the assistance of a human captioner.
Zoom makes this pretty simple. You need to have a stenographer on the session, but you can hand off captioning to them easily. It must be turned on in the web portal, but then the host can type or assign any other participant to type. Captions appear in the same place as the auto-generated captions.
In the web portal, check “Allow use of caption API Token to integrate with 3rd-party Closed Captioning services.” This will give you an API token (link) to send to the third-party captioner, who can then participate through this discreet channel without appearing in the Meeting or Webinar.
We have focused here on how to make Zoom a more accessible platform for the hearing impaired. There are even more options available, including the ability to spotlight a live sign language translator. If you are concerned about making Zoom or other platforms as accessible as possible for your hearing-impaired guests, there are plenty of options!
And, of course, if you or a loved one could benefit from hearing aids, that may be the greatest step toward accessibility you can take. Make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing aids can improve your life—both on- and off-line!
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.
We all need to exercise a little caution when it comes to our hearing. We want to make sure we’re not exposed to extremely loud noise—or if we are, we need to make sure our hearing is protected. But noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is only one of the ways we can end up having hearing trouble. Even if we’re never exposed to a loud sound in our whole life—sayonara, music fans!—we might still end up with hearing loss from other causes.
About a third of people aged 65–74 have hearing loss, and about half of those 75 and up have it. Almost 100% of centenarians have it, suggesting we’ll all lose some hearing eventually! But that doesn’t mean we need to be fatalistic about losing our hearing! There’s a wide range of hearing loss, and the better we do at protecting ourselves from the causes of hearing loss, the less hearing loss we may have later on, which can make life a lot easier.
New research has found a striking link between diabetes and hearing loss. Let’s dig in and see what that means for us!
More Hearing Loss Among Those With Diabetes
Having diabetes raises our statistical risk of hearing loss by double. Having prediabetes increases the risk by 30%. A “statistical risk” means that people with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss as those who do not have diabetes, all other things being equal. That doesn’t mean it’s pure chance whether or not you’ll have hearing loss, but it does mean you may need to watch out for it more carefully.
The link between hearing loss and diabetes is somewhat complicated, but it is related to the increase in sugar it causes in our blood. Cardiovascular health, in general, is important to maintaining the health of our ears, and diabetes is one of the ways it can be compromised.
How Diabetes Causes Hearing Loss
Diabetes promotes something called “microangiopathy,” or “small blood vessel disease.” This causes anomalies in the smallest blood vessels in our body—the ones that provide energy to the tiny structures in our inner ears. Our ability to hear is reliant on the proper functioning of the stereocilia—tiny, hair-like cells—that reside in our cochleas. There are some 16,000 stereocilia in each ear, and when they don’t get what they need from the tiny blood vessels that feed them, they die. Once they are dead, they do not regenerate, and this causes hearing loss.
Microangiopathy can also affect nerve cells, which carry signals from the ears to the brain. This, too, can result in hearing loss, albeit of a slightly different kind.
An additional risk factor for those with diabetes is that some of the drugs that are recommended for controlling diabetes can cause hearing loss, themselves. Aspirin, certain antibiotics, and drugs designed to lower blood sugar can all cause hearing loss.
Additional Noise Risk
In addition to the other ways diabetes can cause hearing loss, it also increases the risk of hearing loss due to noise exposure. Essentially, this means it may take less noise than normal to cause noise-induced hearing loss.
Additional Precautions Against Hearing Loss for Those With Diabetes
Diabetes is not a guarantee of hearing loss, but it is worth taking additional precautions. Especially if we have diabetes, we should follow these guidelines:
Check blood sugar regularly and control it carefully
Eat a healthy diet – such as the Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED) or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)
Move our body regularly, or get regular exercise
Get an annual checkup
Investigate medication with medical personnel, regarding the risk of hearing loss associated
Avoid noise exposure, and protect hearing whenever necessary
Hearing Loss Is Not the End of the World!
If we do have hearing loss, treatment is available that can make life a lot easier. It’s hard to estimate the impact that hearing loss can have until we’re actually living with it, and even then many of us don’t realize how much of a problem our hearing loss is causing until we start wearing hearing aids! Even for those with diabetes, hearing loss tends to come on slowly, so it can be difficult to see the effects it has on our lives until we “zoom out” and start treating it.
If you or a loved one may have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to help you stay healthier!
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!
Hearing loss is a reality for some 48 million Americans. About 1 out of 500 babies is born with some type of hearing loss, and it can appear in the course of our lives in a number of ways— But, by far, the most common type of problematic hearing loss is age-related hearing loss, or “presbycusis.” About one-third of those aged 60–69 have hearing loss, and two-thirds of those aged 70 and up have it. By age 100, nearly everyone has hearing loss, suggesting we will all experience it eventually if we only live long enough.Hearing loss can bring with it a few unfortunate side effects, like depression, anxiety, brain atrophy, and even earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia. New studies are released all the time outlining the damage that untreated hearing loss can do. But before hearing loss causes any health problems, it is first and foremost an impediment to connection. Hearing loss makes it harder to communicate, and that throws up a barrier between us and the people we love.If someone you love is having hearing issues, it’s important to do your best to maintain a connection with them. Hearing loss can be frightening, and people often go through a period of denial before accepting that they have hearing loss and need to start treating it with hearing aids. There are a few things you can do to help your loved ones with hearing loss to stay connected, wherever they are along their hearing journey.
A Little Empathy, a Little Patience
Hearing loss is frustrating for everyone involved. It’s important to try to remember that your loved one’s experience of the world around them is different than yours as a result of their hearing loss. While it can be frustrating to see them struggle differently in different situations, it’s important to try to understand what they’re experiencing, as this will help them to better-understand their experience, as well. The more they can articulate their own concerns about hearing loss, the more it will become clear to them that hearing aids are a good idea!
Avoid Bustling Environments
Hearing loss may not pose that much of a problem in the course of a one-on-one conversation in a quiet room, but things can change drastically inside a restaurant or bar, when the environment becomes more chaotic. Add in more voices to the conversation, and it becomes worse. Trying to hear in these conditions is exhausting for a person with hearing loss, so try to understand they may need to leave early, or that they may not want to go to a busy restaurant or bar, even if that means you have to miss out on your favorite meal or cocktail.Some larger restaurants have some quieter areas that may be appropriate. When you’re being seated, keep this in mind and ask for the quietest table they have. This will usually be away from the kitchen, the register, and the doorway. Some places may even accommodate a request to have the music turned down, or the lights turned up.
Emphasize the Visual
Dimly lit environments can also be problematic, as lips and facial expressions are harder to read. Hearing loss makes us more reliant on these visual cues to follow a conversation, so try to keep the light levels up and keep your lips visible while you speak.Similarly, if you’re used to having phone calls with your loved one, suggest that maybe they’d prefer a video call. This might be more fun, anyway!
A few guidelines can go a long way in terms of making yourself verbally understood.
Don’t Shout – Speaking a little louder is a good idea, but don’t break out of your normal speaking voice. Shouting sounds different than talking, and words might get confused. Shouting can also distort the ears, or a set of hearing aids, which can make what you’re saying even less intelligible.
Insert Some Space – Don’t draw out your vowel sounds, but simply add a little extra pause between each word you speak.
Rephrase – If your loved one didn’t understand what you just said, try saying it a different way, rather than saying the same thing again. By rephrasing, you add more information that will provide a different set of context clues, and your loved one will be more likely to comprehend.