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Unexpected causes of hearing loss

Most of us assume hearing loss is just a normal part of growing older. But did you know hearing loss can occur at any point in life regardless if you’re young or old? It’s true. A variety of factors can come into play causing progressive or sudden hearing loss in one or both ears. Below are a few of those causes you might not have expected.

Smoking
We’ve all heard how bad smoking is for your health, especially the esophagus and lungs. But did you know it can also affect your hearing? Researchers have found that nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict and shrink, including the blood vessels that bring blood and oxygen to the inner ear. Without adequate blood flow, the cochlea can quite literally “suffocate,” resulting in hearing loss.

Pain killers
When in pain, we look for relief, but we bet you didn’t realize that taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen two or more days per week could actually result in an increased risk of hearing loss. Researchers suspect that these drugs actually reduce blood flow to the cochlea, thereby impairing its function. Other drugs that have been linked to hearing loss include antibiotics, oxycodone and certain types of chemotherapy. Read more in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Stress and Anxiety
Get ready for a Catch-22. We’ve talked about how hearing loss can make a person feel stressed and anxious, but did you know that stress and anxiety are also risk factors for developing hearing disorders? Studies have shown a correlation between stress levels and hearing ability. Because researchers have established a connection between stress and illness, it’s a chain reaction whereby stressed individuals may have a higher incidence of illness and infection, which in turn may lead to hearing impairment.

Allergies
Seasonal allergies can get the best of us, especially in the Willamette Valley. But did you know sniffing and sneezing aren’t the only effects of seasonal allergies. Experts say that people with allergies are also susceptible to hearing loss. It is believed that high pollen levels can cause an allergic reaction in the inner ear, which causes swelling and an increase in fluid and wax accumulation. Luckily, many people find that as their allergies subside, so do their hearing problems.

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Firearms and hearing loss: making the connection

In America, we own more firearms than do citizens of any other country in the world. In fact, according to a 2007 issue of Small Arms Survey, an estimated 70 million Americans own more than 270 million firearms. Whether for recreational or professional use, firearms are a significant part of our daily fabric.

So what’s the connection with hearing loss? If shooters fail to wear proper hearing protection, firearms can cause notable hearing loss, as well as tinnitus. Despite the fact that shooters know they’re supposed to wear hearing protection, the reality is that a good number fail to do so. Central Michigan University conducted several studies on the matter and found that 80 percent of participants reported never using hearing protection while hunting, and 40-50 percent reported inconsistent use during target practice.

This is hugely important to note and correct because the damage caused to your hearing from firearms can be quite severe. High-level impulse noise, which is emitted when a firearm is discharged, can lead to sudden hearing loss, the result of immediate physical damage to several inner-ear structures. But not all firearms have the same intensity of impulse noise.

Here’s a rule of thumb: The bigger the bore (large calibers), the bigger the cartridge (more gunpowder), the bigger the boom. Also important to note is that indoor or enclosed shooting ranges create increased duration for the impulse noise vs. shooting out in an open field, which exacerbates the problem. And, since in some states children as young as 10 may purchase firearms, there is added risk for them as they tend to use shorter firearms which place the muzzle closer to the ear.

FACT: When a user shoots rapid-fire (semi-automatic) guns, the ear has less time to recover between shots.

Tips for Shooters to Reduce Hearing Loss Risks

  • Keep disposable hearing protective devices on hand.
  • Double-protect when using large-caliber guns or when many shots will be fired.
  • Consider smaller calibers (for example, a 7mm-08 rifle instead of a .30-.06, or a 20-gauge shotgun rather than 12-guage).
  • Choose a single-shot or bolt-action over a semi-automatic weapon.
  • Avoid shooting in groups, especially at indoor or enclosed firing ranges.
  • Choose firearms with longer barrels (farther from the ear).
  • Consider using low-recoil (low-noise) ammo.
  • When hunting in a blind, make sure the muzzle is outside the blind before pulling the trigger.

Use nonlinear or appropriate electronic ear protection for hunting.

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Ten ways to recognize hearing loss

Do you know the early signs of hearing loss? According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), you have 10 ways to recognize hearing loss:

  1. Do you have a problem hearing over the telephone?
  2. Do you have trouble following the conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time?
  3. Do people complain that you turn the TV volume up too high?
  4. Do you have to strain to understand conversations?
  5. Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy background?
  6. Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves?
  7. Do many people you talk to seem to mumble (or not speak clearly)?
  8. Do you misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
  9. Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
  10. Do people get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?

If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, you may want to see an audiologist for a hearing evaluation.

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Types of hearing loss

Hearing loss affects about one out of every 10 Americans. For those over 65 years of age, the ratio is nearly one in three. Hearing loss has different types and varying degrees. Some hearing loss can be treated medically, while others may be permanent. Hearing loss is classified according to which part of the auditory system is affected. Generally hearing loss has three types: conductive, sensorineural and mixed.

Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss is the result of disorders in either the outer or middle ear, which prevent sound from getting to the inner ear. Voices and sounds may sound faint, distorted or both. Most conductive hearing loss can be helped medically or surgically if treated promptly.

Common causes:
• Infection of the ear canal or middle ear
• Fluid in the middle ear
• Perforation or scarring of the eardrum
• Wax build-up
• Dislocation of the ossicles (three middle-ear bones)
• Foreign objects in the ear canal
• Otosclerosis
• Unusual growths, tumors

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when inner ear nerves become damaged and do not properly transmit their signals to the brain. Patients may complain that people seem to mumble or that they hear, but do not understand what is being said. The aging process is the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss because as we get older, the inner ear nerves and sensory cells gradually die.

In addition to advancing age, sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by:
• Injury
• Excessive noise exposure
• Viral infections (such as measles or mumps)
• Ototoxic drugs (medications that damage hearing)
• Meningitis
• Diabetes
• Stroke
• High fever
• Ménière’s disease
• Acoustic tumors
• Heredity
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss among adults (occurs in 80 percent of adult cases). It is not often medically or surgically treatable. Most sensorineural hearing loss can be successfully treated with hearing aids.

Mixed Hearing Loss

If a hearing loss is the result of both conductive and sensorineural components, it is known as a mixed hearing loss.

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Are you afraid of hearing loss?

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), there are approximately 28 million people in the United States who are deaf or hard of hearing and close to 27 million of them could benefit from hearing aids. Only six million people of the 27 million are currently using hearing aids as a tool for better hearing.

The question you’re probably asking yourself is why don’t these people that need hearing-aids use them? There are many reasons why:

1. The self-consciousness associated with wearing hearing aids can make people feel embarrassed to wear hearing aids and they may choose not to because of the negative connotation they have.

2. Not realizing a problem exists in the first place. Most hearing loss happens progressively. Being habituated to a reduced level of hearing ability and time progresses makes it difficult to ascertain if a problem exists at all.

3. Denial of a problem. People tend to deny that a problem exists themselves because of the emotional desire to be independent.

If you or anyone you know may suffer from hearing loss but are afraid to get your hearing tested, know that there are important reasons why you should. You can prevent further damage, increase motor coordination and help your self-confidence with conversation. It is increasingly affordable to get your hearing checked and treated for it as well.

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Brief history of the hearing aid

Hearing aids are defined as electroacoustic devices that typically fit in or behind the wearer’s ear and are designed to amplify sound for the user. The early days of hearing aids included devices known as ear trumpets. These trumpets would amplify the sound going into the ear through a cone-shaped funnel. Because one end was large and open, it would gather the sound energy and direct it into the user’s ear canal.

As technology progressed from the 19th century, the movement toward modern hearing aids began with advances in the telephone. The very first electronic hearing aid was created in 1898. It was called the Akoulathon and was created by Miller Reese Hutchison. It worked by adding an electric signal to a weak sound, which would then amplify it and pass the signal to a receiver in the patient’s ear. Unfortunately, there aren’t any photos of this device that represent it factually.

During World War II, military technology helped advance the development of hearing aids even more. In the mid-1920s, the Acousticon’s Model 56 was one of the first portable units, though it was relatively heavy. In the ’60s and ’70s, huge advancements were made to hearing aids in the form of microprocessors and multi-channel amplitude compression. Microprocessors are what allowed the device to become as small as it is today. Amplitude compression allowed for the separation of the audio signal into frequency bands. With these frequency bands separated, one could adjust sounds to be louder when they were weak and quieter when they were too loud.

Today, hearing aids are nearly invisible thanks to all of this earlier research. The Oticon Company developed the first all-digital hearing aid in 1995, which could adjust itself depending on the environment without the need for a physical volume control. Now we have hearing aids that take advantage of Bluetooth technology and more.

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Hearing instrument pricing, selection and service

Competitive pricing and 3-day trial period

Types of hearing aids – News: Receiver-In-The-Ear (RITE) and “Slim Tube” hearing aids are the most unobtrusive type of hearing instrument currently available. This style keeps the ear canal open to reduce any plugged-up sensation. The appropriateness of these hearing devices is limited based on the degree of hearing loss.

Behind-The-Ear (BTE) instruments are appropriate for hearing losses from mild to severe. Directional microphones, multiple listening programs and a tele-coil for compatibility are available for these models. This style is best suited for pediatric patients and individuals with excessive moisture and accumulative cerumen (earwax).

In-The-Ear (ITE) hearing instrument fills the outer portion of the ear. This style is appropriate for mild to severe hearing losses and may include features such as directional microphones, multiple listening programs, and a tele-coil.

In-The-Canal (ITC) style hearing instrument is a smaller model than the full-shell ITE and is appropriate for hearing losses from mild to moderately severe. Features are limited due to size restrictions. Good manual dexterity is more important for this style.

Invisible Hearing Aids the Completely-In-The-Canal (CIC) hearing instrument is almost invisible. The appropriateness of this style hearing instrument is based on degree of hearing loss and manual dexterity. Features are limited due to size restrictions.

We carry several top brands, including Oticon, Phonak

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Hearing aids are more than worth the cost

Hearing aids provide a multitude of benefits for the user but they can be expensive. Typically, hearing aids cost anywhere from $2,000 to $6,800 a pair, depending on battery life and how powerful the hearing aids are. However, for those that do not realize the benefits increased hearing provides, it may be difficult to purchase some items on the upper end of the price range. Here are some reasons why hearing aids may just change your life:

1. Is it difficult to hear your child or grandchild from across the room? You will be able to hear sounds you have not heard before or in a long time.

2. When is the last time you had a telephone conversation and constantly had to ask the recipient, “What did you say?” You may have bad service or your phone may have an issue with its transceiver, but if this is an ongoing issue, it may be time to get your hearing checked. You may regain the ability to hear over the telephone more clearly.

3. When in a group of friends or family members, it is difficult to include yourself in the conversation if you don’t have a firm grasp of what is going on. If you are having difficulty hearing conversations going on right in front of you, it may be another sign of hearing loss. Give yourself more confidence in a group setting with hearing aids; it will make communication easier for you.

4. One of the most essential aspects of communication is being able to communicate in a noisy setting. When you last took out your husband or wife on a date, did you have a lot of trouble hearing them over the noises in the restaurant? Last time you took your kids to see a movie, was it nearly impossible to hear them while previews were playing? When you cannot understand what the other person is saying in any kind of situation, it can produce a harsh blow to your confidence.

Hearing aids will amplify sound to allow you to hear sounds that you were unable to hear before. It is very important for hearing aids to be properly fitted by a licensed audiologist or healthcare professional so that the amplification matches your hearing loss. It is also important to contact an audiologist prior to making a purchase so that you can figure out exactly what you need.

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What kind of hearing device is right for you?

At Audiology Professionals we strive to find the hearing device that best fits your needs, lifestyle and budget. Here are examples of the different types of hearing devices we offer and the types of hearing loss they are best for:

Receiver-In-The-Ear (RITE) and “Slim Tube” hearing aids are the most unobtrusive type of hearing instrument currently available. This style keeps the ear canal open to reduce any plugged-up sensation. The appropriateness of these hearing devices is limited based on the degree of hearing loss.

Behind-The-Ear (BTE) instruments are appropriate for hearing losses from mild to severe. Directional microphones, multiple listening programs and a tele-coil for compatibility are available for these models. This style is best suited for pediatric patients and individuals with excessive moisture and accumulative cerumen (earwax).

In-The-Ear (ITE) hearing instrument fills the outer portion of the ear. This style is appropriate for mild to severe hearing losses and may include features such as directional microphones, multiple listening programs, and a tele-coil.

In-The-Canal (ITC) style hearing instrument is a smaller model than the full-shell ITE and is appropriate for hearing losses from mild to moderately severe. Features are limited due to size restrictions. Good manual dexterity is more important for this style.

Invisible Hearing Aids such as the Completely-In-The-Canal (CIC) hearing instrument is almost invisible. The appropriateness of this style hearing instrument is based on degree of hearing loss and manual dexterity. Features are limited due to size restrictions.

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What’s that thing you’re sticking in my ear?

Hearing ToolsSometimes when you go to the doctor for a checkup, he or she sticks a pointy flashlight-looking instrument in your ear. Pretty much every time you see an audiologist, you get the same experience. Ever wondered exactly what it is the doc is sticking in your ear, and what it does?

It’s called an otoscope, and it’s used to evaluate for illness and investigate ear-related symptoms. The otoscope contains a small light and a magnifying lens that increases visibility for the doctor using the scope. Before your exam, the doctor or audiologist will attach a disposable tip to the instrument that is called an ear specula. By positioning the ear speculum of the otoscope just inside the ear, the audiologist is able to examine the ear canal.

The otoscope is a useful tool used during the ear exam that helps identify problems with hearing and ear health such as illness, earwax buildup or lodgement of a foreign object.

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How exactly does the ear function?

By definition, hearing is the ability to perceive sound by distinguishing vibrations and changes in the surrounding pressure in the ear. Though most people have a general sense of how the ear works, we want to provide our patients with a simple and easy-to-understand overview of how the ear functions.

To begin, the ear has three main components: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear consists of the visible portion of the ear, also known as the pinna, the auditory canal, as well as the eardrum. The eardrum is an airtight fold of skin that separates the outer and middle portions of the ear. Because sound travels in waves, it has an amplitude and pitch. When hit with sound waves, the eardrum vibrates in relation to the waves amplitude and this creates a change in pressure; thus allowing for a differentiation in sound.

The middle ear is comprised of a small air-filled cavity directly behind the eardrum. This chamber contains the three smallest bones in the entire body, which are called the ossicles. These help with transmission and amplification of the sound wave from the eardrum to the inner ear.

The inner ear, though complex, only contains two parts, the cochlea (for hearing) and the vestibular system (for balance). The cochlea is a spiral shaped tube that is filled with fluids and can be divided length wise by the basilar membrane. This membrane vibrates when sound waves from the middle ear pass through the fluid contained by the cochlea. These movements cause tiny hair cells to vibrate, and from there, the information is passed on to the brain stem through the auditory nerve. The vestibular system helps us keep our balance gives us our sense of spatial orientation. This system sends its information to muscle groups that control our eye movements and those that help us stay upright.

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How do we hear?

Hearing is a complex process that allows us to better understand and interact with the world around us. The ear is made up of three different parts: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Sound travels through all three parts before it reaches the brain.

Outer ear consists of the ear drum and canal. This is the only part of the ear visible to the human eye. Sound travels down the canal. When it reaches the eardrum, it causes it to vibrate.

Middle ear Located right behind the ear drum it is made up of three very small bones called ossicles. When the eardrum vibrates, it in turn causes the ossicles to vibrate, which creates movement of fluid in the inner ear.

Inner ear The movement of fluid in the inner ear (cochlea) causes movement in tiny structures called hair cells. The movement of the hair cells then sends electric signals along the auditory nerve to the brain. Once the electronic signals reach the brain it interprets them as sound.

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10 things you should know about hearing loss & your health

  1. Hearing loss is tied to depression. Research shows that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages, but is most pronounced in 18 to 69 year olds. Research also shows that the use of hearing aids may reduce depressive symptoms.)
  2. Hearing loss and dementia are linked. Research not only shows a connection
    between hearing loss and dementia, but a Johns Hopkins study of older adults
    found that hearing loss actually accelerates brain function decline. Some
    experts believe that interventions, like hearing aids, could potentially delay
    or prevent dementia. Research is ongoing.
  3. Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes. Studies show that
    people with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss. When broken down by age, one study showed that those 60 and younger are at greater risk.
  4. Your hearing may say something about your heart. Cardiovascular and
    hearing health are linked. Some experts say the inner ear is so sensitive to
    blood flow that it’s possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system
    could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body.
  5. Staying fit may also help your hearing. Research on women’s health shows
    that a higher level of physical activity is associated with a lower risk of
    hearing loss. Conversely, a higher body mass index (BMI) and larger waist
    circumference in women are each associated with a higher risk of hearing loss.
  6. Hearing loss may put you at greater risk of falling. A Johns Hopkins study showed that people in middle age (40 to 69) with even just mild hearing loss were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling.
  7. Hospitalization may be more likely for those with hearing loss. Another Johns Hopkins study showed that hospitalization is more likely for older adults with hearing loss.
  8. The risk of dying may be higher for older men with hearing loss. A groundbreaking study found that men with hearing loss had an increased risk of mortality, but hearing aids made a difference. Men and women with hearing loss who used hearing aids—although older and with more severe hearing loss—had a significantly lower mortality risk than those with hearing loss who did not use hearing aids.
  9. Hearing loss is tied to common pain relievers. One study found that the
    regular use of aspirin, NSAIDs, or acetaminophen increases the risk of hearing
    loss in men, and the impact is larger on younger individuals. A separate study
    found that ibuprofen and acetaminophen are associated with an increased risk of hearing loss in women, with the link even stronger among women younger than 50.
  10. Moderate chronic kidney disease is linked to hearing loss. Research has shown moderate chronic kidney disease to be associated with an increased risk of hearing loss.
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Audiology Professionals

Audiology Professionals