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Keep your Loved Ones with Hearing Loss Engaged in Conversations over Thanksgiving!

It’s not uncommon to see family members and friends with hearing loss limit their participation in loud, large social gatherings. Multiple speakers, clanking of silverware, and lots of background noise can make it difficult to understand the conservation we are trying to participate in. Here are some tips and reminders that may be helpful this Thanksgiving:

  • Seat the person with hearing loss at the head of the table or somewhere they are able to see others seated at the table
  • Provide adequate lighting 
  • Take turns speaking to prevent multiple, overlapping conversations
  • Speak clearly, but not overly loud or over-enunciated
  • Indicate topic shifts and reiterate key information 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for repetition or clarity
  • Dizziness, Vertigo, and Imbalance – What’s the Difference?

    Dizziness and balance problems are very common complaints reported at primary care physicians’ offices and emergency departments. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, on average 15% of American adults (an estimated 33 million people) report dizziness or balance problems annually. There are many ways these symptoms can be described. Below are three of the most common descriptors for these problems.

    Vertigo is a term used to describe a sense of spinning or motion. Some people report that it feels like the room is spinning around them, while others feel like they themselves are moving, even when they aren’t. Vertigo is a symptom, not a disease itself. Vertigo may be caused by many different factors, including inner ear problems.

    Imbalance refers to a feeling of unsteadiness on your feet. Some people report they may sway or veer to one side when walking or standing. This can lead to an increased risk of falling, which can result in serious injuries.

    Dizziness is a general term used to describe a range of symptoms. This may include vertigo or imbalance as described above.  It may also include symptoms such as lightheadedness or feeling faint, wooziness, motion intolerance, or other descriptions. When in doubt, dizziness is a catch-all term that many healthcare providers use before a specific disorder or impairment is diagnosed.

    Although these symptoms can be very concerning, the good news is diagnosis and treatment options are available. If you are experiencing dizziness, vertigo, or imbalance, contact our office at 904-399-0350 to schedule an evaluation.

    It is recommended you seek emergency medical care immediately if you experience severe dizziness or vertigo along with symptoms such as severe headache, chest pain, difficulty breathing, numbness in the arms or legs, confusion or slurred speech.

    Improving Phone Communication

    One of the top areas of communication many of our patients are wanting to improve is better communication on the phone. Phone calls are one of the most difficult listening situations for individuals with hearing loss — there’s no opportunity to read lips, the signal is not always clear/consistent, and there are fewer contextual cues compared to face-to-face communication. Even with properly fit hearing aids, many patients continue to experience difficulty on the phone. Here are a few helpful tips for improving speech understanding over the phone while wearing hearing aids:

      1. Place the speaker of the phone directly on the hearing aid microphones. This allows the audio from the phone call to be processed through the hearing aids and amplified. If the phone is held to the ear in a typical fashion, the hearing aid may be acting as an earplug, making phone calls even more difficult. 

     2. Enable Bluetooth streaming for phone calls (if available). By streaming phone calls through the hearing aids, our brain is able to process the incoming speech information with two ears, thus allowing more opportunity for accurate speech understanding. 

    3. Ask your communication partner to slow down and speak naturally. Slowing down rate of speech while continuing to speak in a natural manner is more beneficial than over-enunciating and raising the volume. 

    Phone calls can take practice and patience. Reach out to your hearing care provider if you need further strategies or technology to improve phone communication.

    Why is Hearing in Noise So Difficult?

    One of the most commonly reported challenges people face with their hearing is understanding speech in background noise. Noise can vary depending on the environment. Sometimes it might be multiple people talking at once, like at a party. It may also be ambient noise such as music from a speaker or dishes clanking at a restaurant. Regardless of the type of sound, extra background noise makes it more difficult to understand conversations with others.

    Many people don’t realize that a lot of our hearing ability comes not just from what the ears pick up, but how our brain processes the sound information from our ears. Hearing in noisy places is more challenging for a couple of reasons:

    • Audibility – we have to be able to hear all the sounds of speech in order to easily understand it. Extra noise can overpower soft speech sounds.
    • Focus – noisy environments tend to be busier. If there are distractions present, it decreases our ability to concentrate as effectively as we can in quiet.
    • Memory – in order to understand speech, our brain has to process sound and remember the information. Busier environments compete for the brain’s attention in focusing and remembering speech.

    The good news is that hearing devices can address the concerns listed above and make it easier to understand in noisy places. Although in most cases it is not possible to completely eliminate all background noise, hearing devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants can make a big improvement in speech understanding, both in quiet and in noise.

    If you are interested in learning more about how you can optimize your hearing in noisy environments, contact our office at 904-399-0350 to schedule a hearing evaluation.

    Hearing with Two Ears

    Our bodies are designed with two ears for many important reasons. Listening with two ears:

    • Leads to better understanding in background noise
    • Allows for improved ability to detect where sound is coming from and
    • Gives speech a “boost” in volume

    In addition, listening with two ears lessens the amount of work it takes the brain to understand speech and can lead to an improved quality of life. 

    For people whose hearing loss is severe, two hearing aids may not be very helpful. However, research, anecdotal evidence and experience tells us that using a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other ear can improve clarity of speech, even more so than using just one cochlear implant. 

    This has been demonstrated over and over to the point where two cochlear implant companies have partnered with hearing aid companies to create compatibility between the cochlear implant and hearing aid. This not only leads to the great benefits discussed above but also allows streaming of phone calls and other media to both ears at the same and easier access to program or volume changes.

    To learn more about your hearing aid and/or cochlear implant options, give our office a call at 904-399-0350 for a hearing evaluation.

    Types of Hearing Protection

    One of the prominent causes of hearing loss is excessive noise exposure. For many patients, they have grown up hunting and target shooting, or have worked many years in a very noisy job. Unfortunately, one the damage from noise has been done, there is no way to reverse it. Instead, we ask all of our patients to use hearing protection when they are going to be around excessive noise.

    There are different types of hearing protection. The one that works the best is the one that you will wear consistently and properly.

    Styles:

    • Over the ear: These devices look like headphones, or are sometimes referred to as “Mickey Mouse ears” due to their bulk.  These cover the external part of the ear and block out many external sounds.
    • In the ear (non-custom): These devices are generally available at drug stores and are made of foam or plastic.  Non-custom devices fit into the ear with a tight fit and come in an array of sizes.
    • In the ear (custom): For a more secure fit, custom molded hearing protection can be made. This requires a silicone-like mold of your ear to be made, then sent to an outside company for crafting. These are typically a rubber-like material.

    Types of Sound reduction: Hearing protection can be divided into two categories of sound reduction; active and passive.

    • Passive: Passive hearing protection uses the physical piece as the method of blocking the sound. These are less expensive than active hearing protection as there is no electronics within the devices. The foam hearing protection that is seen at drugs stores is a form of “passive” hearing protection. Passive hearing protection can be custom and non-custom.
    • Active: Active hearing protection uses not only the physical properties of the device, but also electronics to reduce sound.  Active hearing protection uses external microphones to analyze sounds in the surrounding area, then shut off when a loud sound is identified. Many hunters utilize active hearing protection to hear their environment, but the sound of the firearm is reduced. Active hearing protection can be custom or non-custom.

    Here are some situations where Hearing protection should be utilized:

    • Hunting/shooting
    • Power tools, including lawn mowers
    • Noisy work environments – factories, mills, military, aircraft

    If you are interested in custom hearing protection, JHBI can help. We are able to take custom molds and order both active and passive hearing protection.

    Why Does My Tinnitus Get Worse When I’m Stressed?

    Although tinnitus (or ringing / buzzing / whooshing / roaring in the ears) is often an underlying symptom of hearing loss, it can be exacerbated or even triggered by stress. A person’s reaction to tinnitus depends on how the autonomic nervous system responds to the sound itself. While many patients are able to ignore their tinnitus, for others it can cause significant stress, anxiety, and irritability when the brain subconsciously decides that the tinnitus is an “alarm”. Just like your body enters “fight or flight” mode when you encounter a genuine threat, tinnitus can trigger the same physical and emotional reaction. This makes it very difficult to concentrate or relax when you are stressed and have tinnitus.

    One of the ways we attempt to combat this stress response is through relaxation exercises. Some patients report a reduction in the intrusiveness of their tinnitus with the use of these methods over time; including progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, mediation, and yoga. In addition, you may try a simple form of sound therapy: add calming sounds or white noise to your calming routines to help aid in relaxation. And of course, limiting the amount of caffeine consumed during the day and getting an adequate amount of sleep at night will also help in the long term.

    For more information on tinnitus and tinnitus treatment options, contact our office to set up an individualized consultation to discuss what methods might be best for you!

    How Do I Clean My Ears?

    As audiologists, we often get asked “How do I clean my ears?” by patients. Many people do not know that your ear typically cleans itself! Earwax, or cerumen, is a self-cleaning agent meant to protect and lubricate your ear canal. Glands in your ear canal produce this substance to trap dirt and dust particles so they do not make their way to your eardrum. The earwax naturally migrates out of your ear with jaw movements, such as chewing or talking.  Different factors can impact how much earwax a person produces (e.g. genetics, medications).

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    When a cerumen impaction occurs, it is typically due to the patient using Q-tips or other objects to clean their ears. But, in reality this typically just inhibits the natural migration of the earwax and pushes it down deeper into the ear canal! Symptoms of a cerumen impaction include decreased hearing, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), itchiness, or a plugged feeling in the ears.

    There are safe methods to help remove the earwax from your ears, if there is a buildup. Patients can place a few drops of mineral oil, a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water, or commercial wax softeners into the ear over the course of a few days. If a deep impaction has occurred, softening the wax alone will most likely not remove all of the wax and the individual will need to have the cerumen extracted. Licensed medical providers have the ability to manually remove earwax. Different methods of extraction include suction, water irrigation, or curette removal. The method used varies depending on the condition of their ear and the amount of wax. Consult a physician if you believe that you have a cerumen impaction.

    Superior Semicircular Canal Dehiscence Syndrome


    What is superior semicircular canal dehiscence syndrome?

    Superior semicircular canal dehiscence syndrome (or SSCDS) is a condition where the normal bony covering of the superior semicircular canal (one of the three balance canals that respond to angular acceleration) is missing.

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    What type of symptoms do patients with SSCDS have?
    Many, but not all, patients with SSCDS have dizziness. This dizziness may be brought on by loud noises, such as the clanging of dishes together, or by pressure changes, such as sneezing, coughing, or straining. Some patients report hearing their heartbeat in the affected ear and often complain of ear fullness. Many patients describe that their voice sounds louder in one particular ear as well. Other less common symptoms include hearing one’s own eye movements and hearing one’s own footsteps on certain surfaces (watch this video: Inside Todd’s Head).

    What causes SSCDS?
    Currently the exact cause of SSCDS is not known. It is likely that some individuals are predisposed to the thinning of bone in certain areas of the skull base, leading to problems such as SSCDS. Additionally, head trauma may play a role in certain cases of SSCDS. Not all individuals with a dehiscence of the superior semicircular canal (as might be seen on a special CAT scan and verified by certain tests) actually have symptoms.

    How is SSCDS treated?
    SSCDS treatment must be individualized to each particular patient. While there is no specific medical therapy for SSCDS, various surgical management options are available.

    Disclaimer:
    The information and reference materials included on this website are intended solely for the general information and education purposes of the reader. They are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice or to diagnose health problems. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to discuss the information presented here.

    Hearing For Life: Don’t Let Hearing Loss Limit You!

    On March 3rd every year, the World Health Organization celebrates World Hearing Day to help promote ear and hearing care around the world.

    Hearing loss affects individuals of all ages and it is important in all life stages to have the ease of communication to keep you connected to loved ones and the world around you. Early diagnosis and treat hearing loss in a timely manner can help facilitate access to education, employment opportunities and daily communication.

    In the United States, 7 out of 10 individuals who say they have trouble hearing don’t use hearing aids, according to a Better Hearing Institute (BHI) survey. Many people think that hearing aids are big, bulky, poor quality and will squeal continuously which is not the case. Today’s hearing aids are smaller and smarter than ever, incorporating automatic programming, noise adaptation, Bluetooth technology, rechargeability and wireless programming. A more recent BHI study revealed that over 90% of individuals who have purchased hearing aids are glad they did.

    As hearing healthcare providers, all of us at JHBI want you to know that there are options to treat your hearing loss. At your consultation appointment, we will discuss all of your hearing health concerns and the options available to help you hear better in the environments that matter most to you.