Possible Link Between Hearing Loss Before Age 50 and Substance Abuse

 
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A recent study by the University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System showed that people under age 50 with hearing loss misuse prescription opioids at twice the rate compared to their hearing peers and are more likely to misuse alcohol and other drugs, as well. The study was led by Dr. Michael McKee after noticing that a relatively large share of his younger patients with hearing loss were struggling with substance abuse disorders. Dr. McKee runs the Deaf Health Clinic, which provides primary care and mental health care to deaf and hard-of-hearing patients.

Even after researchers adjusted for differences in social, economic and mental health between the hearing and hard-of-hearing populations, the differences remained. Adults under age 35 with a hearing loss were two and a half times more likely to have a prescription opioid use disorder. Those between ages 35 and 49 who had hearing loss were nearly twice as likely as their hearing peers to have disorders related to both prescription opioids and alcohol.

This study should be of particular interest to healthcare providers who prescribe pain and mental health medications to patients with hearing loss.

If you or someone you know in the Charlottesville or Roanoke, VA areas may be experiencing hearing loss, please contact us. For concerns of substance abuse, you can visit the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) treatment locator website. On that page, you can search for providers by zip code.

5 Diseases That May Cause Hearing Loss

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Although hearing loss is typically associated with aging, environmental or hereditary causes, there are several diseases that contribute to the risk of hearing loss.

  1. Ménière’s Disease: This disease affects the fluid of the inner ear. Symptoms include a loss of balance, a feeling of fullness in one or both ears, nausea, dizziness, and ringing in the ear. This disease can lead to hearing loss due to the extreme buildup of fluid in the ear. To treat, our doctors would prescribe medications to control the symptoms.

  2. Mumps: A viral infection that occurs more frequently in children, mumps causes the salivary glands to become inflamed and leads to swollen cheeks, fever, and headaches. Hearing loss can be a side effect, as the mumps virus can damage the cochlea of the inner ear. This is the part of the ear that contains the hair cells that turn sound vibrations into the nerve impulse that the brain interprets as sound. Unfortunately, there are no drugs available to treat mumps, but a vaccination can prevent the disease. If hearing loss has occurred, hearing aids and cochlear implants can help.

  3. German Measles: Another common childhood illness that can occur in adults, this disease is caused by the Rubella virus. Although it is possible to be symptom-free, typically a pinkish rash is present. The concern here is for pregnant mothers and their unborn children. German measles can cause a baby to be born with abnormalities, especially deafness as a result of nerve damage. Vaccinations are available, as well as a booster shot if you are planning on becoming pregnant.

  4. Otosclerosis: A relatively common cause of hearing loss, Otosclerosis is an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear. This bone growth prevents structures within the ear from working properly and causes hearing loss. The main symptom of otosclerosis is hearing loss. Other symptoms include dizziness, balance problems and tinnitus. There are a few methods doctors use for otosclerosis. A surgical procedure called stapedectomy, as well as a cochlear implant may help reverse hearing loss.

  5. Acoustic Neuroma: This is a rare disease that involves a non-cancerous tumor growing directly on the nerve (the eighth cranial nerve) responsible for hearing and balance; it is typically caused by radiation or regular exposure to loud noise. Symptoms include hearing loss and a feeling of fullness in one ear, dizziness, a loss of balance, headaches, and facial numbness or tingling. In severe cases, brain surgery is necessary to remove the tumor.

Sign Language Stores: The Wave of the Future?

📷 Credit: Starbucks

📷 Credit: Starbucks

Starbucks opened a new signing store in Washington D.C. last Fall. The store is the first of its kind in the U.S. and is located near Gallaudet University, an institution for Deaf and hard of hearing students.

The store features a beautiful sign language mural that was created by a Deaf artist and adjunct professor of Gallaudet University. Deaf “partners” (employees) at the store wear aprons (pictured above) with the word “Starbucks” signed on them. All partners - even those who hear - are fluent in American Sign Language. The hearing partners wear traditional Starbucks aprons with an “I Sign” pin on them. The store features a “sign of the week” above the register to give hearing customers the opportunity to learn words in sign language. There are many more details incorporated into this well-thought-out space. Read more on the Starbucks website.

With 20% of the U.S. population (~48 million Americans) experiencing some form of hearing loss, we hope the Starbucks Signing Store inspires more brands to create similar experiences for this community.

How to Protect Your Ears During Flu Season

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Cold and flu season is in full swing. At some point, all of us have experienced the chills, the congestion, the fatigue, and the nagging cough. Among these symptoms is the “plugged ear” sensation that occurs from congestion build up in the sinuses and ears. Like the other symptoms, the hearing loss is usually temporary, but it can linger and only adds to the misery of being sick.

Why Do We Experience Hearing Loss When We Are Sick?

When you have a cold or the flu, congestion builds up in the middle ear. This makes it difficult for the sound waves to travel through the ear. The Eustachian tubes can also become blocked. The Eustachian tube is a narrow tube connecting the back of the nose and the middle ear. It is filled with air and protects, ventilates, and drains mucus from the middle ear. Blockage of the Eustachian tube causes the lining of the middle ear to absorb the trapped air. This creates a negative pressure that pulls the eardrum inward. When this occurs, people may experience muffled hearing, pain, tinnitus, reduced hearing, pressure, or problems with balance.  The good news is that hearing usually returns to normal within a few days.

How to Prevent Hearing Loss During Cold & Flu Season

There are a few things you can do to help minimize your chances of getting a bad cold or the flu:

  1. Take Vitamin C to help boost your immune system.

  2. Get the flu vaccine! Even if it does not offer 100% protection from the flu, it will at least help minimize symptoms if you do get sick.

  3. Wash your hands often.

  4. Keep your ears warm and dry when you are outside in cold temperatures.

  5. Maintain a healthy diet and exercise to improve blood circulation.

  6. Avoid others who are sick.

If you do get sick, a decongestant will help minimize the congestion. If your ears feel “plugged” for more than a few days or you have pain, contact your doctor for a possible ear infection. For more information, contact us.

Hearing Loss and Cardiovascular Disease

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February is American Heart Month and a good time to discuss the link between hearing loss and cardiovascular disease. (Hint: It’s all about the blood flow.)

Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, refers to a number of conditions that cause narrowed or blocked blood vessels and contribute to heart attacks, chest pain, or stroke. Our auditory system depends on an oxygen-rich blood flow. The tiny hair cells in the inner ear responsible for conducting sound to the brain can be damaged if sufficient oxygen through the blood is unavailable due to the narrowed or blocked blood vessels. This cell damage is what causes permanent hearing loss.

Maintaining a healthy heart can reduce your risk or help prevent further hearing loss. Many of the things you can do to take care of your heart will also help protect your hearing:

  • Avoid smoking: Smoking is known to be harmful to your heart and your inner ears. Read more about the relationship between smoking and hearing health.

  • Exercise: Exercise helps increase blood flow (among many other benefits)! Exercising for 20-30 minutes per day, four or five days a week, can contribute to a healthy heart and healthy hearing.

  • Nutrition: A heart-healthy diet can help improve your hearing and prevent further hearing loss. Click here to read more about foods to consume and avoid.

Research from Harvard University found that hearing loss occurs 54 percent more often in people with heart disease, compared to the general population. Researchers also hypothesize that low frequency hearing loss - especially in people who are middle-aged or younger - could be an indicator of the presence or potential development of cardiovascular disease. 

If you already have hearing loss, it’s important to speak to your healthcare professional about whether it might indicate heart disease, as well. If you suspect you have hearing loss, its connection to your heart health should be reason enough to get your hearing tested.

If you or someone you know are concerned about your hearing, feel free to contact us or take our hearing questionnaire

Hearing Restoration Study Enters Phase 2

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We first blogged about the first in-human safety study aimed at restoring hearing last January. It was one of our most read blog posts of the year. With that level of interest, we wanted to share the most recent news on this study.

The loss of inner ear hair cells is the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Once these cells are damaged, they cannot grow back. This causes permanent hearing loss. Frequency Therapeutics, a U.S.-based biotechnology company, has created FX-322, a Progenitor Cell Activation (PCA™) regenerative medicine aimed at creating new inner ear hair cells in the cochlea. With the successful completion of its first in-human safety study a year ago, the company received an additional $42 million in financing to allow the research to advance to Phase 2. The company stated that top-line results from an on-going Phase 1-2 study are expected in the first half of this year. Frequency Therapeutics has received a total of $87 million.

You can read the full press release here. We will be following this study and will share updates to the research findings as news is released.

Top Five Hearing Health Blog Posts of 2018

Each month, our blog focuses on the latest research, technologies, and other important industry findings that we capture and share. With 2019 just around the corner, here are our top five most popular blog posts of 2018 for a quick year-at-a-glance. 


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#1. Bose’s New Sleepbuds Touted for Tinnitus

Bose markets the new sound-masking sleepbuds to everyone who has trouble falling or staying asleep due to unwanted noises like snoring and traffic. But, these sleep aids have also gained attention for another reason: providing help for those with Tinnitus.


#2: Rock Stars and Hearing Loss

Our second most popular post was featured in April 2018 and discusses the importance of wearing ear protection to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

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#3: First In-Human Safety Study for Hearing Restoration

The loss of inner ear hair cells is the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss. One company successfully completed the first-in-human study of FX-322, a Progenitor Cell Activation (PCA™) regenerative medicine aimed at creating new inner ear hair cells in the cochlea.


#4: How Untreated hearing loss affects Mental Health

This July 2018 post discusses how untreated hearing loss affects your brain’s ability to remember common everyday sounds.

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#5: Six Facts About Hearing Aids

Our fifth most popular blog post of 2018 focuses on the myths and misperceptions of hearing aids.


If you are interested in receiving highlights of our featured blog posts each month, please complete the form below to be added to our eNewsletter list. 

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Health App Designed to Manage Tinnitus (Ringing in Ears)

If you suffer from ringing or buzzing in the ears or are seeking relief from bothersome noises around you, a phone app - Widex ZEN - might be your answer. Widex ZEN is a holistic approach that incorporates sound therapy, counseling and relaxation techniques to help manage Tinnitus or symptoms similar to those of Tinnitus. It can be used with earbuds or headphones, or with your Widex hearing aids (either with streaming capability or via a COM-DEX or UNI-DEX). It has shown to be effective in 80% of cases of Tinnitus.

Tinnitus (ti-NIGHT-us or TINN-a-tus) is also known as "ringing in the ears;" however, it can manifest as whistling, buzzing, hissing, roaring, swooshing, clicking, and many other sounds. Regardless of the sound, it can be extremely bothersome. It's also common. According to the Mayo Clinic, approximately one in five people experience Tinnitus at some point in their lives. More than 90% of those experiencing Tinnitus also have hearing loss.

The Widex ZEN app consists of four components that can be tailored to your needs:

  1. Counseling - Provides you with relevant information to help you change the negative interpretation of Tinnitus

  2. Amplification - Used to stimulate the ears and brain to reduce the contrast between the surrounding sounds and the Tinnitus

  3. Fractal Tones - Designed to provide relaxation and reduce stress

  4. Relaxation - Exercises designed for relaxation and sleep management

Tinnitus management is one of the many services we offer. If you have Tinnitus or are experiencing ringing, buzzing or humming in your ears, call us for a complimentary consultation. We're happy to discuss Tinnitus management options with you.