Hear the Ring of the New Year

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Most of us see the start of the New Year as a fresh beginning. Many of us take time at this point in the year to set resolutions to improve our health and wellbeing - breaking bad habits, eating healthier, exercising more, and focusing on things that bring us joy. As several of our blog posts have focused on in the past, hearing is closely linked to physical and mental health, including cardiovascular health, high blood pressure, balance, dementia, and feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety and social isolation. As you prepare to ring in 2018, consider making hearing health a priority this year:

1. Schedule an appointment.

If you've experienced any of the signs of hearing loss or feel that hearing is negatively impacting your life in any way, make an appointment with an audiologist or your practitioner. Regular hearing exams can detect even the smallest changes in your hearing. The earlier these changes are detected, the better the outcome. If hearing loss is determined, you and your audiologist can find a solution that will almost immediately help improve your life. 

2. Get a tune-up.

If you are a hearing aid wearer, regularly scheduled tune-ups and professional cleanings are just as important as the initial hearing exam. Even the slightest bit of wax buildup or moisture or can impair your hearing aid's performance. Your audiologist can check to ensure your hearing aids are performing at their optimal level.

3. Inquire about the latest assistive listening devices and technologies.

Do you struggle to hear during certain times of the day, such as when you’re watching TV or in a group atmosphere? How well do you hear on the phone? If you have difficulties with certain electronics or in certain environments, a wide range of assistive listening devices and new technologies are available to help fill in the gaps where your ears fail. These range from TV adapters to bluetooth smartphone devices to hearing aids that pair with iPhones. Ask your audiologist for these types of solutions to help improve your hearing health.

We hope this list has given you some ideas on how to maintain and improve your hearing health in the New Year. We wish you all happiness and good health in 2018. 

Hear the Joy of the Holidays

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The holiday season is right around the corner! For many, holidays are a time for family gatherings and celebrations. However, large social gatherings are one of the most difficult environments for someone with hearing loss. Not being able to hear or engage in conversations can feel very isolating.

Statistics show that 50% of us will have someone with hearing loss at our holiday table. Thirty percent of holiday gatherings will include someone with hearing aids. 

There are simple steps everyone can take - those with hearing loss and their friends/family members - to make sure the upcoming festivities are enjoyed by all. We've included some helpful tips below.

For Friends/Family of Someone with Hearing Loss:

1.     Reduce or eliminate background noises in the main gathering space, such as music or the TV.

2.     Remove or minimize obstacles that interfere with a person’s ability to lip read, such as dim lighting and large centerpieces.

3.     Ask your friend/family member where they’d like to sit. Seat them beside someone who will help them navigate conversations.

4.     If asked to repeat yourself, consider rephrasing what you just said. Oftentimes, those with hearing loss have difficulty hearing a particular word or or deciphering a sound of speech. 

5.     When speaking to someone with hearing loss, stay close. It's often a good idea to touch their arm or shoulder before you speak to get their attention. Face them in case they need to read your lips.

Tips for Those with Hearing Loss

1.     Choose a place at the table that is best for you. If seating has been pre-determined, ask the host if you can re-arrange yours.

2.     Sit beside someone who is your advocate; someone who will repeat things for you if necessary and be patient with you.

3.     Too much background noise? Move the conversation to a quieter room, if possible.

4.     If the music or TV is too loud, ask the host to turn it down. Be polite, but assertive. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. 

5.     If you have hearing aids, wear them! You can always make adjustments to volume or settings if needed. 

Most importantly, we hope everyone enjoys this holiday season surrounded by those you care about most. Sending all of you our best holiday wishes. 

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: Definition, Symptoms and Treatments

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What is an Eustachian Tube?

The Eustachian tube is a narrow tube connecting the back of the nose and the middle ear. Normally, the tube is filled with air and opens when we yawn, swallow or chew. It functions to protect the middle ear from pathogens; to ventilate the middle ear, which allows the eardrum to work and vibrate properly; and, to help drain mucus from the middle ear.

What is Eustachian Tube Dysfunction?

Chronic blockage of the Eustachian tube is called Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD). This can occur from inflammation of the mucous membranes from allergies or a sinus, nose or ear infection, or excessive lymphoid tissue around the tube. In some cases, the Eustachian tube just does not open or close properly. Young children (especially ages 1 to 6 years) are at particular risk because they have very narrow Eustachian tubes. Also, enlarged adenoids can block the opening of the Eustachian tube.

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. Long-term ETD has been associated with damage to the middle ear and the eardrum from fluid buildup. If bacteria contaminates this fluid, a middle ear infection occurs. If chronic ETD remains untreated, it can lead to hearing loss.

Treatment of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Blocked Eustachian tubes can be relieved by nasal sprays, decongestants and antihistamines, which reduce inflammation and congestion. Medications or shots that treat allergies may also help. People can also relieve pressure by pinching their noses and "popping their ears," although this is not recommended if a cold or sinus infection is present because it can drive mucus into the middle ear and cause an ear infection. Recurrent Eustachian Tube Dysfunction requires the surgical placement of ear tubes, which allow pressure to equalize in the middle ear.

If you have experienced symptoms of ETD, contact our office or consult with your physician.

Child Health Day: Early Signs of Hearing Loss

Photo Courtesy of Today Show

Photo Courtesy of Today Show

Hearing loss in infants is a hidden disability. Infants can't express themselves or alert parents that there is a problem. That's why it's important for parents to understand and look for signs of hearing loss. Some of these include:

Newborn/Infant:

  • Not startling or awakening at loud noises (0-3 months)
  • Not calming at familiar voices (0-3 months)
  • Not responding (smiling, cooing) to your voice when spoken to (4-6 months)
  • Not turning toward sounds (4-9 months)
  • Not showing normal babbling development (4-9 months)

Baby/Toddler:

  • Not babbling different voices (9-15 months)
  • Not responding to his/her name (9-15 months)
  • Not responding to changes in your tone of voice (9-15 months)
  • Not repeating some sounds you make (9-15 months)

Regardless if your infant is showing signs of hearing loss, we hope that parents take advantage of our free hearing screenings next Tuesday in Crozet. The procedure is quick and painless for infants and provides peace of mind for parents. It's a win-win! 

More information about infant and childhood hearing loss can be found here on our web site. 

Meniere's Disease

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What is Meniere's Disease?

Named after French physician Prosper Meniere after he experienced this condition in the 1800s, Ménière’s Disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes severe dizziness (vertigo), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear. 

Meniere's Disease is caused by the buildup of fluid in the compartments of the inner ear, called the labyrinth. The labyrinth contains the organs of balance (the semicircular canals and otolithic organs) and hearing (the cochlea). When it fills with fluid, it interferes with the normal balance and hearing signals between the inner ear and brain. This interference causes vertigo, tinnitus, and other symptoms. 

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A Meniere's episode generally involves severe vertigo, imbalance, nausea, and vomiting, and may come on suddenly or after a short period of tinnitus, hearing fluctuations, or "fullness" in the ear. A sudden fall without warning, called "drop attacks," may also occur if patients feel they are tilted or off balance (although they are standing straight). These episodes of vertigo can last anywhere from 2-4 hours and are usually followed by extreme fatigue. There may be no other symptoms between these attacks, which can be years apart, although hearing loss tends to get progressively worse with time. 

Ménière’s disease can develop at any age, but it is more likely to happen to adults between 40 and 60 years of age.

Causes of Meniere's Disease

Although still relatively unknown, Meniere's Disease is often associated with autoimmune disease, head injuries, allergies, viral infection, and genetics. 

Meniere’s Disease and Hearing Loss

Hearing loss associated with Meniere’s disease usually affects low frequencies and is present in one ear. Hearing tends to decline during an attack and improve after an attack. In the initial stages of the disease, hearing may be normal between attacks. As the disease progresses, however, hearing can permanently decrease in the low frequencies and eventually extend to all frequencies. Hearing loss associated with Meniere’s disease is a “sensorineural” hearing loss, meaning that it is the nerve endings that are affected. In most cases, a sensorineural hearing loss entails permanent loss; a fluctuating sensorineural hearing loss is unusual and a strong indicator of Meniere’s disease. 

Diagnosing Meniere's Disease

Diagnosing Meniere's Disease can be difficult. Often, other conditions need to be considered and ruled out, as there are many conditions that can cause symptoms of vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss. Diagnosing Meniere's involves looking closely at the symptoms and conducting a hearing test to document hearing loss after an attack. It may also include an ENG test to measure eye movement, blood tests, or a MRI. 

Treatment of Meniere’s Disease

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Meniere’s disease, nor is there any one treatment that covers all cases. Treatments may include reducing salt, caffeine, processed foods, alcohol and nicotine in your diet; medications, such as diuretics, vestibular suppressants, steroids, and immune system suppressants; and, surgery for extreme cases. If permanent hearing loss is detected, it can be treated with hearing aid technologies.

It is important to note that Meniere's Disease should not be self-diagnosed or self-treated. If you are experiencing symptoms similar to Meniere's, please seek the care of a medical professional, such as your primary physician, audiologist, or ENT specialist. 

Tinnitus or "Ringing in the Ears"

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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.

In general, there are two types of Tinnitus:

  1. Subjective Tinnitus: Noises perceived by the patient only. This type of Tinnitus primarily results from auditory and neurological reactions to hearing loss, but it can also be caused by other health conditions. More than 99% of cases reported are subjective.
  2. Objective Tinnitus: Noises that can be heard by the patient, as well as others. These noises typically are produced by blood flow or the body's musculoskeletal systems. 

CAUSES OF TINNITUS

Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying health condition; it's not a health disorder. It can be temporary or ongoing and is usually a reaction in the brain to damage in the ear and auditory system. Although there are many health disorders that cause Tinnitus, here are some of the most common:

  1. Hearing Loss - This is the most common cause of Tinnitus, whether it's age-related or noise-induced hearing loss. 
  2. Obstructions in the Outer and Middle Ear - Excessive ear wax, fluid, congestion, or foreign objects
  3. Head and Neck Trauma
  4. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder - Damage to the muscles, ligaments or cartilage of the TMJ, where the lower jaw connects to the skull in front of the ears
  5. Sinus Pressure
  6. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) - One of the major causes of Tinnitus among our military and veterans.
  7. Ototoxic Drugs, including Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), certain antibiotics, cancer medications and diuretics. In some cases, stopping the medication will cause the Tinnitus symptoms to improve; however, this is a decision that must be made with a medical professional.
  8. Certain Medical Conditions, such as Hypo- and Hyperthyroidism, Anemia, Lyme's Disease, Fibromyalgia, High Blood Pressure, Depression, Anxiety and Ménière's Disease

TINNITUS MANAGEMENT

We use the word "management" because, unfortunately, there is currently no scientific cure for most types of Tinnitus. However, there are good, well-established tools and treatments that can significantly reduce the burden. Our most effective method is working with patients to identify an underlying health disorder to treat. This could be as simple as removing excess earwax, treating an ear infection, changing medications, or fitting patients with hearing aids if hearing loss is detected.

If you are experiencing Tinnitus, please feel free to give us a call. We will be happy to consult with you and determine the next steps. In the meantime, it may help for you to read from others who have lived with Tinnitus (including William Shatner) so you understand you are not in this alone. 

How to Talk to Your Doctor: Choosing the Right Hearing Aids for You

If you're reading this post, hopefully you've already familiarized yourself with how to talk to your doctor about hearing loss. This is Part 2 of our "How to Talk to Your Doctor" series and will focus on the conversations following the initial hearing screening, after it has been determined that your level of hearing loss requires support from hearing aid technologies. 

First, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the various hearing aid options. There are in-the-ear, behind-the-ear, rechargeable-battery, iPhone-compatible, and many more hearing aid options from which to choose. Make a list of what is most important to you from a hearing aid perspective. Here are some things to consider:

  • How active is your lifestyle? Do you spend most of your days in a quiet or more social setting? Are you just trying to hear the TV better, or do you need to actively participate in group conversations? This will help you decide which features will work best with your lifestyle, such as noise reduction, directional microphones, wireless technologies, additional programming, and more.
  • How often are you on the phone? If your answer is "often," you should consider the iPhone/mobile phone compatible hearing aids. 
  • How important is discreetness? Hearing aids vary in discreetness, ranging from the most discreet completely-in-the-canal options to less discreet behind-the-ear technologies. Of course, each type also has its pros and cons. Be sure to discuss these with your audiologist.
  • Do you have a budget? Hearing aids also vary in costs, so it's important to discuss your personal budget with your audiologist when deciding which technology is best for you.
  • Are rechargeable batteries important? The latest hearing aid technologies offer rechargeable battery options. This is an important consideration from environmental, maintenance and cost perspectives. 
  • Can you take the hearing aid for a test drive? Hearing aids are an important investment. Before settling on a final option, ask if you can take them for a test drive. Even if it's not exactly the hearing aid you plan to order, it will give you a good idea of what you can expect and will help you prioritize features and programs. You can read one of our patient's reviews after a demo with the iPhone-compatible hearing aids. 

Finally, find a reputable, local audiologist. During the first few months, you'll be getting used to your hearing aids and will probably have many questions or will need to visit the office for minor adjustments. This is why it's important to find a local audiologist that you trust. It's also the reason we recommend against buying something as important as hearing aids online. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to your hearing. You'll need to work with your audiologist until you find the best solution for your hearing loss and lifestyle needs.

 

Protect Your Ears From Loud Summer Sounds

Crozet, VA, Fireworks. Photo credit: M.C. Andrews Photography

Crozet, VA, Fireworks. Photo credit: M.C. Andrews Photography

For many of us, Summer sounds are pleasant and nostalgic. Crickets chirping, children splashing in the pool, the ocean, and campfires crackling are some common sounds associated with fond Summer memories. But, some of the most harmful sounds to your ears are also associated with this season: fireworks, lawnmowers, power tools, and outdoor concerts are among the loudest. 

More than 26 million Americans ages 20-69 have noise-induced hearing loss. This is caused by damage to the hair cells that are found in our inner ear. Hair cells are small sensory cells that convert the sounds we hear (sound energy) into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged, our hair cells cannot grow back, causing permanent hearing loss. 

HOW LOUD IS TOO LOUD?

The loudness of sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by prolonged exposure to any noise louder than 85 dB, or by a one-time, intense exposure to a noise like an explosion. ƒHealth experts recommend protecting your hearing when exposed to:

  • Noises louder than 100 dB for more than 15 minutes
  • Brief, one-time noises of 120 dB (for children) and 140 dB for adults

To help you understand when it's appropriate to protect your ears, we've created the infographic below. 

If you hear ringing, buzzing or experience temporary hearing loss when operating machinery, leaving work, or following a concert, hearing protection is crucial. Parents - if you can hear sounds from your child's headphones or earbuds while standing next to them, the volume is too loud.

If you're constantly exposed to noises over 85dB at work or home, please contact us. We provide many types of hearing protection and can work with you to find the best solution. If you think you're experiencing noise-induced hearing loss, call us for an appointment. We provide hearing evaluations and carry the latest in hearing technologies.

We wish you all a happy, healthy Summer. And, please remember to protect your ears!

How to Talk to Your Doctor About Hearing Loss: The Initial Appointment

Dr. Douglas Cameron, Hearing Health Associates Roanoke

Dr. Douglas Cameron, Hearing Health Associates Roanoke

Because we know that hearing plays such an important role in our overall wellbeing, it's important to be aware of the signs of hearing loss and consult a doctor as soon as those first signs appear. 

During the initial appointment, you'll want to address:

  1. Any family history of hearing loss.
  2. Medications you take or have taken in the past. Some medications can increase the risk of hearing loss.
  3. Health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.
  4. Frequent exposure to noise on the job or during everyday activities.
  5. Your symptoms. It's especially important to provide as many details and scenarios as possible. In fact, leading up to the appointment, it's a good idea to document those exact moments when you're having a difficult time hearing. Was it during a social gathering? Is it during conversations with men? Women? On the phone? The more details you can provide, the better.

If your initial appointment is with a general practitioner, ask them to either provide a baseline hearing screening or refer you to an audiologist for a more comprehensive screening. You also can check with your provider to see if you need a referral. If not, you can make an appointment directly with an audiologist. 

If you receive a hearing screening from an audiologist, ask that those results be shared with your general practitioner. This way, everyone is familiar with the extent of your hearing loss.

If you're not sure whether to make that first appointment, take our online Hearing Questionnaire. We'll contact you with your results and make recommendations about whether an appointment is necessary.

Our next blog post will focus on talking to your doctor about hearing aids. Stay tuned!