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!

Custom Ear Plugs Help Avoid Swimmer's Ear

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Has your child ever had swimmer's ear? If so, you know how painful it can be. Swimmer's ear, also known as acute external otitis or otitis externa, is an infection in the outer ear canal (running from your eardrum to the outside of your head). The most common cause of swimmer's ear is bacteria invading the skin inside your ear canal. It's often brought on by water that remains in your ear after swimming. Usually, you can treat swimmer's ear with eardrops, but it can wreak havoc on your fun summer plans if you have kids who love to be in the water. 

Ear plugs are a great way to prevent swimmer's ear; however, the trial-and-error process to determine which over-the-counter ones work and fit best can be quite frustrating for parents (and kids). Since this is our area of expertise and we've spent many years testing different products, we can help eliminate the guessing game. Our recommendation? The AquaSeal Custom Flotable Swim Plugs.

AquaSeal Custom Floatable Swim Plugs

These swim plugs are custom molded with easy-grip molded handles for placement and removal; include "right" and "left" markings; and are made with a soft, velvety silicone. Kids love them because they get to pick the color (or color(s) if they want the swirl option) to match their swimsuits, swim team, or just their fun personalities. Parents love them because they're bright (read: easy to find), they float (again, easy to find), and they keep ears perfectly clean and dry. With AquaSeal swim plugs, we simply take an impression of the ear (a quick, easy, and painless procedure), send off the impression with the color choice(s), and then the new ear plugs arrive 7-10 days later. 

If you're interested in scheduling an appointment or learning more, feel free to call us. Don't wait until the last minute; swim season is right around the corner!

Are You Living Your Potential?

May is Better Hearing Month and a good reminder to have your hearing checked to make sure you're not missing out on life's precious moments.

Here are some common signs that you or someone you know may be experiencing hearing loss:

  • Difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments (e.g. restaurants, cars)
  • Complaining that people seem to "mumble" all of the time
  • Responding to questions inappropriately
  • Asking family, friends, or colleagues to repeat themselves often
  • Having trouble hearing people who are in another room or not directly facing you
  • Having trouble following phone conversations
  • People complaining that your TV is turned up too loud
  • Experiencing a ringing, buzzing or hissing sound in your ears

Do any of these sound familiar? If so, please don't hesitate to contact us or an audiologist you trust to schedule a screening and learn more. Hearing impairment can drastically decrease your quality of life, or the quality of life of someone that you care about. 

If you're not sure whether to make that first call, you can complete our questionnaire, and we can contact you instead.

For more information about the different types of hearing loss, visit the Hearing Information pages of our web site. 

Rechargeable Hearing Aids: How ZPower is Changing the Landscape

Update: We now carry these in our Roanoke and Charlottesville (Crozet) offices. Call us to find out if you're eligible for this rechargeable battery upgrade. If you're in the market for a new pair of hearing aids, some manufacturers offer the ZPower batteries at no additional charge, as well as other incentives!

A new generation of rechargeable battery technologies has set out to make life easier for hearing aid consumers. The most common complaints we hear among hearing aid users relate to batteries: they fail at the most inconvenient times; they can be expensive to replace; and, they're bad for the environment.

Depending on the sophistication of your technology, such as streaming capabilities, they may only last a few days! According to a study of over 500 hearing aid users, 70 percent said they want rechargeable hearing aids, even though only 11 percent said they currently have them. Our "No More Batteries" blog post from last year continues to be our most-read post to date, so we know this is a topic that many of our patients are interested in learning more about.

The ZPower silver-zinc batteries are the latest to hit the market. ZPower is an independent battery company, which means its rechargeable batteries can be used instead of standard disposable batteries in many manufacturers' hearing aid models. This works by replacing the original battery compartment with ZPower’s retrofit battery compartment, which we can do right in our office.

Why ZPower?

ZPower’s silver-zinc rechargeable batteries offer hearing aid wearers 24-hours of use time—even with streaming technology. If you forget to charge the battery, you can replace the ZPower batteries with the standard disposable zinc-air batteries - they're interchangeable! Additionally, ZPower batteries are safe, 100% recyclable, mercury-free, and non-flammable. (Remember the recent lithium-ion Samsung phone recall? Lithium-ion batteries are used in many rechargeable hearing aid models and, therefore, have to be placed in sealed cases to ensure safety.) ZPower's proprietary silver-zinc battery technology also can be recharged hundreds of times without losing significant capacity. An extra bonus: they're made in the U.S.A. The silver-zinc technology was originally developed by NASA for its Apollo moon missions. 

What's Next?

The hearing aid industry is making vast strides with the introduction of new technologies every year. Looking to the near future, we should expect to see further developments from other major hearing aid manufactures and third-party companies. Battery life in hearing aids is getting shorter as technology improves. That's why we're so grateful that companies like ZPower are offering our patients more innovative solutions. 

We will continue to post about rechargeable hearing aid batteries as news of new products becomes available. In the meantime, feel free to call us for more information or ask about it at your next appointment. 

A Review: Pairing New Hearing Aids with My iPhone

I'm 40 years old and have worn hearing aids since my late 20s due to a (lucky me) hereditary hearing loss. I'm a working mom with an active lifestyle, so when it was time for a new pair of hearing aids, I immediately gravitated towards the new styles that would pair with my iPhone. I'm on the phone a lot during the day with my job and have numerous conference calls during the week, so having my calls stream directly through my hearing aids sounded ideal to me.

Hearing Health Associates allowed me to demo a pair of AGXO G-Series hearing aids and paired them with the RemoteLink app on my iPhone. After one week of testing these new hearing aids, I asked Dr. Cameron and Dr. Garber if I could share my experience. Hearing aids are a large investment, and I feel it's better to read personal reviews rather than the manufacturers' specs. 

Here are my top takeaways for those of you considering this investment:

1. Easy Setup - I was in and out of the office in about 15 minutes. I downloaded the app on my phone. Dr. Garber walked me through the steps of pairing the new hearing aids with the app. I watched a quick tutorial on how to use the app, and then Dr. Garber created two programs - one for every day use, and one that I call the "restaurant" program, which helps minimize noise in a loud space so you can hear the person/people you're talking to. That's it! I was ready to go!

2. My "Aha!" Moment: First Phone Call - I immediately left the office, got in the car, and called my husband. The clarity of his voice was reason enough to purchase these. It's comparable to wearing earbuds while talking on the phone - the sound is streaming through both ears - only there are no wires and no removing and inserting the hearing aids and earbuds. Prior to this, I would have a hard time talking on the phone, never knowing quite where to hold the phone for optimal listening. I often found myself putting it on speaker. 

The phone also rings in your ears, so you don't have to miss important calls. Note: I disconnected the Bluetooth on my phone if I didn't want to be disturbed. Also, you can mute the ringing on your hearing aids and on the phone if it's nearby.

Drawback: I have bluetooth in my car, and sometimes my phone would get confused - was it supposed to send calls to my hearing aids or to my car? There were times when a single conversation went back and forth between the two, which drove me a little crazy. After giving this feedback to Dr. Garber, she said you can set your iPhone so it defaults to the hearing aids. 

3. No More Earbuds! - I listened to music, podcasts, and my favorite shows on my phone without having to remove my hearing aids to use my earbuds. This also was a huge benefit to me.

Drawback: This took some getting used to when it came to my kids using my phone to play games or watch videos. The noise would suddenly blast through my hearing aids. I once jumped and yelled at dinner with friends because my youngest borrowed my phone and started playing YouTube videos upstairs. I had to remember to disconnect the Bluetooth before I gave my phone to the kids. I also put a password on my phone so they couldn't just grab it and use it without my permission.

4. A Heads Up on Battery Life - Another one of my favorite features was checking the life of my batteries through the app. If I was leaving the house for the day, I could see if I needed to bring backup batteries. I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in where my hearing aids start beeping, giving me a 5-minute warning that the battery was about to die. With this app, I was much better prepared.

5. Separate Volume Adjustment - I loved that I could adjust the volume of each hearing aid through the app. I was recently sitting beside someone VERY soft spoken on my right, so I just increased the volume in that hearing aid to hear her better. This way, you're not distracted by other noises in the room by having to increase the volume in both ears.

I also loved the overall volume feature when watching TV. Usually, I sit with the remote in my hands because I have to turn up the volume when people are conversing and turn it down during music, loud blasts or other noises. With the new hearing aids, I could make these adjustments from my phone and share the remote with my family again! I realize I could do that by pressing the buttons on my old hearing aids, but this was different somehow. Perhaps there is greater control of the volume levels? With my old ones, it just seemed easier to use the remote control. Note: There is a TV adaptor that you can purchase that allows the TV to stream through your hearing aids like your phone. I didn't test this, but it sounds great!

6. Discreet Adjustments - Changes to volume, settings, and more is just a quick swipe on your phone. No more reaching up behind your ear to click on buttons only to find that you clicked the wrong one so you have to reach up again. The app is super easy to use, and people think nothing of you having your phone out.

Overall, I loved just about every aspect and am definitely purchasing these. The biggest learning curve was remembering to turn off the bluetooth during meetings or social settings, in the car (if I just wanted to use my car bluetooth), and when my kids used my phone. It's similar to turning off the ringer on your phone - you just have to train your brain so that it becomes second nature. I'm also hoping the app gets updated so I can make more specific adjustments, like directional adjustments for the microphone or increases in volume for certain difficult-to-hear pitches. 

Drs. Garber and Cameron at Hearing Health Associates have been wonderful during this journey. They constantly keep me up to date with the latest technologies since they know that's important to me. 

Feel free to leave comments or questions. Hope this helped some of you who have been thinking of updating or making the jump to hearing aids.

Nutrition and Hearing: Top Foods to Consume and Avoid

You're probably aware that certain foods can help with vision (carrots, anyone?), but nutrition also affects your hearing. In celebration of March as National Nutrition Month, we've compiled a list of foods and nutrients that can help improve your hearing, as well as a list of foods that can have a negative impact.

Consume More:

  1. Vitamin B12, contained in meat, eggs, poultry, dairy products, and other foods from animals. Strict vegetarians and vegans are at high risk for developing a B12 deficiency, which can affect your balance, among many other things. This is especially important for those of you with Tinnitus and Balance Disorder.
  2. Folate/Folic Acid/Vitamin B9, found in spinach, bok choy, romaine, asparagus, turnip greens, broccoli, and beans (especially lentils and garbanzo beans). Folate has been shown to improve Tinnitus, as well as sudden and age-related hearing loss, although more testing is needed. Folate helps increase circulation, improving blood flow to the inner ear.
  3. Omega 3s, found in many fish (most notably salmon), walnuts, and flax and chia seeds. A 2014 study showed that regular consumption of fish (2 or more servings/week) was associated with a lower risk of hearing loss in women. 
  4. Magnesium, included in fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, artichokes, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes and broccoli. Magnesium helps combat free radicals and acts as a protective barrier for the delicate hair cells in the inner ear. University of Michigan researchers found that this nutrient, combined with Vitamins A, C & E, helps prevent noise-induced hearing loss by blocking the creation of free radicals. 
  5. Zinc, found in protein-rich foods like oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, tahini (ground sesame seeds), cashews, almonds, spinach, and dark chocolate. Zinc has shown to improve sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) — a sudden, unexplained loss of hearing. Zinc boosts the body’s immune system and is also responsible for cell growth and healing, so it’s potentially helpful in warding off ear infections. Some studies suggest it’s also effective in treating tinnitus in individuals with normal hearing.
  6. Potassium, found in bananas, potatoes, spinach, lima beans, tomatoes, raisins, apricots, melons, oranges, yogurt and low-fat milk. Potassium is responsible for regulating the amount of fluid in your blood and body tissue. That’s important to your hearing health because fluid in the inner ear is dependent upon a rich supply of potassium, especially in that part of the ear that translates the noises we hear into electrical impulses the brain interprets as sound.

Studies have shown that a deficiency in nutrients, such as B12 and folic acid, can impair hearing by as much as 39%, while increasing these nutrients can protect hearing by as much as 20%. Folic acid deficiency specifically has been linked with high-frequency hearing loss. Much of this damage is due to free radicals. Antioxidants like B12, folic acid, Omega 3s, and vitamin A are all important because they help fight off damaging free radicals. Here is a good webmd.com article about antioxidants and free radicals.

Avoid or Consume Less:

  1. Vegetable oils, as they contain too many Omega 6 fatty acids. Instead, use EVOO or Canola oil, which are rich in Omega 3s. 
  2. Margarine/Partially Hydrogenated Oils found mostly in processed foods 
  3. High fat meats, especially those treated with nitrates/nitrites (preservatives)
  4. Whole/2% milk - use a dairy substitute such as almond, rice, or coconut milk
  5. Cream cheese - replace with goat cheese or part skim organic ricotta
  6. Processed cheeses, such as American - opt for organic/grass-fed hard cheese 
  7. Sugar and artificial sweeteners - limit these or replace with Stevia, honey, or real maple syrup
  8. Refined carbohydrates - These include white breads, pasta, and any foods containing “enriched” flour, which means nutrients have been removed from the grain 
  9. Sodium - We need it in small quantities, but you should maintain a higher ratio of potassium to sodium. Packaged and processed foods have WAY too much sodium.
  10. Chemicals/pesticides - Wash your produce! Buy organic when you can. Here is a list of EWG's 2017 "Dirty Dozen," the produce with the highest pesticide residue, as well as the "Clean Fifteen," with the lowest.

As a general rule for foods to avoid, eat food the way it was meant to be eaten. Food doesn't grow in a box, so don't buy it that way! Use herbs instead of heavy sauces and creams for added flavor. 

As always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions! Happy eating!

What Can Our Hearing Tell About Our Hearts?

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February is American Heart Month, and we'd like to take a moment to discuss the link between cardiovascular health and hearing health. As it turns out, our ears may actually be listening to our hearts.

Research suggests hearing loss may be an early sign of cardiovascular disease, especially in seemingly healthy middle-aged people. An analysis of 84 years of work from scientists worldwide confirmed a direct link between cardiovascular health and the ability to hear. This occurs because our auditory system is dependent on an oxygen-rich blood flow, which can be restricted if cardiovascular health issues are present.

David R. Friedland, MD, PhD, Professor and Vice-Chair of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, suggests that patients with low-frequency hearing loss, particularly those who are middle-aged, should seek appropriate cardiology referrals. He states, “The inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it is possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body.”

The link between hearing health and cardiovascular health is strong. As we know, hearing loss is often accompanied by other health conditions, so this particular link is no surprise. Are ears the windows to our overall health? What do you think?

The full article referenced above can be found on the Better Hearing Institute's website by clicking here

For more information about American Heart Month and cardiovascular health, visit the American Heart Association's website

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

Ear Infections, Hearing Loss, and Speech Development

What is Otitis Media?

Otitis media, also simply referred to as a middle ear infection, is inflammation in the middle ear (the area behind the eardrum) that is usually associated with the buildup of fluid. When infection occurs, the condition is called "acute otitis media." This is when a cold, allergy, or upper respiratory infection, and the presence of bacteria or viruses, lead to the accumulation of pus and mucus behind the eardrum, blocking the Eustachian tube (the tube from the back of the ear to the mouth). Fluid can remain in the ear for weeks to many months. 

Otitis media is the most frequently diagnosed disease in infants and young children.

75% of children experience at least one episode of otitis media
by their third birthday.
Almost 1/2 of these children will have
three or more ear infections during their first 3 years of life.

Why is Otitis Media So Common in Children?

Children are more susceptible to ear infections because of the location of their ear canal. Until the age of 6 or 7 years, a child’s Eustachian tube is small and horizontal, making it susceptible to fluid build-up and blockages due to large adenoids and infections. As the skull matures and grows, the Eustachian tube becomes more vertical in position and more natural drainage takes place.

Otitis Media and Hearing Loss

All children with middle ear infection or fluid have some degree of hearing loss. Generally, the type of hearing loss associated with ear infections is temporary. 

The average hearing loss in ears with fluid is 24 decibels (the level of a very soft whisper). At this level of hearing loss, soft sounds, such as "S" and "Sh" may not be heard. Thicker fluid can cause much more loss, up to 45 decibels (the range of conversational speech).

Hearing loss becomes a bigger issue when otitis media occurs over and over again, and damage to the eardrum, bones of the ear, or even the hearing nerve can occur and cause a more permanent, sensorineural hearing loss.

Otitis Media and Speech Development

Essentially, a child experiencing hearing loss from middle ear infections will hear muffled sounds and misunderstand speech rather than incur a complete hearing loss. Even so, the consequences can be significant.

Communication development is at its peak from 12 months through four years of age. Children learn speech and language from listening to other people talk. Fluctuating hearing loss during that time interferes with learning speech and language. Similar words may sound the same. They may not hear final consonants, past tense, and plural word endings. Therefore, they may not learn how to say words properly. 

Otitis media without infection presents a special problem because symptoms of pain and fever are usually not present. Therefore, weeks and even months can go by before parents suspect a problem. During this time, the child may miss out on some of the information that can influence speech and language development, especially during the formative preschool years.

When to Seek Help

Ear infections require immediate attention, most likely from a pediatrician or otolaryngologist (ear doctor). If your child has frequently recurring infections and/or chronic fluid in the middle ear, additional specialists, such as an audiologist or speech-language pathologist, should be consulted.

Children experiencing recurring ear infections or fluid build-up should be closely monitored for any signs of speech and language delay. It has been reported that 1/3 of children receiving therapy for speech and language delay have a reported history of recurrent ear infections. Prevention, early recognition, and treatment of ear infections is important.

If you have any questions, wish to speak with Dr. Cameron and/or Dr. Garber about your concerns, or wish to make an appointment to have your child tested for hearing loss, please contact us.