Your Back-to-School Hearing Health Checklist

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With back-to-school season heading your direction, we’re sure you have gathered many lists of supplies, like notebooks, pencils, and crayons that your child needs for school. While those are important for your child to learn their best, it’s also important that you consider what your child may need to either prevent hearing loss or help if they are already experiencing it.

Here is a quick list of some hearing health supplies for your child’s return to school:

  1. Written instructions/notebook with important information. If your child is already experiencing some hearing loss, wears a cochlear implant, or has a hearing aid, it can be vital to provide teachers and faculty/administrators with instructions on how your child’s device works and what to do in case it stops working. You can also provide instructions for ways to communicate with your child in case of emergencies – especially if you aren’t able to reach the school in time – or request specific seating for your child in the classroom.

  2. Hearing aid/cochlear implant accessories. Provide your child’s teacher with extra batteries, a dry kit, and cord clips for your child’s device, as well as instructions on how these items work. This will ensure there is already a backup plan in case anything happens to your child’s device during the school day.

  3. Noise cancelling headphones. To prevent hearing loss, you should discuss noise and music level with your child before they use their music devices. However, you can also make sure they wear noise cancelling headphones, instead of earbuds, in order to protect their hearing from elevated conversations and road noise while riding the bus. Your child can also wear these in other scenarios, like recess or music class if the environment is too loud.

  4. Hearing protection for sports. If your child is at the age to participate in contact sports or recess outside, you may want to get them ear protection for those times. A strong blow to the ear from a ball, hand, or other object can cause permanent damage to their ear drum and, ultimately, hearing loss. Wearing the proper protection can help prevent this from happening. If your child also participates in swimming during school hours, consider swimming ear plugs.

Be sure to speak with your child’s teachers often to ensure their devices have been working properly in the classroom and to make sure they’re in the best learning environment with respect to their hearing health.

Click here for more information on protecting your child’s hearing and here for signs of childhood hearing loss. If you believe your child may be experiencing hearing loss, sign your child up for a free hearing screening.

Middle Schooler Shows Hand Dryers Can Cause Hearing Loss

Nora Keegan, picture from  CBC news  via David Keegan.

Nora Keegan, picture from CBC news via David Keegan.

We’re gearing up for back-to-school season at Hearing Health Associates and want to help you protect your child’s hearing and make sure they learn their best at school. While steps can easily be taken to prevent hearing loss at home, we enjoyed reading this article about a 13-year-old girl who took her hearing health at school into her own hands.

Middle schooler Nora Keegan was curious about the hand dryers in her school system and wondered if they were possibly damaging her hearing or her peers’ hearing. She wanted to study this topic when she saw her fellow classmates holding their ears while trying to dry their hands and said that hand dryers hurt her ears, as well. She eventually decided to do a scientific study, and her findings were published in a scientific journal called Pediatrics & Child Health.

Nora’s study questioned whether or not hand dryers pose a risk to ear health, particularly in children. The study ended up proving that hand dryers can cause hearing loss because they operate at levels that are far louder than recommended, especially at a child’s height.

You can find more information about Nora Keegan and read her full findings here. We hope that schools pay close attention to Nora’s study and take appropriate measures to protect students’ hearing.

Protecting Your Ears From the Sounds of Summer

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Some of the best summer sounds, can also be the most harmful: sports games, fireworks, outdoor concerts. However, rather than avoiding these sounds, you can still have fun while protecting your ears! Keep reading to find out how and when you should protect your ears this summer.

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. Health 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. 

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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, you can set up a complimentary screening here.

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

It's Swimming Season: Tips to Avoid Swimmer's Ear

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If your child spends most of their summer days in the water, you've likely seen how painful swimmer's ear 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 is bacteria invading the skin inside your ear canal. It's often brought on by water that remains in your ear after swimming. 

The best way to reduce the chances of getting swimmer’s ear is to take some easy precautions:

  • Dry ears with a towel after swimming

  • Tilt your head to each side to allow any excess water to drain

  • Don’t insert anything into ears, and especially avoid the use of cotton swabs to clean ears

  • Use a hairdryer on the lowest setting to help alleviate moisture in the ear

  • Use ear plugs or a swim cap when swimming, especially in a river or lake

Ear plugs are the preferred way to prevent swimmer's ear; however, the process to determine which over-the-counter ones work and fit best can be quite frustrating for everyone involved. We've spent years testing different products and have taken the guess work out of it for you. Our #1 recommendation is 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 choose a color (or color(s)) to match their swimsuits, swim team, or simply their fun personalities. Parents love them because they're easy to spot and they float, which makes them hard to lose and easy to find if they do get misplaced. They also keep children’s ears dry and clean while swimming. 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 selections, 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 here!

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