Casting a Spotlight on Deafness

Photo Credit: New Renaissance Film Festival, London

Photo Credit: New Renaissance Film Festival, London

The Silent Child, a short film about a deaf child named Libby (Maisie Sly), has helped bring deafness into the spotlight. In the film, 4-year-old Libby has two hearing parents who have limited knowledge about the disability. A social worker (Rachel Shenton) comes along and teaches Libby sign language, which leads to a transformation in her behavior and happiness as she feels more connected to the world. The film has received many awards and accolades; however, it's up for its biggest award on March 4. The Silent Child was nominated for an Oscar for the "Live Action Short Film" category.

Rachel Shenton is also the writer of the film. On the film's website, she says she was inspired by her father, who suddenly and profoundly lost his hearing when she was 12 years old. Rachel saw the impact his hearing loss had on him and her family. She learned sign language as a result.

Rachel, along with inspirational deaf artists like Marlee Matlin and Nyle DiMarco, are helping to raise awareness of and changes for the deaf community. 

Rachel is focusing her efforts on children. According to her,

 

"90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents with no experience of deafness often resulting in limited communication between the parent and child, meaning a child can start school with little to no communication skills. Since the closure of almost all deaf schools, deaf children now have to attend mainstream school and shockingly over 78% of deaf children attend mainstream school with no specialised support in place. This is heavily reflected in their grades as well as their mental health and well being.

Deafness is a silent disability, you can’t see it and it’s not life threatening so it’s easy for it to slip under your radar. We hope this movie helps to get sign language recognised in schools and give a voice to all the silent children around the world."

 

Nyle DiMarco, who is currently starring in the TV show This Close (Hollywood's first-ever series to feature deaf writers, producers, and creators) and producing Children of a Lesser God on Broadway, tweeted recently about the much-deserved recognition deaf actors and films are receiving in Hollywood:

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Nyle has a foundation dedicated to "making the world a better place for deaf people and their families."

We're grateful for people like Rachel, Nyle and Marlee (who needs no introduction) for using their influence to help shed light on and support the deaf community. 

If you're on Twitter, be sure to follow Nyle DiMarco, Rachel Shenton, and Marlee Matlin to hear more about their work and their efforts. 

Research Watch: First-In-Human Safety Study for Hearing Restoration

Image credit: University of Virginia Health System

Image credit: University of Virginia Health System

The loss of inner ear hair cells is the most common cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Once damaged (due to loud noises, trauma, aging and other factors), these hair cells cannot grow back, which causes permanent hearing loss. U.S.-based biotech company Frequency Therapeutics is trying to change that. Last month, the 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.

FX-322 previously worked at restoring hearing in animals. This first-in-human study was to prove the safety and tolerability of it. Nine adults with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss who were scheduled to receive a cochlear implant in the 24 hours following receiving FX-322 were enrolled in the study. The success of this trial means that future trials may take place in patients with moderate hearing loss who are not candidates for the cochlear implant and whose hearing can be studied over time. 

You can read more about this study here. We're unsure of the timeframe - it could be years - but we're encouraged for our patients about the research taking place. 

Restaurants Helping Those with Hearing Loss

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Restaurant Week is in full swing! Many look forward to this week to get out in the community, support local businesses, and sample their way through town. But for those with hearing challenges, the noisy restaurant setting can present difficulties. 

Restaurants in Baltimore are working to change this. Several participated in the Hearing Hospitality Initiative in preparation for Baltimore Restaurant Week. This initiative involved training and providing resources and tips to servers and other restaurant staff to help patrons who suffer from hearing loss. Areas covered in the training included body language, seating, and tips for taking orders and reservations. HASA is the organization leading this program. According to its website, "because 33% of adults over the age of 65 and half of adults over the age of 75 are hard of hearing, there are a large number of guests in a restaurant at any given time who could benefit from an enhanced environment."

Kudos to HASA and those restaurants participating in this initiative. What a great example; we hope many others follow.

Read more about this initiative from the CBS affiliate in Baltimore. We also encourage you to share this information with some of your favorite local restaurants!

Top Five Hearing Health Blog Posts of 2017

Each month, our blog focuses on the latest research, technology and innovation, and other important industry findings that we capture and share. As we get ready to welcome 2018, here are our top five most popular blog posts of 2017 for a quick year-at-a-glance. 


#1. No More Batteries! Introducing Rechargeable Hearing Aids

Although this post appeared just slightly more than a year ago, it continues to be the #1 most visited post on our site. It offered a round up of the latest hearing aids (as of November 2016) with rechargeable batteries. 


#2: Tinnitus or "Ringing in the Ears"

Our second most popular post was featured in August 2017 and focused on the definition, causes, and management of Tinnitus.


#3: Nutrition and Hearing: Top Foods to Consume and Avoid

Featured in March as part of Nutrition Month, our third top blog post focused on foods and nutrients that can have positive and negative impacts on your hearing health. 


#4: Hearing Aid Guide: Which Fit is Best for You?

This was the first post of 2017 and highlighted the various hearing aid styles, as well as pros and cons of each.


#5: Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Our fifth most popular blog post of 2017 focused on the definition, causes, and treatments of Eustachian Tube Dysfunction. 


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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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.