Hearing Health

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.

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.

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.

NPR: Take Care of Your Eyes and Ears to Keep Your Brain Sharp

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We’ve published several blog posts discussing the relationship between the brain and ears. A recent story on NPR (National Public Radio) shared research findings that further link hearing (and sight) to cognitive functioning. Researchers tracked approximately 2,000 older adults in the U.S. both before and after they started using hearing aids. A series of tests were performed with participants every two years from 1996 to 2014. They found the rate of cognitive decline was slowed by 75 percent following the adoption of hearing aids. The same study found that the rate of cognitive decline was slowed by 50 percent following cataract surgery. You can read the full article here. Our takeaway? We understand no one wants hearing aids, but it’s proven that hearing better improves your quality of life, both physically and mentally.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, read our July 2018 blog post, How Untreated Hearing Loss Affects Your Mental Health. It provides more details about the relationship between the ears and the brain and how untreated hearing loss affects the brain’s ability to remember common everyday sounds.

National Audiology Awareness Month

How is your hearing? That’s the question the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) wants you to focus on this month.

The AAA established October as National Audiology Awareness Month to encourage people to remember how important your hearing is to your daily life, along with encouraging hearing screenings and hearing protection.

The statistics on hearing loss are shocking, with 36 million Americans suffering from some degree of hearing loss. Even more staggering is the average amount of time a person with hearing loss waits to seek treatment after noticing a problem - between seven to 10 years. In that time, hearing can not only worsen significantly, but can cause a variety of health and psychological problems, such as depression, social isolation and balance disorders.

Take this month to focus on your hearing. Schedule an appointment with an audiologist to get a hearing screening. If you notice signs of hearing loss in someone close to you, our most recent blog post focused on how to start that conversation.

How Untreated Hearing Loss Affects Your Mental Health

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It is widely known that hearing loss affects your quality of life. We've blogged in the past about how hearing loss is connected with depression, social isolation, balance disorders, and fatigue. What isn't as well known is that untreated hearing loss affects the brain's ability to remember common everyday sounds. When the hearing nerves lose their function and no longer send sounds to the brain, the brain "forgets" the sounds and is unable to understand them over time. The longer people wait to seek treatment, the more sounds will be unrecognizable once treatment is sought. 

Contrary to popular belief, we hear mostly with our brains, not our ears. There is a specific area of the brain (Wernicke's area) whose sole purpose is to decipher and make sense of the sound it receives from your ears. The brain stores sounds and noises for up to three years. On average, it takes people with hearing loss 10 years to seek treatment. Waiting this long means that even hearing aids may not be able to make the brain understand the noises it's hearing. The brain will have to learn these common everyday noises - like birds chirping and refrigerators humming - all over again. This is why we ask patients to be patient with their new hearing aids. Chances are, their brains are relearning how to hear. 

Not only will your brain have to learn the sounds again, but when your hearing diminishes, your brain stops getting the stimulation it needs to process information. A lack of stimulation causes deterioration. A Johns Hopkins study showed that people with mild hearing loss were twice as likely to suffer from dementia. Those with moderate hearing loss tripled their risk, and those with severe loss were five times more likely to suffer from dementia. Not only that, but 83% of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's have untreated hearing loss. 

These statistics are daunting, but the good news is that seeking treatment as early as possible can have a significant impact on your mental health. If you believe you're experiencing hearing loss or know someone who might be, please have them see an audiologist to get tested sooner rather than later. Although hearing loss is painless, it's still just as important as other health symptoms people experience and get checked out right away. 

New Study Finds Healthy Diets May Reduce Risk of Hearing Loss in Women

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We've blogged in the past about how nutrition affects hearing, but now there's more! A study published in the May 11 issue of the Journal of Nutrition found that eating well contributes to a reduced risk of hearing loss among women. The study was conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and examined the relationship between hearing loss and three diets: The Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED), Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI-2010).

Researchers followed 81,818 women for 22 years (1991-2013) and found that women who closely followed the AMED and DASH diets had about a 30 percent lower risk of moderate or worse hearing loss, compared to women who didn't follow these dietary guidelines. Additionally, a sub-cohort of 33,000 women who gave more detailed reports of hearing information as part of the study found that the amount of reduced risk of hearing loss could be greater than 30 percent and also relate to the AHEI-2010 diet.

The AMED diet features extra virgin olive oil, grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish and moderate intake of alcohol. The DASH diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, is moderate in dairy, meat, poultry and fish, and is low in fats, oils and sweets. The AHEI-2010 shares components of both of these diets. 

The authors of the study state that more research needs to be done, but that based on these findings they can conclude that, "Adherence to healthful dietary patterns is associated with lower risk of hearing loss in women, and consuming a healthy diet may be helpful in reducing the risk of acquired hearing loss."

You can read the full study here

Interested in this topic? Read our other blog post, "Nutrition & Hearing: Top Foods to Consume and Avoid."