Top five myths about hearing loss

Hearing health has come a long way in the last 10 years, yet there are still a lot of misconceptions about hearing loss. Do you think hearing loss only affects the elderly? Or maybe you believe your primary care physician can tell you if you have hearing loss during a routine physical. Do you believe hearing aids will give you back normal hearing or that your health won’t be affected if you have hearing loss in just one ear? How about this myth: hearing loss is a consequence of aging — and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

If you recognize your school of thought when you read any of these five myths, it’s time to change your perspective. There’s no reason misconceptions should stand in the way of hearing your best.

1) Hearing loss only affects the elderly.

Woman sitting by a pond
Hearing loss can affect anyone, not just
the elderly.

Approximately 20 percent of Americans — around 48 million Americans — report some degree of hearing loss. Additionally, hearing loss occurs in five out of every 1,000 newborns each year in the United States. Hearing loss can be caused by any number of factors: ototoxic medication, environmental factors, disease or genetics. In some cases, the cause of hearing loss is simply unknown.

In fact, teens and young adults are at risk for developing a very preventable type of hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, affecting approximately 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 69. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 16 percent of teens age 12 to 19 have reported some hearing loss which may be caused by loud noise.

2) My primary physician will tell me if my hearing is failing.

The last time you went for a physical, did your doctor perform a hearing test on you? Chances are he or she didn’t, because very few doctors do. Your doctor relies on you to bring any health problems to light just as much as you rely on your doctor to do the same. Since your general practitioner is only so well-versed in specific areas of the body, you should have your hearing checked routinely by a hearing health practitioner, just as you have your vision checked or your teeth cleaned.

Hearing health professionals are specifically educated and trained to administer hearing tests, diagnose hearing loss and prescribe treatment. If you notice your hearing has diminished, find a hearing healthcare professional in your area and make an appointment. At the very least, you will have established a relationship with someone you trust who now has a baseline of how well you hear. If you visit them annually, just like you do your primary care physician, they’ll be able to detect any hearing loss as it occurs.

3) I notice a difference in one ear, but the other is fine so I’m ok.

Your brain is a thing of wonder. If the hearing in one ear starts to fade, your brain will adapt to the changes, at least up to a certain point. Your hearing loss could be well-advanced before you even notice a difference. There are countless stories of people who were oblivious to the extent of their hearing loss before they finally admitted they needed hearing aids. A regular hearing test can help track your hearing capability.

Here’s another brain fact. Your brain is so involved with your sense of hearing, it can “forget” how to hear certain sounds if the auditory pathways become damaged and hearing loss is untreated. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important not only to have your hearing checked regularly, but to seek treatment once hearing loss has been diagnosed.

Untreated hearing loss has also been associated with dementia, social isolation, depression and anxiety — other good reasons to see your hearing healthcare professional as soon as you notice you are not hearing well.

4) Hearing aids will restore my hearing to normal levels.

Today’s hearing aids are technological marvels. Their sensitive microphones can focus on speech while tuning out background noise, they can be programmed with the touch of a smart phone, and they work in tandem with many other personal electronic devices in our lives. The one thing hearing aids CAN’T do; however, is restore your hearing to “normal.” As much as we’ve learned about how our sense of hearing works, there is no man-made device that can completely replicate human hearing.

The good news? Hearing aids can significantly improve your ability to hear well, which leads to enhanced communication with family, friends and co-workers. The key is to work closely with your hearing healthcare professional to make sure your hearing aids help you hear your best in each of your personal listening environments.

5) My hearing loss cannot be helped.

Have you asked a hearing health practitioner about your hearing loss? Many forms of hearing loss can indeed be improved, whether it be by hearing aids, surgery, medication or a simple ear wax removal procedure. You’ll never know if you never ask. And, if it’s been a few years since you’ve seen a hearing healthcare professional, consider making another appointment. The field of hearing health is rapidly changing. Hearing loss that was difficult to address even a few years ago may be treatable now.

The first step is to find a hearing healthcare professional you can trust. Ask your family physician for a referral or use Healthy Hearing’s Find a Professional section to find a hearing clinic in your community.

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Sensaphonics introduces EARbags Hearing Protection

Sensaphonics EARbags

They may look funny, but Sensaphonics EARbags™ deploy automatically to provide serious protection for a musician’s ears when sound levels suddenly spike.

Chicago-based Sensaphonics has introduced a new way for musicians and others to make in-ear monitoring safer with the Excess Audio Reduction system, or EARbags™. When secured to any set of in-ear monitors (IEMs), headphones, or earbuds, these patent-pending protective devices monitor for dangerous spikes in the ambient sound around the user.

According to Sensaphonics, when threatening audio impulses are detected, the EARbags instantly deploy a sound-blocking pillow of protection around the ears–operating in somewhat the same way an air bag in a car automatically deploys upon impact to protect passengers.

Designed to provide hearing protection for users of poorly isolating devices like acrylic IEMs and universal-fit earbuds, Sensaphonics EARbags will deploy any time an impulse response in excess of a safe noise level according to OSHA or NIOSH standards is detected. The colorful silicone pillows inflate silently and instantaneously, cushioning the wearer’s ears before the excessive sound can reach the inner ear.

“As experts in safe sound for the music industry, we designed EARbags to protect people whose earphones do not provide sufficient isolation, usually due to poor fit or inflexible materials like hard acrylic,” said Sensaphonics President Michael Santucci, AuD. “Of course, Sensaphonics IEMs provide up to 37 dB of broadband isolation, so our clients are already well protected. EARbags provide everyone else with a safe and fun way to enjoy their music with the same level of hearing wellness.”

Equally effective on stage, in the studio, or just listening to MP3s, EARbags are reusable and easy to install. With earphones inserted normally in both ears, users would simply moisten the inner surface of the EARbags and attach them to the outer surface of both earpieces. Once deployed, simply deflate and re-pack the ear bags into their protective case after use.

Michael Santucci, AuD

Michael Santucci, AuD, Owner of Sensaphonics

Sold in reusable pairs and available in a range of designer colors, EARbags offer hearing protection with and comfort. Now available for pre-order via Sensaphonics online store, EARbags are scheduled to begin shipping in early summer of 2016. Final pricing has not yet been announced. For more information, visit the Sensaphonics website.

Founded in 1985 by Michael Santucci, AuD, Sensaphonics Hearing Conservation Inc designs and manufactures custom-fitted earphones and electronics designed to achieve safe, high-resolution audio in mission-critical applications. Serving a primary customer base of professional musicians and sound engineers, Sensaphonics products are used exclusively on all manned NASA missions and on the International Space Station.

Source: Sensaphonics

Image credits: Sensaphonics




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Tinnitus Treatment Solutions Expands Service to Canada

Tinnitus Treatment Solutions (TTS), a California-based provider of solutions and tele-audiology care for people suffering from tinnitus (ringing in the ears), has announced the expansion of its expert tinnitus care services into Canada. The service had previously only been available in the US and the UK.

According to TTS, an estimated 1 in 10 adults suffers from ringing ears. Often the condition is chronic and can be extremely debilitating. Many are told to “just live with it,” but there are ways in which tinnitus can be effectively managed to give a patient relief from symptoms. In order to address both the neural and perceptual components of this condition, TTS audiologists offer a sound therapy approach to tinnitus management called Habituation and Retraining Therapy (HaRTTM).

Treatment through TTS includes a free consultation, integrated patient education, tinnitus counseling, and support provided via phone and Internet. Care and guidance on the use of sound therapy is provided both directly to the patient via phone and Internet, and in person as needed for the custom programming of tinnitus hearing aids. Certain handheld sound therapy devices can be programmed directly in the patient’s home via an Internet connection. In this way patients in remote areas or those hindered by mobility issues are still able to obtain treatment. This approach, combining tele-audiology and in-person care as needed, can address the “gap in care” between the limited number of providers and millions of suffering patients.

Many patients with tinnitus also have hearing loss. TTS is able to address that as well, as these are separate, but related conditions. “Every patient is unique,” says Nicole King, AuD, a TTS audiologist. “But we know that both tinnitus and hearing loss can often be successfully managed. Untreated chronic tinnitus can lead to increased stress and anxiety as well as difficulty sleeping. Untreated hearing loss has been associated with cognitive decline, and creates its own challenges as the patient struggles to hear properly in different environments.”

Source: Tinnitus Treatment Solutions (TTS)

Image credit: © 9nongphoto |

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Lions collecting used eye glasses, hearing aids

Drop-off locations are: Super Saver 27th and Cornhusker; Super Saver 56th and Hwy 2; Hy-Vee stores at 84th and Holdrege, 50th and O streets, 70th and Pioneers Blvd., and 40th and Old Cheney (Williamsburg); Super Target at 40th and Grangier Rd.; America’s Best Optical; Heartland Optical, and WalMart at 84th and Andermatt Dr.

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Self-referral for hearing assessments and hearing aids to launch in April

From 1 April 2016 people aged over 50 who develop a hearing problem will be able to refer themselves to the Audiology Service at Noble’s Hospital.

Until now anyone with a hearing problem has had to first make an appointment with their GP who, following a consultation and examination, could refer a patient to the Audiology Service, if deemed appropriate.

Minister for Health and Social Care, Howard Quayle MHK, explained the reason for the change: “An important component for our new health and social care strategy is encouraging and empowering individuals to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing through healthy lifestyle choices and ‘self-care’ when it’s appropriate.

“Building on this, we want to speed up access to services when patients need them. GPs have a vital role to play when any of us become unwell or develop a medical problem. Sometimes however, where there are very specific symptoms and it is obvious what tests or treatment will be necessary, it makes sense to ensure there is timely access to specialist care – such as when people experience hearing problems as they age.

“By giving those aged 50 and over with a hearing problem the option to self-refer, we hope to increase choice and convenience for patients whilst potentially reducing the number of GP appointments.”

Hearing related problems become more common as people age, which is why only patients over 50 will be able to self-refer, although they can still see their GP in the first instance, should they wish. Those under 50 will still need to see their GP for any hearing related problems to discuss symptoms and eliminate any other potential causes and health issues.

Self-referral forms can be downloaded here and are also available from the Island’s GP Practices and the Audiology Department at Noble’s Hospital. Patients are usually seen within eight weeks.

Those aged over 50 who experience sudden onset hearing loss, noises (tinnitus) in one ear, pain in their ear or episodes of spinning dizziness, should still see their GP.

The Department introduced self-referral for physiotherapy in 2012 which helped to reduce waiting times and the number of GP appointments relating to musculoskeletal problems.

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Are your hearing aids ready for fun in the sun?

People playing sand volleyball
Keep your hearing aids protected 
while you’re having fun in the sun!

It’s that time of year again, the time when many of us head to warmer climates to wait out the last dregs of winter and escape the March mud and slush. You’ve made it through a long cold winter with your hearing aids intact, so you’ll want to be sure your spring break plans don’t damage your hearing aids.

With many people choosing to head to south this spring, one of the more popular destinations is Florida. According to Visit Florida, more than 23 million people in the U.S. traveled to The Sunshine State from January through the end of March of 2015. Arizona and Hawaii also draw their fair share of spring break travelers. But wherever you go, whether it is Maui to the Magic Kingdom to Marco Island, heat, water and temperature changes are of special concern when it comes to your hearing devices. While you may be ready for fun in the sun, are your hearing aids ready as well?

Protection from water, oil, sweat, salt and sand

The fact is that many of the most popular spring break activities, especially those at the beach or the pool, can damage or destroy hearing aids. Water, oil, salt, sweat and sand can corrode contact points, destroy the microphone and receiver and clog tubes. Fortunately some hearing aid manufacturers are one step ahead, and have already taken measures to ensure your hearing aids are suitable for an active, warm outdoors environment.

One example of hearing aid protection is a special process called nano-coating, which protects against moisture and other heat elements which might be harmful to hearing aids.

What is nano-coating? Nano-coating is a liquid repellant that was first developed for the military. The idea was to keep moisture and toxic liquid substances from penetrating uniforms. It works by lowering an object’s surface energy, causing the liquid to adhere to itself rather than to the surface. As a result the liquid beads up on contact and rolls off instead of being absorbed. One thousand times thinner than a human hair, the nano-coating is also invisible. As with many innovations, the military application soon spread to consumer electronic goods including hearing aids.

“You look at it and you can’t see any change,” said Stephen Coulson, the chemical engineer at P2i who developed the technology. “But when you drop water on it, it will just bead up and drop off. More importantly, the internals will also be protected to prevent corrosion damage.”

The good news is that as of 2013, 60 percent of the world’s hearing aids offered at least some nano-coating protection. But remember, even if your hearing aids do have it, not all nano-coating technology is created equal. Some manufacturers only apply the coating to certain products. Other manufacturers only apply it to certain parts of the device. Still other hearing devices are thoroughly coated, both inside and out, which offers the highest level of protection against the elements.

Before you head off to sunny shores or verdant golf courses this spring, here are some important questions to ask when assessing your hearing aids’ moisture resistant potential:

  • Do your hearing aids have nano-coating, and at what level?
  • Are the tubes made of materials which are resistant to sweat and moisture?
  • Is the receiver protected from substances such as moisture and earwax?
  • Is the amplifier sealed in water-proof material?
  • Are your hearing aids labeled “water resistant” or “water-proof?” Because water resistant hearing aids resist but do not entirely prevent water from penetrating.

Protection from wind

Wind noise is another factor to consider if much of your spring break getaway will be spent in outdoor activities. Whether you are playing golf, sailing, hiking or just walking on the beach there is a likelihood that rushing wind noise could interfere with your ability to hear the sounds you want to hear. This is where a feature called wind noise reduction comes in handy. Some hearing aids have special features that reduce the wind noise while enhancing other sounds.

Some hearing aid users opt to use tiny completely-in-the-canal (CIC) models which place the microphone inside the ear, effectively reducing wind noise. But those CIC hearing aids can be difficult to handle and maneuver, and many people prefer to stick with their behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids. If you go that route, you can still purchase windscreens or windhoods that cover the microphone, significantly reducing the effect of the wind.

Whether it is special setting for a windy environment, adjusting the microphone placement or purchasing accessories that will reduce the wind noise in your hearing aids, your hearing healthcare professional can give you advice on the best way to go about making sure wind noise doesn’t affect your planned activities.

Fun in the sun accessories

If your hearing aids don’t have nano-coating, or if you just want an extra level of protection from the elements, consider these accessories that will help protect your hearing aids during your spring break getaway and beyond.

  • Sweat bands, which are essential moisture wicking pouches that easily slip over your behind the ear hearing aids
  • Portable dehumidifier or drying kit
  • A portable water-proof safe to protect hearing aids at the beach or pool
  • Hearing aid sleeves, which are neoprene covers that slip over your hearing aids and offer protection from dust, sand and water
  • Water resistant covers for hearing aids (not water proof, however)

Let your hearing healthcare professional know about any hobbies or planned activities that would require your hearing aids to be water repellant, or ask what level of protection your existing hearing aids have. He or she can help you make an informed decision about purchasing new hearing aids or modifying your existing hearing aids with water repellant or water-proof accessories.

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NIH Grants $9M for Studies in Age-Related Hearing Loss

Researchers in the University of South Florida’s Global Center for Hearing and Speech Research (GCHSR), a research center for age-related hearing loss, have received a 5-year, $ 9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study two unique ways to treat age-related hearing loss (ARHL).

Robert Frisina, PhD

Robert Frisina, PhD

According to Robert Frisina, Jr, PhD, USF professor and director of the GCHSR, ARHL is the number one communication disorder and most common neurodegenerative condition affecting older Americans. This means that it impacts more people than other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.

While hearing loss can occur as a result of many conditions or environmental exposures, Frisina says the GCHSR focuses on age-related hearing loss.

“Permanent hearing loss, including ARHL, is estimated to affect 10% of the US population,” said Frisina in a recent University of South Florida announcement. “Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments for permanent hearing loss, including ARHL, despite its prevalence. While ARHL directly and negatively affects quality of life for older people, severe ARHL has also recently been linked to the earlier onset of dementia.”

Frisina reports that GCHSR researchers are focusing on the key hormone “aldosterone” because it regulates a number of functions in the body, particularly those where sodium and potassium are especially important in normal physiology. Because reduced aldosterone levels have been linked to hearing loss, researchers hope by boosting the aldosterone levels in aging mice, it will improve their hearing. They will also reportedly develop a variety of unique and pleasant sounds to directly target known deficits of ARHL with a goal of shaping how the human ear and brain process sound to overcome these shortfalls.

“Having the proper levels of aldosterone is good for a number of systems in the body, not just hearing, so boosting its level may have other benefits,” added Frisina. “Most hormone levels decline with age, so it is likely that with correct timing and dosage, hormonal intervention could slow or prevent the progression of ARHL. Our first goal is to use animal models to determine if boosting aldosterone has a positive effect on hearing loss.”

Joseph Walton, PhD

Joseph Walton, PhD

According to USF, professor Joseph Walton, PhD, will serve as the project leader for the animal behavior and neurophysiology components of the grant. Using sensors that record brain activity during sound stimulation, Walton’s lab investigates the neural bases of hearing behavior of mice, correlating the perceptual abilities of mice to their brain’s encoding of sound. The goal, says Walton, is to uncover the neural underpinnings of improved sound perception.

Walton’s group has already discovered that long-term treatment with aldosterone in a mouse model of ARHL improves neural processing in a key brain region.  They also found that the neural properties allowing the auditory system to separate one sound from another dramatically improved in treated mice versus those receiving a placebo.  Their future work will investigate various combinations of therapeutics.

“Over the next several years, our lab will investigate the neural machinery of brain plasticity following one form of intervention – exposure to enriched auditory environments,” explained Walton. “The brain is very plastic, even the aged brain, and auditory training can improve auditory processing ability, especially in difficult listening situations. The key is to understand the neural mechanisms. A big breakthrough has come with our ability to understand the how the timing of the neural code for sound is altered in aging. The goal is to get neurons to improve their ability to synchronize their response with the sound signal.”

Another hallmark of ARHL is a loss of the fine timing needed to encode the details that give sounds clarity and a rich quality. This timing deficit can also make it difficult to accurately hear certain sounds and separate them from background noise.

The researchers say that the first step in their human studies will include monitoring aldosterone levels in humans with ARHL five times over a four-year period. They also will be working on devising pleasant, enjoyable sounds, possibly musical sounds, to which people with ARHL can listen. If successful, such treatments may help slow or prevent the progression of ARHL by re-training the ear/brain connections.

The research team will begin recruiting approximately 150 older study candidates later this spring to participate in the various studies. People interested in participating can contact the USF Auditory Speech Sciences Laboratory.

Source: The University of South Florida

Image credits: USF; © Alexander Raths |

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