Debunking eight myths about hearing loss

By: John W. Hawks, Ph.D., CCC-A

 

Thirty years ago, few people could have told you what an audiologist is…or does…but today, things are different. Most of us know that an audiologist is a person who tests hearing and fits hearing aids. But beyond that, our knowledge of hearing and hearing loss is sometimes distorted, outdated, or just plain wrong. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions and sort out the truth.

 

MYTH: “I don’t have to worry about my hearing until I’m older….”

REALITY: While it’s true that age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss among adults, hearing loss can strike at any age. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 2-3 out of every 1000 children born have a detectable hearing loss. About 15% of teenagers (12-19) have measurable hearing loss, and this number may likely be under-reported.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 5.2 million children and teens (ages 6–19) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to loud noise. Overall, approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing.

girl listening to music, gateway biotechnology, gateway to hearing health, gateway blog, gateway hearing blog, hearing health, blog
Hearing loss can affect people of all ages.

 

MYTH: “I would know if I had hearing loss.”

REALITY: While hearing loss will become more noticeable as the problem worsens, the changes often occur slowly over many years. You may not be aware of how much poorer your hearing has become. At first, it may be difficult to hear in a noisy restaurant or coffee bar or at parties. You may find yourself continually turning up the TV or radio. After a while, you wonder why everyone mumbles when speaking to you, and friends and family may point out how you’re missing out on conversations. You probably do better when you’re speaking face-to-face with someone because the background noise is lower and you may be unconsciously compensating by lipreading. If you (or the people in your life) think you may have a hearing loss, it’s time to visit a hearing specialist to get your hearing checked.

 

MYTH: “I can just take a pill or have an operation to cure my hearing loss.”

REALITY: The most common causes of hearing loss in adults are permanent changes to the inner ear that cannot be corrected with medications or surgery. An ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) or an audiologist can provide you with a diagnosis for your hearing loss and discuss your options for dealing with it.

 

MYTH: “Noise is just part of my job and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

REALITY: 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. Yes, you may have to work in a noisy environment, but that’s no excuse for not protecting your hearing, regardless of your age or existing hearing loss. I’ve spoken to too many people who have told me that hearing loss is a natural thing that accompanies their work or hobby. Still no excuse! You should always protect your ears from exposure to dangerous noise, even if you already have hearing loss. Regular exposure to harmful noise may (dare I say will) worsen your existing hearing, and there are many options for protecting yourself.  [See my blog post from last month.]

noisy work conditions, loud factory, hearing damage, hearing protection, gateway biotechnology, gateway to hearing health, gateway blog, gateway hearing blog, hearing health, blog
Hearing protection should always be worn when working in noisy conditions.

 

MYTH: “I should do fine with just one hearing aid.”

REALITY: When I first started fitting hearing instruments 30 years ago, it was nearly impossible to convince clients to consider wearing two hearing aids. They assumed that if they could hear a little better in one ear, that was good enough. But our brains don’t work that way. To function normally requires relatively equal input from both ears. I used to share with clients a list of reasons why two hearing aids are better than one. That list included such benefits as: 1) you don’t need to set the volume as high for two hearing aids because your brain will add sound levels from the two ears together, 2) you can restore your ability to tell where sounds are coming from (sound localization), 3) you can understand speech better in environments where there’s a lot of background noise, and so on. Even with one normal hearing ear (such as with unilateral hearing loss or single-sided deafness), you would still need help with your hearing. Without help, listening requires more work and you will miss sounds coming from the side of your poorer ear.

 

MYTH: “My hearing loss is my problem and no one else’s business.”

REALITY: Many people with hearing loss may not realize how their hearing problem can make life difficult for those around them. It’s not unusual for loved ones to feel anger and frustration when trying to communicate with someone who has trouble hearing and who chooses not to seek treatment. Interestingly, many older men who had refused to own their hearing loss in the past have come to me saying, “You’ve got to help me. I want to hear my grandchildren.” Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right motivation. Living alone with untreated hearing loss is an unnecessary hardship that can lead to social isolation, depression, and a host of other physical and psychological issues. Remember that your spouse, family members, friends, and coworkers want to communicate and connect with you. No one will think less of you for doing the right thing in seeking help for your hearing loss—if not for yourself, then for the people who care about you.

 

MYTH: “Hearing aids are ugly and too loud, and they will tell the world I have a hearing loss.”

REALITY: Oh my! If this is you, it’s time to come out from under that rock and see what you’ve been missing. Most hearing instruments today are nearly invisible. And even if yours can be seen, well, everyone else these days is walking around with stuff hanging out of their ears, so, who will know or even care?  While amplification will never restore normal hearing, the technology today has never been better and can do things only dreamed of just a few years ago. Hearing aids can now respond quickly to soft and loud sounds, making hearing much easier. In fact, many hearing devices no longer need a volume control. Hearing aids can provide multiple programs for all sorts of listening conditions and many can be selected automatically. Left and right hearing aids can now communicate with one another to zoom in on the sound source that you want to hear and tune out the surrounding noises. You can listen to music, your phone, and your TV, all piped directly to your hearing aids. So, visit your audiologist and find out how different hearing instruments are these days.

guy listening to music, gateway biotechnology, gateway to hearing health, gateway blog, gateway hearing blog, hearing health, blog
Technology in our ears is common in modern life.

 

MYTH: “My family doctor will tell me if I need help with my hearing.”

REALITY: Unless you’re being given a special physical for a new job or the military, it is unlikely your annual visit to your doctor includes a hearing test. While your doctor probably looks in your ears, he or she can’t see the microscopic structures inside the inner ear that, if damaged, are the cause of most cases of hearing loss. As a result, he or she may not suspect that anything is wrong. As with other health issues, your doctor relies on you to share your concerns about your hearing. Doing so may be the only way your doctor will know that you are having problems. It is likely your doctor will recommend that you see an audiologist, or, in some cases, an ear specialist (ENT or otologist). If you have concerns about your hearing, tell your physician and get started doing something about it. You’ll be glad you did!

Have you heard other statements about hearing and hearing loss and are wondering what’s myth and what’s reality? If so, feel free to share what you’ve heard or read in the comments section and we’ll discuss them.

 

 

______________________

Gateway Biotechnology, Inc. is developing options for people with hearing loss from noise, aging, and other causes. Gateway will soon offer EarGuard, an affordable series of nutraceuticals that need no prescription. For more information about this product, visit Gateway’s website and follow this blog for updates.

 

********
Girl wearing headphones image credit: averie woodard
Person welding image credit: Rob Lambert
Guy wearing earbuds image credit: Sunrise

Noise: the not-so-silent health hazard

We’ve all heard about the silent killers—health hazards such as stress and hypertension that can wield their dangerous effects by sneaking up on us, without our realizing it. But scientists are also finding that a lifetime of everyday noise levels can be just as dangerous, not just to our hearing health, but to our stress levels, sleeping ability, and cardiovascular health.

 

The noise levels we’re talking about extend beyond those we’re already well aware of—those produced by excessively loud gadgets or machinery that are damaging to structures in our inner ear. For years, most hearing experts have accepted 85 decibels (dB) as a line not to be crossed without hearing protection. This limit was originally set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health when it ruled that a worker shouldn’t be exposed to 85 dB in an eight-hour workday without suitable protection in the form of earplugs or ear muffs, among other criteria. Because every 3-dB increase is twice as loud as the former level, the permissible amount of time spent on the job without hearing protection, according to NIOSH, is halved to four hours at 88 dB, halved again to two hours at 91 dB, and so on.

 

But those are work exposures. What about the times in your day when you’re around noise levels that don’t hit the magic number of 85, but still can be potentially harmful? What about the din of a dinner party or the racket of city traffic?

 

Scores of studies have linked cardiovascular disease, sleep disorders, and hypertension with too-high decibel levels, which can be much lower than 85 dB. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency established noise-exposure limits for the health and welfare of the American public. Their suggested exposure limit to protect against hearing loss was 70 dB on average over a 24-hour period and their suggested noise limit for general welfare (e.g., lack of annoyance or interference with activities such as sleeping, conversing, or working) was 55 dB outdoors and 45 dB indoors, also averaged over 24 hours. Our world today is often far noisier than those numbers—a walk down the street in New York City can expose a person to 73.4 dB, on average, mostly from the traffic noise—and some researchers contend that a steady dose of noise from 50 dB up can damage our cardiovascular health.

 

alasdair-elmes-263819-unsplash

 

According to a small study recently published in Sleep Medicine, researchers in Taiwan found that hospital cafeteria workers who were exposed to higher noise levels (on average, 76.8 dB compared to 61 dB) for eight hours were more likely to experience lower-quality sleep at night as well as to exhibit higher blood pressure levels and an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.

 

In addition, in a 2015 economic analysis published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that a 5-dB decrease in noise exposure across the U.S. population could potentially reduce the number of people with hypertension by 1.4 percent, and those with coronary heart disease by 1.8 percent. In terms of reduced cases, that’s 1.2 million and 279,000 fewer cases, respectively. What’s more, a whopping $3.9 billion could be saved annually through reduced healthcare costs and improved productivity—again, by merely turning down the volume by 5 dB.

 

Noise today is being likened to what secondhand smoke once was (read this article from the January 2017 issue of the American Journal of Public Health and this recent article in the Washington Post) because of its pervasiveness in our environment and because we’re often subjected to dangerous levels involuntarily. Just as smoke-free zones in public areas have become commonplace, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the same could be accomplished in reducing everyone’s exposure to noise?

 

chairulfajar_-655482-unsplash

 

Two free apps that can help you address noise in your environment are:

  • iHEARu – a crowdsourced app that allows users to share information about the noise levels of business establishments in your area, and

 

______________________

Gateway Biotechnology, Inc. is developing options for people with hearing loss from noise, aging, and other causes. Gateway will soon offer EarGuard, an affordable series of nutraceuticals that need no prescription. For more information about this product, visit Gateway’s website and follow this blog for updates.

 

********
Featured image credit:  Eutah Mizushima
City street image credit: Alasdair Elmes
Person covering ears image credit: @chairulfajar_

With the joys of summer comes the noise of summer…

BY: John W. Hawks, Ph.D., CCC-A

 

I had thought to wait until the 4th of July to write something seasonal about the dangers of loud noise to our hearing. But then it occurred to me that fireworks are only one of many decibel-defying culprits in our summer seduction with sound. Indeed, with the onset of warm weather, we in northeast Ohio, along with nearly everyone else in America, tend to welcome the noises we have come to associate with spring and summer. Unfortunately, many of those noises should be avoided more than welcomed, and, if not avoided, at least protected against.

 

While aging still stands as the most common cause of hearing loss in the United States, noise exposure runs a close second, and non-occupational, or recreational, noise exposure has now become a bigger problem than noise related to the workplace. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, of the roughly 40 million U.S. adults with hearing damage most likely related to noise exposure, over half (53%) report that they do not work in a noisy environment. For this population, the noise source was most likely loud sounds associated with everyday activities.

 

We have federal laws to regulate workplace noise exposure, but very few laws that address exposure to loud sounds away from work. This means that we must be responsible for taking care of our own hearing. To do this, we should keep a few things in mind:

  1. Be Aware,

  2. Prepare, or

  3. Get out of there!

 

Gateway to Hearing Health, Gateway Biotechnology, Gateway Hearing, Gateway Hearing Blog, EarGuard, Hearing Loss, Crowded city street - parade with lots of noise

 

Be Aware.

With warm weather come holidays, and with holidays come parades. We all love a parade. But be aware that, although the horns and drums of a marching band and the sirens of emergency vehicles may be exhilarating, you may be standing dangerously close to those sound sources as the parade passes by. While these exposures may be short, they can be quite potent.

Summertime yard care also can be a major source of very loud sounds. Chain saws, lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and leaf blowers all emit extremely high levels of noise, typically for extended periods of time. Hearing protection is highly recommended (more on that later). Oh, and listening to music through your headphones to cover up the sound doesn’t count as hearing protection because you are likely boosting the music levels to hear over the noise.

Outdoor activities such as car and motorcycle racing, concerts, major league baseball games, fairs, and tractor pulls pose a substantial risk of exposure to loud sounds for extended periods of time. Think ahead and bring your hearing protection with you.

Last, but not least, are fireworks. Large fireworks displays are certainly noisy, but are not likely damaging if viewed from far away. However, every year, mishandled fireworks at home cause immediate and permanent hearing damage when set off near the ear.

 

Gateway to Hearing Health, Gateway Biotechnology, Gateway Hearing, Gateway Hearing Blog, EarGuard, Hearing Loss, noisy lawn mower

Gateway to Hearing Health, Gateway Biotechnology, Gateway Hearing, Gateway Hearing Blog, EarGuard, Hearing Loss, noisy chainsaw

 

Prepare.

For the most part, hearing loss from noise exposure is preventable, and protection is relatively simple and inexpensive. Once you are aware of the potential sources of damaging noise, prepare yourself. Here are a few tips on how to protect yourself from dangerous sound levels.:

1)    If you must be in a noisy environment, stay as far away from the sound source as possible, and spend as little time as possible in the noise. The closer you are to the source of the sound, the more at-risk you are for hearing damage.

2) Use hearing protection—foam earplugs are readily available and inexpensive. For repeated regular exposures (like lawn mowing), ear muffs or noise-canceling headphones can be handier and more comfortable.

 3)  Listening to music with earbuds or headphones is not damaging when done at reasonable volume levels. Be aware of how loud the volume is and take breaks from listening to give your ears a rest.  Monitor young children’s use of these devices and serve as a good example.

4) And if all else fails….

 

Gateway to Hearing Health, Gateway Biotechnology, Gateway Hearing, Gateway Hearing Blog, EarGuard, Hearing Loss, saw with hearing protection

 

Get out of there!  Hearing loss from noise exposure is permanent. You will live with that loss (and the consequences that come with it) for the rest of your life. If you find yourself in a noisier-than-expected situation, try to remove yourself and go someplace quieter. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you are standing next to your friend and must raise your voice to be understood, you are exposing yourself to dangerous levels of noise.

 

If you are concerned about your exposure to loud noise or feel that your hearing may have worsened, consider contacting an audiologist or physician for a hearing evaluation.

 

Enjoy your summer!

 

For more information on noise and hearing loss, visit:

 

______________________

Gateway Biotechnology, Inc. is developing options for people with hearing loss from noise, aging, and other causes.  Gateway will soon offer EarGuard, an affordable series of nutraceuticals that need no prescription. For more information about this product, visit Gateway’s website and follow this blog for updates.

 

********
Information source: CDC Vital Signs fact sheet, February 2017.
Featured image credit: Marten Bjork
Parade image credit: Josh Wilburne
Lawn mower image credit: Daniel Watson
Chain saw image credit: Michael Fenton
Saw and hearing protection image credit: Taduuda

May is for celebrating communication for all

We humans are incredibly social organisms. It is difficult to figure out when our species first started talking, but speech is one of the elements that make us uniquely human. Many experts believe that it was speech that aided in the manufacture of stone tools and the teaching of those primitive technologies. Our gift of gab has enabled us to survive. In the last few hundred thousand years, communication has transformed from grunts and sharp rocks to freestyle rapping on Broadway and live video chatting with astronauts on the International Space Station.

 

But communication involves a lot more than the ability to speak. There needs to be a receiver for all that incoming information. For many, that involves the ability to hear. We also need to understand what is being said or written or signed. Unfortunately, one in five adults will have a communication disorder in his or her life. This can take a toll on a person’s health and well-being. Technology is ever-advancing; however, few people seek help. Moreover, many are not aware of the importance of protecting key communication structures from damage – particularly those related to hearing and voice.

 

Gateway to Hearing Health, Gateway Biotechnology, Gateway Hearing, Gateway Hearing Blog, EarGuard, Hearing Loss, Better Hearing and Speech Month

 

For this reason, Gateway to Hearing Health wishes to join organizations such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) in promoting May as Better Hearing and Speech Month. This year’s theme is “Communication for All,” and the goal is to raise awareness about communication disorders. One focus is on hearing health – a topic we know some things about.

 

Gateway to Hearing Health, Gateway Biotechnology, Gateway Hearing, Gateway Hearing Blog, EarGuard, Hearing Loss, Better Hearing and Speech Month

 

The outlook is promising, with new nutraceuticals in the works. As you may know, Gateway Biotechnology has been working to bring an over-the-counter (OTC) pill to market to promote hearing health. There will be two formulations: one to protect against noise-induced hearing loss and another to protect against age-related hearing loss. These products should be available for purchase online by this summer.

 

As always, it is important to protect the hearing we already have. One can still live a fun, full life while making a few small efforts. We suggest keeping a pair of earplugs in your bag or car for when you find yourself in a loud environment. If you are a parent or grandparent, visit NIDCD’s It’s A Noisy Planet site to learn about how to protect your child’s hearing. For more information and printer-ready materials about Better Hearing and Speech Month, visit ASHA’s website.

 

Gateway to Hearing Health, Gateway Biotechnology, Gateway Hearing, Gateway Hearing Blog, EarGuard, Hearing Loss, Better Hearing and Speech Month

With communication for all, we can achieve wonderful things.

 

______________________

Gateway Biotechnology, Inc. is developing options for people with hearing loss from noise, aging, and other causes.  Gateway will soon offer EarGuard, an affordable series of nutraceuticals that need no prescription. For more information about this product, visit Gateway’s website and follow this blog for updates.

 

********
Featured image credit: Kevin Curtis
Two people talking image credit: standing – rawpixel; sitting – rawpixel
Businesswomen image credit: Tim Gouw