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When hearing-impaired individuals are first fitted with their new hearing instruments, they may be somewhat overwhelmed by the many sounds that have eluded them for so long.  It may take a while for them to become adjusted to hearing words and sounds that they have yet to become accustomed to hearing more clearly.  It’s even important to wear a hearing instrument when it is quiet so that the brain can adjust to the sound.

A successful hearing aid fitting is more than just selecting the correct device for your hearing needs.  The hearing aids need to be properly fitted to your ears so that they provide the correct amount of amplification to maximize hearing aid benefit.

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When the thin membrane that separates the ear canal and the middle ear (the “eardrum”) is pierced or becomes ruptured, there will be decreased hearing and possibly a liquid discharge.  A “perforated eardrum” may result from a sudden loud noise (explosion), injury, infection, or chronic Eustachian tube disorders.  While most perforated eardrums caused by trauma or an acute ear infection heal on their own within weeks, some may take several months to heal.  In the meantime, ears must be protected from water and trauma.

P.S. It is the size of an eardrum perforation that usually determines the level of hearing loss.

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People are continuously advised to shield their ears from noise, a common cause of hearing loss.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), noise pollution is one of the pressing threats to public health and is responsible for a range of health problems.  Not only can persistent and/or overly loud noise damage the ears, but it can also give rise to sleep problems, stress, heart disease and stroke.

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Most hearing problems occur so gradually that it can often take years before people realize they’re not hearing properly!  Frequently, it goes undetected until it interferes with daily living.  It is not the same as listening to sounds with the volume turned down.  Instead, there are usually certain sounds or tones that are more difficult to hear than others, such as children and women’s voices.

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As we go through our days at home, at work, and at play, we subject our ears to a number of different listening environments.  We might have a quiet conversation over coffee in the morning, while work may be conducted in offices with multiple distractions and steady background noise.  Because one program on a hearing instrument cannot be expected to perform equally well in different listening environments, many hearing instruments are outfitted with multiple programs.  Each program may be accessed with a push of a button on the instrument or with the use of a remote control.  More sophisticated hearing instruments are capable of analyzing the listening environment and adjusting automatically, without touching the hearing instrument or a remote control.

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Ringing in the ears (“tinnitus”) affects an estimated 10%-15% of the worldwide adult population.  This annoying condition, most commonly caused by exposure to loud noise, affects men more than women, especially as they get older.  The majority of those with tinnitus also suffer from some degree of hearing loss.  If so, the use of a hearing instrument can help by allowing the wearer to hear normal sounds more clearly, which helps divert attention away from the buzzing sounds.

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Cognitive Impairment and Hearing Loss

Studies have shown that as we age, cognitive decline can be linked to hearing loss.  People over the age of 65 who have hearing loss are 24% more likely to have some level cognitive impairment, compared to people with normal hearing.  While more research is needed to determine the exact cause of this relationship, there is solid evidence that the brain needs frequent stimulation to keep working at a high level.  Aural stimulation (hearing) is an important factor.  The successful treatment of hearing loss, which usually involves hearing aids, can restore significant aural stimulation to the brain and may significantly reduce cognitive decline.

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Diabetes and hearing loss

If you are diabetic, you should pay special attention to your hearing.  Diabetes increases your risk of hearing loss quite a bit!  Recent studies have found that the risk of hearing loss in diabetics is nearly twice that of people who are not diabetic.  The cause seems to be a reduction of blood flow to the inner ear, which can lead to atrophy of the nerve cells — somewhat like the nerve problems that diabetics often experience in their legs and feet.

One surprising results of the studies: this phenomenon seems to be even more pronounced in younger people with diabetes.  The risk of hearing loss in people under the age of 60 who have diabetes, is far greater than non-diabetics of a similar age.

This underscores the need for regular hearing screening for anyone who is diabetic.  There are treatment options available, and like many other health issues — early detection and treatment generally leads to better outcomes.

Talk to your primary care physician about this, and feel free to contact our office at 610-866-2929 to schedule a simple screening.  It only takes a few minutes.  Even if your hearing seems normal, it is useful to establish a baseline so that any future changes in your hearing can be compared.

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On-the-job injuries may be related to hearing loss

A recent study done in Canada suggests that there may be a link between hearing loss and workplace injuries.  The study reviewed records for over 45,000 male workers, over the course of 20 years.  Of this group, 1670 had received hearing tests.  The study found that workers with hearing loss were more likely to become injured at work.  For every decibel of hearing loss, the risk of injury requiring hospitalization increased about 1 percent.  Workers who were regularly exposed to the loudest noises — over 100 decibels — were twice as likely to incur an injury that required hospitalization, than workers who had no hearing loss and no significant noise exposure.  Even exposure to less-severe noise levels showed some correlation with increased risk of injury.

The researchers theorized that high noise levels tended to increase fatigue, decrease concentration, and impair the ability of co-workers to communicate in hazardous work environments.  These factors appear to lead to an increased risk of serious workplace injuries.

Of course, not all hearing loss is caused by noise exposure.  Workers may have hearing loss do to age, genetics, previous noise exposure, or other factors.

If your work environment involves loud noise, please be sure to use the appropriate level of hearing protection.  Talk to your employer about any concerns you have about your hearing, noise exposure, and safety in your workplace.  And feel free to contact our office for a hearing screening test to determine if you already have hearing loss.

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What is a digital hearing aid?

Many people with hearing loss are confused about the myriad of options when it comes to hearing aids.  There are so many new terms, so much jargon that you read in advertisements and articles about hearing aid technology.  One of the most common phrases is “digital hearing aid”, or “digital programmable hearing aid.”

These days, nearly all high-quality hearing aids are digital.  But what does this mean?  It means that the hearing aid has a tiny digital processor built in, basically a miniaturized computer.  The sound coming into the hearing aid is converted to a digital signal (basically a numeric expression of the sound), this signal is then processed by the “computer”, and then converted back to an audible sound — which is what you hear with the hearing aid in place.  The digital processor can be programmed to treat loud sounds differently than softer sounds, high frequencies differently than low frequencies, and minimizes any distortion — all in a matter of microseconds.  While this may seem complex, it is in fact the best way to improve the clarity and quality of the incoming sounds, to compensate for the user’s hearing loss.  Digital processing enables very advanced manipulation of the sound, far more advanced than the older analog technology of 20 or 30 years ago.  Hearing aids are no longer simple amplifiers that just make sounds louder — they are now extremely advanced sound processing devices.  Today’s hearing aids have more computing power than most home computers, all contained in a tiny package that fits behind (or in) your ear.

Also, most modern hearing aids are programmable.  This means that the audiologist who fits your hearing aid, will create a custom program for the hearing aid’s “computer”, that is customized to your particular hearing loss, hearing situations, lifestyle, and preferences.  If your hearing loss changes, or your lifestyle or preferences change with time, the audiologist can adjust the program to suit the new situation.

Some retail stores now offer “personal sound amplifiers”, at very low prices. These devices are not hearing aids. They are not programmable, and do not have digital processing. They simply amplify all sounds equally, causing loud sounds to become even louder.  They amplify all frequencies, including those frequencies that you can already hear quite well, without amplification.

All of the major hearing aid manufacturers developed digital programmable hearing aids many years ago, because this technology is far superior to any other method of assisting those who suffer from hearing loss.

If you have any questions about hearing aid technology, please call our office at 610-866-2929 and ask to speak to one of our audiologists, or schedule an appointment for a consultation.  We will be glad to explain hearing aid technology, and hearing loss, in more detail.

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