Friday, September 28, 2012

Why You Should Quit Using Q-tips

Did you know that using Q-tips or cotton swabs to clean your ears can lead to hearing loss and tinnitus?  Ear wax is produced in the outer third of the ear canal as one of the body's defense mechanisms.  Its' purpose is to collect dirt, debris, and harmful bacteria to prevent these materials from traveling further into the ear canal.  The acidic content of ear wax kills bacteria as well.  In a normally functioning ear, ear wax gradually makes its way toward the outer ear.  When it becomes visible, it is safe to use a washcloth to wipe it away.

Using a q-tip or cotton swab to clean the wax out of the ear canal actually pushes it deeper into the ear canal where it is not intended to be.  This can cause the ear wax to accumulate and harden.  As it compacts together, it creates a "stuffy" sensation in the ear and obstructs the pathway noise travels to reach the hearing organ of the ear.  This leads to conductive hearing loss.  Conductive hearing loss is not permanent and will go away once the ear wax has been removed from the ear canal.  Also, if ear wax gets pushed up against the ear drum, it can cause the ear to ring (tinnitus).  The tinnitus will usually go away once the ear wax is removed.  For those who wear hearing aids, wax build up can cause hearing aids to feedback or whistle.

When ear wax becomes visible, the best way to clean it out is to use a warm, damp washcloth and remove it.  Do not stick anything in your ear that will push the wax deeper into the ear canal and cause it to accumulate.  Ear candling is also not advised as this practice is considered unsafe.

For more information, read this helpful article.   

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How Your Heart Impacts Your Hearing

Did you know that your cardiovascular health impacts your hearing?  Hearing loss can be associated with a number of chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease.   The inner ear is extremely sensitive to blood flow.  Therefore, inadequate blood flow to the inner can cause hearing loss.  In fact, The Hearing Review has reported on a new study suggesting that cardiovascular disease can cause low frequency hearing loss prior to its effects being felt in other parts of the body.  Impurities in the blood can also damage the cochlea and cause hearing loss.  These impurities are often the result of certain types of antibiotics and cancer treatment medication.  To avoid damage to your hearing, researchers recommend consistent screenings for potential cardiovascular abnormalities.  Individuals should also consult with their physician to be aware of any ototoxic medications.

For more information, read the two research excerpts below:

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Apple Confirms iPhone Compatibility with Hearing Aids

recent article from The Hearing Review has confirmed reports that Apple's new operating system (iOS6) will provide greater compatibility with hearing aids.  The article also confirms earlier reports that Apple is working with major hearing aid manufacturers to create "made for iPhone" hearing aids. The iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 will work with "made for iPhone" designated hearing aids in a manner not yet disclosed by Apple.  While no major hearing instrument manufacturer has publicly confirmed these reports, rumors continue to circulate that Apple is working to give hearing aid users and their audiologists the ability to remotely adjust the settings of the instruments through "streaming functionality" contained within the new iOS6 software.

For more information, read the article from The Hearing Review.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Link Between Hearing Loss and Depression Pt. 2

In our last blog, we highlighted various studies that show a clear link between hearing loss and depression.  Untreated hearing loss can severely impact an individual's quality of life.  New research shows how people with hearing loss are more likely to display signs of depression.  Reasons for this may include:

  • Isolation due to withdrawal from social activities or hobbies
  • Isolation due to avoiding difficult listening environments such as restaurants
  • Relational problems due to the difficulty of communicating
  • "Brain strain"- the brain becomes more tired as it labors to process what it is barely "hearing"

The effects of untreated hearing loss are far-reaching.  While research is ongoing, it has become increasingly clear that depression rates are higher among people whose hearing loss remains untreated.  Is it possible to counteract the effects of hearing loss on how our brain functions?  Next blog...

For more information, download the report from The Better Hearing Institute.  It is listed as "Backgrounder" under the "2012 Mental Illness Awareness" heading.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

The Link Between Hearing Loss and Depression

Untreated hearing loss can impact an individual's life in many different ways.  In fact, new information suggests a clear link between untreated hearing loss and multiple conditions including dementia and depression.  The Better Hearing Institute recently released a survey of these findings.  Highlights are detailed below.
  • Research from The National Council on Aging shows that people aged 50 and older who had untreated hearing loss were more likely to report symptoms of depression.  The study also suggests that the severity of the symptoms increased in proportion to the degree of hearing loss.  
  • The British Geriatrics Society published research showing that the risk of depressive symptoms grew by 80% among older people with hearing loss.
  • A survey by Australian Hearing showed that over 60% of individuals with untreated hearing loss aged 18 or older exhibited signs of depression.
Research also points to why the link might exist and how to find potential solutions to these problems.  More on this in the next blog...

To read the report from The Better Hearing Institute, click here and download the report under the "2012 Mental Illness Awareness" heading.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

iPhone Compatible Hearing Aids?

With the upcoming release of the iPhone 5, anticipation for its new features continues to grow.  As you might have heard, Apple is in conversation with many major hearing aid manufacturers about how to distribute or exchange software that would give hearing aid wearers the ability to adjust the instruments' settings using Apps and the iPhone or iPad keyboard.  Newer rumors suggest Apple is also trying to create a way for hearing aid users to post their individual settings on social networking sites to benefit others with a similar hearing loss and/or lifestyle.  For an excellent article on these developments, click here.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Features of Hearing Aids That Make Speech Clearer Pt. 3

Untreated hearing loss eventually causes an individual to withdraw from difficult listening environments.  Audiologists intervene to stop the isolation by empowering the hearing loss sufferer to engage in the relationships, social activities, and hobbies that have been avoided or neglected due to the effects of hearing loss.  Therefore, the ultimate goal of an audiologist is re-connection.  

Modern hearing aids contain many features that make re-connection possible.  In our last blog, we discussed how a hearing aid equipped with multi-channel programming makes speech clearer in the presence of background noise.  Another feature that amplifies an individual's remaining hearing capacity is volume control.  Some hearing aids are equipped with an actual button that serves as a volume control.  When the button is pushed, the volume can be increased or decreased to the individual's preference.  

Many digital hearing aids are now equipped with an automatic volume control.  This feature enables the hearing aid to automatically analyze sounds in the environment and adjust the volume accordingly.  Loud or harsh sounds are "softened" and soft sounds are made audible.  An audiologist adjusts the dynamics of this feature to account for an individual's particular type and degree of hearing loss.

For more information about volume control and other features of modern hearing aids, read this document from The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Monday, September 10, 2012

How Hearing Aids Make Phone Conversations Clear

As we noted in our last blog, the ultimate goal of an audiologist is re-connection.  Because untreated hearing loss typically leads to social withdrawal and isolation, audiologists seek to empower the individual to communicate with confidence, particularly in difficult listening environments.  Talking on the phone is one of the most difficult obstacles to connection for an individual with hearing loss.  However, modern hearing instruments are equipped with various features that enable the hearing loss sufferer to talk on the phone without difficulty (or an interpreter!).  These features are unique to certain technology levels and include:

  • AutoPhone 
    • This feature automatically converts the hearing aid to a telephone amplifier with no whistle or feedback once the phone is held up to the ear.  When the phone is hung up, the hearing aids automatically resume their normal function.      
  • DuoPhone
    • Phonak premium hearing aids have an automatic "duophone" feature.  When the phone is held up to one ear, the hearing aid transfers the caller's voice to the other ear as well.  The phone call is heard in both ears simultaneously.
  • Hands-free Phone
    • Using bluetooth technology built into the hearing aid, the caller's voice wirelessly connects to both ears simultaneously.  The volume of the hearing aid is lowered slightly permitting you to focus on the caller's voice in stereo.
  • Manual Phone Use
    • A clinical audiologist can create a custom telephone listening program in many modern hearing aids.
For more information about hearing aid features and phone use, click here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Features of Hearing Aids That Make Speech Clearer Pt. 2

As we noted in our last blog, the goal of an audiologist is re-connection.  Typically, individuals do not understand how their hearing loss is disconnecting them from the relationships and activities they value and enjoy most.  Clinical audiologists strive to help people who have become increasingly isolated over time due to hearing loss.  The ultimate aim is to help the hearing loss sufferer re-connect with loved ones and resume the activities they have avoided (often times unknowingly) due to their hearing difficulties.

A major way an audiologist accomplishes this goal is to properly fit an individual with hearing aids.  Modern hearing aids contain many technological features that help the hearing loss sufferer understand speech more clearly in noisy places and on the telephone.  Multi-channel programming is a feature that helps the audiologist adjust a hearing device to enhance an individual's remaining hearing capacity.  Advanced technology equips hearing aids with up to twenty independently adjustable channels.  This allows the audiologist to create customized programming tailored to an individual's hearing loss, lifestyle, and preferences.  Each channel can also continuously measure and automatically adjust to sounds in the environment.  This feature equips audiologists with the ability to limit the harshness of loud sounds while amplifying soft sounds (and sounds not heard due to the type and degree of hearing loss) to the level of audibility.  

For more information on multi-channel programming in modern hearing aids, read this article from Audiology Online.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Features of Hearing Aids That Make Speech Clearer

Simply put, the goal of an audiologist is re-connection.  Hearing loss sufferers cannot fully understand all that they are missing.  As hearing loss increases, social withdrawal deepens, isolation worsens, and relationships suffer. Therefore, an audiologist seeks to re-connect the hearing loss sufferer to all they are missing- relationships, social interactions, hobbies, etc.  Multi-directional microphones in modern hearing aids help an audiologist in this endeavor.  

Multi-directional microphones significantly improve an individual's ability to hear speech in the presence of background noise.  As you may know, hearing loss sufferer's often avoid difficult listening environments (like restaurants) because they cannot engage in conversation.  If a hearing aid is equipped with one microphone, every sound in the environment is made louder.  However, if a hearing aid is equipped with two microphones, one mic can amplify speech while the other reduces background noise.  Many hearing aids are also equipped with the ability to focus the microphones on speech coming from multiple directions.  The hearing aids sense the direction the speech is originating from and focus in that particular direction while also eliminating amplification for general background noise.  This means that hearing aids at certain technology levels can focus on speech coming from beside or behind the hearing aid wearer.  Whether the hearing aid wearer is having a conversation in the car, working alongside people in a noisy environment, or sitting in a wheelchair, these hearing aids can amplify speech being communicated from beside and/or behind the hearing aid wearer. 

Other features of modern hearing aids that help re-connect hearing loss sufferers to relationships and social activities include multi-channel and customized programming, automatic telephone use, volume controls, and FM system compatibility.  More on these features in future blogs...

For more information on multi-directional microphones and their advantages, read this informative article from The Hearing Review.