Categories
Hearing Loss

The Relationship Between Smoking And Hearing Loss

According to a 1998 study with over 3,000 participants, smokers are 70% more susceptible to hearing loss than non-smokers. But another more recent 2004 study found no real link between smoking and hearing loss. So, who’s to be believed?

Over the past 40 years, the medical community has recognized the danger smoking presents to hearing health. But because the hearing process is extremely complex, pinpointing how smoking affects hearing is not so simple. This does not mean that smoking does not affect hearing loss — only that how it affects hearing loss is not entirely clear.

More recent studies, like this five-year study by The Blue Mountains Hearing Group published in 2010, have also found smoking to have deleterious effects in individuals not exposed to occupational noise hazards. A 2011 study in mice discovered that inhaling cigarette smoke alone may not be damaging to hearing, but exposure to both smoke and noise did lead to hearing impairment.

Lastly, a very recent 2013 study found that passive smoking and the inhalation of secondhand smoke caused minimal sensorineural hearing loss in children aged 5–11 years. Sensorineural hearing loss refers to hearing loss caused by damage to either the hairs lining the cochlea or to the auditory nerve. Unlike outer or middle-ear related hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is the most damaging and cannot yet be treated.

How smoking may be damaging hearing

First of all, we should all keep in mind that smoking has been proven to be deleterious to our health, and is strongly tied to lung cancer, heart disease, and a variety of other tobacco-related health risks. Additionally, smoking has been implicated in two distinct forms of hearing loss.

The myriad of dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke, including formaldehyde, benzene, arsenic, vinyl chloride, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide, may affect both conductive hearing (middle ear vibrations) as well as inner ear hearing by damaging the hair cells lining the cochlea. In many studies, there is also a strong correlation between the number of cigarettes smoked and the degree of hearing loss. In other words, smoking-related hearing loss is dose-dependent.

While the mechanisms of damage to the auditory system due to smoke inhalation and exposure are unclear, Dr. Katbanma hypothesizes that the following occurs whenever someone smokes a cigarette:

1. Nicotine and carbon monoxide deplete oxygen levels to the cochlea, which is suffused with blood. In this mechanism, damage occurs by hypoxia (or lack of oxygen) to the hair cells.

2. The neurotransmitters that convey sensory information along the auditory nerve to the brain are disrupted by nicotine, limiting their function.

3. The auditory nerve is not fully developed until late adolescence, which means that secondhand smoking puts adolescents at increased risk for hearing impairment (corroborated by the 2013 study mentioned above).

Again, while the link between smoking and hearing loss has not been clearly established, the mounting evidence indicates that smoking does more harm than good when it comes to hearing. Yet another reason to encourage friends and loved ones to kick the habit!

Categories
Hearing Aids

Troubleshooting Hearing Aids in Summer

Summer

Summer is a wonderful time to travel and be with friends and family. We all want to hear what is going on, enjoying those wonderful sounds of the season. But when you wear hearing aids, this can also be a very frustrating time. Moisture issues are prevalent as well as ear problems like swimmer’s ear and wax accumulation.

What to do?

Even more frustrating, hearing aids can break down when you are traveling or on weekends when those big special events are scheduled. It is difficult to get in to your hearing care provider for a clean and check, so what do you do?

Simple troubleshooting tips

Most issues we see in the office are fairly simple to solve. Our staff is well trained to look for these common problems and can usually “cure” the issue in a matter of minutes. There are some fairly simple troubleshooting tips that may help you bring your hearing aid back to normal function when you can’t get into our office.

Is it the battery?

If your hearing aid is dead — no sound coming out — first try to change the battery. Make sure the tab from the battery has been removed. If a new battery does not work, try a battery from a different pack. Sometimes packs of batteries are old or have been exposed to elements that cause them not to work properly. If you have one hearing aid working, take the battery from the good aid and try it in the bad aid. That is a quick, easy way to rule out a battery issue without wasting any more batteries. Do not try more than two batteries. If the aid is still not working, try something else.

Dead or weak hearing aids can be caused by a blockage in the system. Depending on your style of hearing aid, you may check the tubing for moisture or wax buildup, or check the wax basket/filter. If the hearing aid has traditional tubing, the earmold can be removed and blown out with canned air or even your mouth in a pinch. Thin-tube hearing aids come with a small reamer that will clear the tubing. If the hearing aid is an in-the-ear style or receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) style, there is likely a wax guard or basket that can be changed.

Lastly, moisture is a huge problem in the summer months. If you have a drying jar, this is the time to use it. If you do not, ask your provider. The price can vary from $10–$200 for electric drying machines. In a pinch, a baggie with a few of the silicone packs you find in a new shoebox may work.

If the hearing aid continues to have issues, call your AudigyCertified™ provider. Often the hearing aids can be fixed by your provider in the office. Of course, the best remedy is prevention. Patients are encouraged to visit their provider several times throughout the year for routine cleanings and maintenance. If you are planning a trip or are attending an event and have not been in for a while, please call your provider for a clean and check to help head off any problems you might experience on the road.

Categories
Hearing Loss

Newborn Infant Hearing Screenings

Newborn infant hearing care

Once reserved for high risk register (HRR) babies, universal screening programs have been implemented across the U.S. in hospitals and birthing clinics for all newborns. Identifying potential hearing loss at birth is extremely important in determining next steps for treatment, since newborns rely heavily on hearing to develop proper learning and language skills.

The cause for congenital hearing loss in infants is sometimes due to genetics. But in over 50% of all cases of infant hearing loss, a cause is never identified. Fortunately, hearing loss at birth can usually be treated or even reversed before its effects damper learning. Most infants treated before 6 months of age attain a normal level of learning and language proficiency alongside their hearing peers.

The importance of an infant hearing test

Prior to universal screening, children with hearing loss were not usually identified until 2–4 years of age, by which point linguistic learning may have already been delayed. Many misconceptions about infant hearing loss persist, including:

Misconception:

Parents can identify hearing loss by clapping behind a child’s head.

Clinical Fact:

Children can compensate for a hearing loss using visual cues or air pressure.

Misconception:

Hearing loss in infants is rare.

Clinical Fact:

Hearing loss affects 2–4 infants out of 1,000, or 1%–2% of all newborns.

Misconception:

Children less than 1 year old cannot use hearing aids.

Clinical Fact:

Children as young as 1 month of age can be safely fitted with hearing aids.

Common types of infant screening tests

Infants that fall into the HRR category are usually premature, have high bilirubin levels (are yellowish at birth), have abnormal head shapes, or suffer from congenital infections. But HRR babies account for less than half of all infants with hearing loss, which is why otoacoustic emissions tests (OAEs) and auditory brainstem response tests (ABRs) were developed to screen newborns.

OAEs utilize a mini-earphone/microphone that plays sounds into the ear. Babies that hear normally will bounce back the sound in the ear canal, while babies that have hearing loss will not register an echo on the microphone.

ABRs go straight to the source of sound detection by wiring band-aid electrodes to a baby’s head in order to detect responses to sound played from a microphone. This test assesses the function of the auditory nerve and can be used to narrow down the cause of a hearing loss.

Both tests are non-invasive, safe, and comfortable for newborns. Usually, a newborn is first screened with an OAE. Newborns that do not pass the OAE are secondarily screened with an ABR to determine the severity of hearing loss, and to determine next steps.

 

Categories
Hearing Loss

Ear, Eye, and Teeth Check Ups: The “Three Wise Monkeys”

Don’t forget your ear checkup

Everyone knows that an annual visit to the dentist is something we all have to sit through. In later life, we realize we need to regularly have our eyes checked for new prescriptions, too. But what about our ears?

It’s safe to say that most people have never once visited an audiologist (outside of a few mandatory checkups in grade school), and that many of us take our hearing absolutely for granted. This is due to a serious lack of hearing awareness, which has persisted over many decades. Unlike dentists and optometrists, audiologists could do more to take matters into our own hands and actively promote hearing awareness.

The importance of an annual audiology checkup

In 2012, the Ida Institute held an awareness campaign competition for National Audiology Awareness Month, and one of the featured winners was “The Three Wise Monkeys”, a campaign which relied on the proverbial primates to remind everyone to get their ears, eyes, and teeth checked annually. It’s probably the best mnemonic we’ve seen in support of hearing checkups.

The biggest single reason a visit to the audiologist is overlooked in favor of a visit to the dentist or the optometrist is because hearing loss is very subtle. As we get older, we notice that our eyesight deteriorates, and tooth pain makes us acutely aware of our cavities. But when hearing deteriorates, it often goes unnoticed.

Individuals with hearing loss tend to downplay their hearing impairment for this very reason. They might not notice that they can’t hear the same sounds they could only a few years ago because, well, they can’t hear them. In other words, due to a lack of obvious indicators, hearing loss can lead to a vicious cycle of plausible self-denial.

This is why family members and friends of individuals with hearing loss should encourage those suffering from hearing loss to visit an audiologist. We can also promote better annual checkup habits by getting an annual hearing checkup even if we don’t think our hearing has deteriorated. At the end of the day, we need to start taking our hearing as seriously as we take our eyesight and dental hygiene.

 

Categories
Hearing Loss

Noise Can Hurt

Noise takes a toll

Noise can hurt, and it is one of the biggest culprits in declining hearing. Although hearing loss can have many causes, noise — especially repetitive, loud sounds — can certainly take its toll over time. The increased sound pressure waves push through the ear system, wiping out the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Although occasionally this damage can occur with a one-time exposure to an intense sound, more commonly it is the result of repeat exposure over long periods of time. Noisy jobs in industries such as construction and emergency services or noisy hobbies, such as hunting and motorcycles, can all play a part.

Protect from further damage

Avoiding damaging levels of sound by wearing hearing protection devices, such as earplugs or earmuffs, can help reduce or negate the impact of loud sound. But once the damage is done, it is not curable; noise-induced hearing loss cannot be reversed. However, you can protect your hearing from further damage. It is important if you think you may have noise-induced hearing loss to have your hearing tested to establish a baseline. Then you can start using hearing protection devices to protect the hearing you have. Your audiologist can help you determine what devices may be best for you.

An assessment is key

Although noise-induced hearing loss is not curable, there are things you can do to overcome the hearing loss. Improving your communication skills or wearing small amplifying devices can help in many situations. The ear is a complicated mechanism, so when damage is done, a thorough assessment is really the only way to decide what course of action would be best.

Celebrate in June

June is a month of graduations, weddings, and family vacations — not to mention the beginning of summer and a time for us to spend time with family and friends. Communication is a top priority. We want to hear those valedictorian speeches, vows, and family jokes. Hearing loss, even when mild, can detract from this. It can cause us to misunderstand or miss conversations entirely. It can be frustrating and isolating. June is the time to make a change. Have your hearing checked and find out from the professionals what, if any, hearing loss you have and what solutions would be right for you.

Hearing aids are now smaller, more comfortable, and more advanced than ever. And although they cannot restore hearing loss to perfect levels, hearing devices can allow for significant improvements.