New Study Suggests Serotonin May Worsen Tinnitus

By Erik Robinson

Millions of people suffer from the constant sensation of ringing or buzzing in the ears known as tinnitus, creating constant irritation for some and severe anxiety for others. New research by scientists at OHSU shows why a common antidepressant medication may actually worsen the condition.

The study, published Aug. 22 in the journal Cell Reports, focused on the action of serotonin, an important neuromodulator in the brain. Researchers examined brain tissue in mice, specifically the dorsal cochlear nucleus where sensory integration occurs and tinnitus is believed to develop. Researchers discovered that neurons known as fusiform cells within this portion of the brain become hyperactive and hypersensitive to stimuli when exposed to serotonin.

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“We saw that the activity of those neurons went through the roof,” said senior author Laurence Trussell, Ph.D., a professor of otolaryngology in the OHSU School of Medicine and scientist in the Vollum Institute.

The study could have implications for a common class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRIs can alleviate symptoms of moderate to severe depression and anxiety by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical compound that acts as a neurotransmitter thought to be responsible for maintaining mood balance.

However, the new research suggests that SSRIs prescribed to treat anxiety or depression may worsen patients’ tinnitus. Tinnitus is defined as the chronic perception of sound when there is no internal or external acoustic source.

“If you’re a physician treating a patient with hearing loss or tinnitus, you may want to be careful about prescribing a drug that compounds their feelings of anxiety,” said Trussell, who also suffers from tinnitus and has an appointment in the Oregon Hearing Research Center at OHSU. “The SSRI may be enhancing the thing you’re trying to fix.”

Lead author Zheng-Quan Tang, Ph.D., a senior postdoctoral fellow in Trussell’s lab, noted that a review of existing scientific literature indicated that many patients reported an increase in tinnitus soon after they began taking SSRIs.

“Estimates vary, but at least 10 percent of the U.S. population is affected by tinnitus,” Tang said.

The OHSU scientists are interested in exploring another area of research focused on a type of ion channel in the membrane of neurons that is activated by serotonin. If the scientists can determine a way to deactivate those channels, they may be able to allow the beneficial effects of antidepressants while limiting the severity of tinnitus.

The study was supported by the Hearing Health Foundation and National Institutes of Health grants NS028901 and DC004450.

This research synopsis was republished with permission from the Oregon Health & Science University

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Researcher Discovers Gene Mutation Related to Usher Syndrome Type 3

By Pranav Parikh

Usher syndrome type 3 is an inherited disease in which an individual is born with typical hearing and develops hearing loss in the stages of early childhood. They will most likely develop complete hearing loss by the time they are an adult. Though cases of Usher syndrome type 3 (and its subtypes) are quite infrequent, representing 2 percent of total Usher syndrome cases, the onset symptoms have damaging and often irreversible consequences that severely disrupt the lives of those living with the condition. There is currently no cure for the disease, but cochlear implants have seen some success in providing partial hearing function in patients.

A 3D model of the HARS enzyme, including the catalytic site (where the reaction occurs) and the anticodon site (the part that starts protein synthesis through RNA transcription).

A 3D model of the HARS enzyme, including the catalytic site (where the reaction occurs) and the anticodon site (the part that starts protein synthesis through RNA transcription).

Susan Robey-Bond, Ph.D., a 2012 Emerging Research Grants scientist, and her team at the University of Vermont College of Medicine were able to isolate a mechanism involved in the development of Usher syndrome. Histidyl-tRNA synthetase is an enzyme that is instrumental in protein synthesis. This enzyme, given the acronym HARS, is thought to be involved in the presentation of Usher syndrome type 3B in patients. The early symptoms of temporary hearing and vision loss, hallucinations, and sometimes sudden fatal buildup of fluid in the lungs may be triggered by a fever-causing illness. The hearing and vision loss are eventually severe and permanent.

A graphical representation depicting temperature variation between the wild-type and mutant version of the HARS enzyme.

A graphical representation depicting temperature variation between the wild-type and mutant version of the HARS enzyme.

Usher syndrome type 3B is autosomal recessive, meaning children of parents carrying the gene but who do not display symptoms have a likelihood of developing the disease. It is caused by a USH3B mutation, which substitutes a serine amino acid for a tyrosine amino acid in HARS. The team studying the biochemical properties of the gene compared the Y454S mutation in the HARS enzyme with its wild-type (non-mutated) form and found similar functional biochemical characteristics, as stated in the researchers’ recent paper in Biochemistry.

The amino acid activation, aminoacylation, and tRNA binding functions were all consistent between the mutation and wild-type genes. In later analysis, though, the team found that at an elevated temperature the Y454S substitution was less stable than the wild-type. More specifically, cells from patients containing the Y454S mutation displayed lower levels of protein synthesis, which could explain the onset of deafness these patients experience. How these proteins are implicated in the hearing processes will eventually help develop cures or better treatments for Usher syndrome.

Susan Robey-Bond, Ph.D., was a 2012 Emerging Research Grants recipient. For more, see her Biochemistry paper:, “The Usher Syndrome Type IIIB Histidyl-tRNA Synthetase Mutation Confers Temperature Sensitivity.”


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HHF Attends Cantor Fitzgerald’s Charity Day, a Star-Spangled Effort to Build Hope on Tragic 9/11 Anniversary

By Yvonnie Phan

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) was among the dozens of charities selected to participate in yesterday’s Cantor Charity Day—an annual, celebrity-filled philanthropic event held around the anniversary of September 11—at Cantor Fitzgerald’s New York City headquarters.

From left: HHF Board Vice Chair Paul Orlin, Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund President Edie Lutnick, Former Hockey Star Martin St. Louis, HHF CEO Nadine Dehgan

From left: HHF Board Vice Chair Paul Orlin, Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund President Edie Lutnick, Former Hockey Star Martin St. Louis, HHF CEO Nadine Dehgan

HHF’s attendance marked the organization’s fifth year of participation. HHF was represented by Hockey Legend Martin “Marty” St. Louis, HHF Board member Paul Orlin, and Nadine Dehgan, HHF’s CEO.

As Marty’s own foundation has supported HHF’s life-changing hearing and balance research in the past, HHF was especially thankful that he also dedicated his time to serve as an ambassador.

Marty St. Louis and Robert De Niro

Marty St. Louis and Robert De Niro

The HHF trio had a particularly memorable encounter with Robert De Niro and another hockey star, Mike Richter, who were also among Charity Day’s celebrity roster. Marty told Mr. De Niro that in his days as a player (for Tampa Bay Lighting, Calgary Flames, and the New York Rangers), he impersonated De Niro’s film roles in the locker room to energize his teammates before big games—and the movie star found that amusing.

All proceeds from Cantor Charity Day will benefit the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, which aids the families of the firm’s 658 employees who perished in the World Trade Center attacks. Since its 2001 establishment, the Relief Fund has expanded its reach to also support victims of terrorism, natural disasters, and emergencies, wounded military personnel, and other charitable causes worldwide, including HHF.

Marty making trades on the phone

Marty making trades on the phone

HHF CEO Nadine Dehgan reflects on the day: “Being part of this event where everyone gets together for the sole purpose of helping others is so inspiring. I am honored HHF was selected to participate again and grateful for the folks who make it happen, especially the Relief Fund’s President, Edie Lutnick, whose energy is unmatched. Marty was a superstar on the phone helping make trades!”

The Fund’s prioritization of wounded veterans is especially compatible with HHF’s work; tinnitus and hearing loss are the most common disabilities that afflict returning American military members.

“HHF will use the funds received from this event to continue to be a resource for veterans with hearing loss and to further research for treatments and cures for the 360 million people around the world who have hearing loss,” Nadine pledges.

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A Guide for Preparing for Emergencies When You Have Hearing Loss

By Laura Friedman

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” -Benjamin Franklin

With the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Southern Texas, the wildfires in the Midwestern United States and California, and impending Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm predicted to hit the coast of Florida, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) encourages everyone to have an action plan in place for the various emergencies one can face.


For people with hearing loss, emergencies can bring extra challenges and anxiety. As someone with a hearing loss myself, I'm nervous I'll sleep through my building's fire alarm or miss my subway stop due to not hearing an announcement. The latter may sound trivial, but it means I'm always hyper-aware of my surroundings, which is exhausting and also a little nerve-racking. So, when it comes to natural disasters and situations where my safety may be at stake, a predetermined action plan puts me (and my loved ones) at ease.

Here are some of HHF's tips for navigating one's hearing loss needs during emergencies:

1. Stock Up On the Basics and Know Your Power Sources

Keep extra batteries in your emergency kit for hearing aid and/or your cochlear implants, as well as for visual or sensory alerting systems.

  • For hearing aids, it's recommended to have a month's worth of batteries on hand.
  • For cochlear implants, consider a portable battery charger, especially because batteries generally last at most about eight hours. The chargers themselves need to be charged, so use them sparingly.

Procure a waterproof/sealed container that is large enough to hold hearing aids or cochlear implants to protect them in cases of extreme weather or susceptibility to damage/displacement, e.g., in an earthquake.

Remember your car can be a power source. Depending on the model and whether you have gas, your car may have some power for charging things like a cochlear implant battery pack or a cellphone through its USB port.

2. Emergency Contact List

Have a contact list printout with phone numbers for those to reach out to in case of emergency, as well as local text-9-1-1 services.

  • Keep your audiologist/ENT's number on hand, in addition to the phone number of the hearing aid or cochlear implants company in case the device needs to be repaired or for emergency support.
  • For those who live in urban areas, contact your city's Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) to inquire for emergency services and alerts; services vary greatly by city. For example, in New York City,  there's a phone "tapping system" for connecting with local police and fire departments if vocalizing your needs is a challenge.
  • For those in suburban and rural areas, contacting your local Mayor's office may also be useful, as well as introducing yourself to the local police and fire departments. If you belong to a church, synagogue, or other place of worship, your religious leader may have local resources available or know the right people to connect you to.

3. Communication With Authorities and Loved Ones

  • When the power's out, it's important to have access to a regular landline phone (not cordless), battery-powered amplifier, or battery-powered TTY.
  • Buddy systems are not just for toddlers. It's recommended to have two or three friends locally who agree in advance to check up on you in case of an emergency.
  • One contact should be out of state in case the local power and/or telephone lines are down.
  • If your smartphone and laptop have internet access and power, use social media to stay in touch and ask friends for help, as well as mark yourself safe, through Facebook's Safety Check.
  • Reverse 911 is available in some communities; This service will call YOU in an emergency. Check with your local emergency management office to find out if Reverse 911 is available and if they have TTY capabilities.
  • Key Phrases Card: Have a card printed out that has key phrases to help you communicate with local authorities.

4. Emergency Alerts

  • Visual Fire Alarms with Strobe Lights: Many cities and states, such as Houston, offer free visual fire alarms for the D/d/HoH.  You can also visit the National Fire Protection Association's website for a list of brands that meet that U.L. standards for smoke alarms.
  • Sign up for weather and other emergency alerts through The Emergency Email & Wireless Network at
  • NOAA Weather Radio: Provides one of the earliest warnings of weather and other emergencies and is programmed to alert you to hazards in your specific area. Some have a warning light, while others have LCD screen for alerts.
  • Notify Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), neighborhood watch, community block associations, and other local groups and authorities about your needs.

For more information, contact:
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):
Ready (part of Homeland Security):
Department of Labor’s Disability Resources:

All of us at HHF—the staff, Board of Directors, consultants, and volunteers—have the victims of recent natural disasters in our thoughts and hope for swift relief for those affected and displaced.  

If you are Deaf or have a hearing loss and would like more resources on developing an emergency preparation plan, please contact us at or 212.257.6140 / 888.435.6104 (TTY).


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With Her Ears On, Sherri Can Enjoy the Sounds of Her Grandchildren

By Sherri Ely

I lived a normal life in the hearing world until about 18 years ago when I started noticing I had a harder time following group conversations and talking on the phone. I discovered I had a moderate hearing loss in all the mid and high frequencies. For several years, I benefited greatly from hearing aids. I had a successful sales career in the Professional Beauty industry and was doing well.

One day, I began noticing that my hearing aids no longer helped with the clarity of speech. I could hear the sound of someone speaking, but had no idea what they were saying.

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A day that is forever etched in my memory is the day I resigned from my job. I pulled up to go into one of my accounts at a noisy salon and literally could not get out of my car. The thought of walking into that business and not being able to understand what was being said to me over the background noise was overwhelming. My employer was wonderful and tried to place me in a position within the company where I didn’t need to rely as much on my hearing, but I just wasn’t able to continue working.

Because my hearing aids were no longer benefiting me, I was evaluated to see if I was a candidate for a cochlear implant (CI). While I met the criteria for a CI, I was concerned about losing my residual hearing. I felt I would be giving up normal hearing in one level to gain hearing in another. So I chose to wait.

In the following years, I lived between two worlds.

I no longer fit into the normal hearing world because I could not have social conversations in a group or talk on the phone, or hear children's voices at all. 

And I didn't fit into the deaf community because I did have some hearing and I could not understand sign language or lip read very well.

About this time we received some great news. Our daughter was expecting our first grandchild! I was overjoyed to be a “Gammy,” but overwhelmed that I would never hear her little sounds, her cry, her little voice!

This sent me on a desperate search for help. This is when I found information about the EAS (electric-acoustic stimulation) implant from MED-EL. I read everything I could find and had hope again for the first time in many years. This new technology sounded perfect for me because it incorporated cochlear implant technology with an acoustic component. At the time, EAS was still being tested, and I was able to enroll in a clinical trial.

I was implanted with the EAS in 2010, and my granddaughter was born 6 months later. I was there when she was born and HEARD every cry and little sound she made. Today she is a chatty six-year-old that loves to ask me hundreds of questions.  Her favorite question, when I don't answer her quickly enough, is, “Gammy, do you have your ears on?”

Today, because of my EAS, I can say, “I have my ears on and I'm enjoying all the sounds of my new grandson and my very talkative granddaughter.”

EAS implant recipient Sherri Ely, 58, from Charleston, SC, shares her story just in time for Grandparents Day, September 10. A recent survey from MED-EL found that 66% of adults said that a major life event (e.g., marriage, birth of a child/grandchild, health scare) would motivate them to get their hearing checked.

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Celebrating Your Birthday in September? Learn How You Can Help HHF!

By Lauren McGrath

Sharing birthday presents is a popular custom. Most Americans report positive emotions when giving gifts. 83 and 78 percent of people feel joyful and generous, respectively, when sharing a present with a loved one, Pew Research finds. 

The receiving side of the gift-giving process is much different. The question, "What do you want for your birthday?" often triggers a mental blank, especially when multiple friends or family members inquire simultaneously. To think of one tangible item on the spot can be difficult.

More people in America were born in September than in any other month, according to a study shared in Reader's Digest from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, so it follows that this is the most popular birthday gift-giving time of the year, too.

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Should you fall among the millions of Americans celebrating a birthday during this ninth month of 2017, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) has a suggestion for you. Did you know that you can dedicate your birthday to a nonprofit organization of your choice on Facebook, inviting your friends to give directly to the cause?

A new feature on Facebook prompts users two weeks before their birthday to select a nonprofit organization's page. The individual whose birthday is approaching can set a goal amount and enter a custom message. Friends will see the public post, which expires at midnight on the user's actual birthday.

HHF relies on the generosity of individuals to propel forward its critical hearing and balance research, awareness efforts, and advocacy work. If you are a September-born HHF supporter who considers our work personally valuable, please consider creating a fundraiser of any size. Every dollar makes a difference.

Help your friends contribute to HHF through the following steps:

1. Once logged into Facebook, go to the Fundraisers page.

2. Click Raise Money.

3. Click Get Started.

4. Choose Nonprofit.

5. Type or Choose Hearing Health Foundation.

6. Personalize your message and click Create.

Happy birthday! And thank you for considering donating your special day to HHF.

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Working with Hearing Loss

By Katelyn Serpe

Since 1894, when Labor Day was named a federal holiday, the United States has celebrated the labor movement and the many contributions that workers have made in improving the lives of Americans across the country. Establishing a minimum wage and child labor laws are just a few of the accomplishments that have been made since the start of the labor movement.

Among these accomplishments are various workplace safety regulations, including recommendations for occupational noise exposure. Yet despite these regulations, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to noise levels high enough to cause hearing loss. With approximately 150 million Americans in the workforce, nearly 1 in 5 U.S. workers are exposed to noise levels high enough to cause hearing loss.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 24% of hearing loss in the United States has been a result of workplace exposure, yet people with a hearing loss are often hesitant to disclose their hearing loss in the workplace due to the associated stigmas. Some people with a hearing loss may not seek treatment immediately if they view their hearing loss as an unimportant issue. Yet others may not even be aware they have a hearing loss due to the low number of people who regularly receive hearing screenings.


People with hearing loss are less likely to be in the labor force with nearly half (47%) of people with hearing loss not in the labor force compared with 23% of typical hearing individuals. And the unemployment rate for those with a hearing loss is nearly double that of the typical hearing population.

Having a hearing loss comes with its own challenges but an undisclosed hearing loss in the workplace can increase work-related stress and cause problems in the workplace. Most jobs require some form of verbal communication and an undisclosed hearing loss can decrease efficient verbal communication. This can result in incorrect work due to a lack of comprehension of verbal instructions or a general decrease in productivity. A person with undisclosed hearing loss may, therefore, lose out on promotions and possibly face a loss in annual wages. People with untreated hearing loss can lose as much as $30,000 in annual income and earn approximately 25% less than their typical-hearing peers.

Fortunately, the use of hearing aids has been shown to nearly eliminate the risk of income loss for those with milder hearing loss, and reduce the risk of income loss significantly for those with moderate to severe hearing loss. But while it may seem that the use of hearing aids is a solution for the risk of income loss for people with hearing loss, only 1 in 4 people who could benefit from hearing aids currently owns them.

Employers can help reduce the economic costs of hearing loss by creating environments where people with a hearing loss are unafraid to acknowledge their hearing loss. Making hearing tests part of a company wellness program, making sure hearing aids are covered by company insurance, and providing reasonable accommodations for those with hearing loss are some steps that employers can take to decrease the stigma of having a hearing loss in the workplace.

Through education and raising awareness about the prevalence of hearing loss among Americans, Hearing Health Foundation hopes to erase the stigmas surrounding hearing loss.

We hope you will join Hearing Health Foundation this Labor Day in celebrating the achievements made so far to improve the lives of working Americans while also encouraging further progress to improve American lives both in and out of the workplace.

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That Annoying Ringing in Your Ears Has a Name: Tinnitus

HHF's communications and programs manager, Laura Friedman, shared her knowledge of tinnitus treatments with Boomer in "Have You Heard? That Annoying Ringing in Your Ears has a Name: Tinnitus."


There are currently no permanent solutions to cure this constant, unexplained noise, but the efforts of HHF's Hearing Restoration Project, an international scientific consortium working collaboratively in search of a biological cure for hearing loss, may produce one.

"One of the more interesting experimental treatment possibilities for tinnitus is reported by Laura Friedman...Since hair cell loss in the Corti (the organ containing sensory hair cells required for hearing) leads to hearing reduction, missing hairs may cause persistent imbalances in the auditory nerve, resulting in tinnitus. To address this possibility, the HHF’s Hearing Restoration Project is working to discover factors that would allow new human hair cells to be regenerated and restored in the Corti, or to convert non-sensory cells into hair cells."

Read the full article from Boomer, here.



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Preparing Deaf & HoH Athletes: Assistive Technology & Your Rights

Lexi, a nine-year-old athlete with hearing loss, prepares to bat. Her helmet hides the processors she wears over her ears. Photo by Gina Bailey.

Lexi, a nine-year-old athlete with hearing loss, prepares to bat. Her helmet hides the processors she wears over her ears. Photo by Gina Bailey.

By Jaime Vernon

I knew it would come: the day my daughter, Lexi, faced discrimination in sports related to her hearing loss. A helicopter parent questioned Lexi’s use of a device that allows her to hear on the field—a mask for her real outrage over her child’s strikeout. Awful sounding, right? But it happened to Lexi.

I authored this piece as a blueprint for everyone with hearing loss and deafness. I believe everyone with hearing loss and their family members should know their rights and what to do when something like this happens. And, as always, I want to share the needs and rights of individuals who wear cochlear implants or hearing aids with typical-hearing people.

Lexi Vernon, my nine-year-old daughter, is truly a force to be reckoned with. I'm not saying she's perfect. She is tough to coach. She experiences mental fatigue that sometimes makes her appear "spaced out.” Many times, she can’t hear you during softball practice due to distance or loud noises. She is headstrong and stubborn. However, Lexi is a raw, talented athlete and a fierce competitor. She's strong, tall, and determined. She is a talented basketball player and, more pertinent to her story, a fast pitch softball player.

The coolest part about Lexi's story is that she is 100% deaf. Lexi is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient. She had a surgery in both of her ears in which they implanted a cochlear implant into her cochlea which is located in her inner ear. That implant is also attached to her hearing nerve which sends signals to her brain. Lexi wears processors on the outside of her head (just over her ears) which are the microphones and small computers that send the sound (signals) into the implant. See how a cochlear implant works here.

During athletic games, Lexi needs a small device called a "mini-mic" which is an amplifier for the coach's voice. When she is wearing additional equipment, which can cover her microphones on her processors, or when distance is an issue; this mini-mic allows Lexi to hear her coach better. It’s still not perfect, but it really helps. Learn about a mini-mic device.

This weekend, I had to witness some awful behavior by parents of young athletes. I also had to witness umpires handling it all wrong.

Our team, the Tennessee Bash, of which I’m one of the coaches, was playing in a World Series in Tennessee. We were one of the “teams to beat.” Lexi is a pitcher on the team. During the final game to determine or placement in the Winner’s Bracket, not only did our opponent question Lexi’s assistive technology, but so did the umpires.

I have no problem if anyone asks about her equipment—and I usually disclose it. This tournament, however, only allowed one coach out at pregame, so I didn’t have an opportunity to do so.

The fans started yelling and acting foolishly, thinking I was feeding Lexi information into some mic when they noticed her device. To be honest, I don't even call the pitches. That coach does not wear the mini-mic. She takes the sign from her catcher like everyone else. Then our first base coach uses it when she's up to bat.

The umpire soon raised the questions to our first base coach. Their conversation went like this:

Umpire: “So, is she hearing impaired?”

Coach: “Yes. She is deaf. She was implanted with cochlear implants in both her ears and this mic helps her hear me with all the equipment.”

At that point, it should have been done. Finished. End of conversation.

But no. The umpire wasn’t satisfied. “Can’t she use signs?” she insisted.

Stop. Wait a minute. That is more offensive to us than anything. We fight every day to mainstream Lexi in a spoken language world. Lexi went through five years of intense speech therapy, a special “oral deaf rehab” school and speech tutoring at home three nights a week. She worked hard to be able to hear and speak.

The opposing fans went on about it. Then, an umpire not officiating the game, sitting under a tent, started questioning it. And we’re in the middle of the game! Our coach was trying to coach! Lexi wasn’t even up to bat; she was in the dugout!

Thankfully, Lexi couldn’t hear any of what was going on and Coach Charles took the mini-mic away from his mouth. How would Lexi have felt if she knew half of the people at that game were going on and on about how she shouldn’t be able to use equipment to help her hear?

So, after all the hullabaloo, I went out and spoke to the umpire directly. She seemed satisfied with my explanation. However, the fans didn’t let up. My co-coach handled it sublimely.

So here’s the truth. If our circumstances permit something that stretches our emotions or mind or will, we are supposed to use it. I’m going to use this situation as an example of how to be equipped for this in the future.

Let’s say someone was on the softball team with a prosthetic leg. Do you think anyone would ever be upset that they were playing with their leg on? No, because any human being would be touched by this person’s courage to participate in mainstream athletics!

Simply because you cannot see someone’s hearing loss or deafness doesn’t mean it isn’t something very real and very difficult to overcome. That’s Lexi—and hundreds of thousands just like her. They overcome deafness every single day due to amazing technology, but it isn’t human, natural hearing. They do, at times, require special needs.


Whatever you do, prepare yourself or your child for this possible scenario. Remind them that people can be ugly many times and to simply ignore it. Remind them that there are also incredible human beings in this world that fight for these laws to exist, so let’s focus on the fact that they can hear, use spoken language and play sports like every hearing person!

Jaime Vernon is the Founder and CEO of Songs for Sound, a nonprofit organization focused on hearing healthcare and inclusion opportunities for those with hearing loss. This story was republished with her permission. For more on her daughter Lexi Vernon’s cochlear implant story, visit Songs for Sound’s Mission & History page.

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Don’t Let Swimmer's Ear get in the Way of Your Summer Fun

By Lauren Conte

After a long day spent enjoying the public pool, your youngest child runs towards you clutching one of his ears. You calm him down, and after a few moments he tells you that his ear itches, hurts to the touch, and sounds are muffled.

Unsure of how to treat his pain, you book an appointment with your family's doctor. In the meantime, you try to stop your son from shoving his fingers into his ears as the burning pain worsens.   

At the appointment, the doctor sees the red inflammation in the ear canal and notes the clear, odorless discharge draining from your child's ears. "Yep," the doctor says, "its Swimmer's Ear."

Well, what exactly is Swimmer's Ear, and how does it occur? Swimmer's Ear (also known as acute otitis externa) is an ear infection caused by bacteria, and though instances are rare, sometimes can occur from viruses or fungi.

Long exposure to contaminated water, such as recreational pools or lakes makes individuals susceptible to infections. The water softens the skin inside the ear and allows bacteria to multiply and cause irritation. When people use their fingers, cotton swabs, or other objects to itch their ears, the softened skin is easily broken, spreading the infection further.  

To catch the infection early, some symptoms include:

  • Itchiness in the ear canal
  • Pain when pushing or pulling on the outer ear
  • Clear drainage
  • Swelling and redness of the ear
  • Sensation of fullness in the ear
  • Swollen lymph nodes around the ear, upper neck, and jaw

Treatment options vary, but often your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal medication to kill the infection. Your doctor may prescribe a steroid to decrease the inflammation, or an acidic solution to restore the normal pH inside the ear. (When applying the drops, have someone else help you. Also, lie down with the affected ear facing upwards in order to fill the ear completely with medication.) To decrease the pain before and during treatment, over-the-counter pain relievers are effective at helping relieve some of the discomfort in the ears.

Okay, so now we know how it happens and how to treat the infection should it occur, but let's try to avoid getting to that point. Spoiler alert: you don't have to give up the pool, lake, or beach time!

While in the water, keep ears dry by using earplugs or a swim cap.

If that isn't your style, dry the outside of your ears with a towel, drop some drying-aid into each ear, and then tilt your head to the side to help the water drain out.

Pro-Tip: DIY Ear-drying Aid

  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon rubbing alcohol
  • (Or however much solution you desire, but keep equal parts vinegar and rubbing alcohol)
  • Mix solution together and add drops into both ears.

The alcohol in the solution combines with the water and because alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature, pulls the water out with it. The acidity of the vinegar lowers the pH of the ear so bacteria cannot grow. Use this solution each time you leave the water, to ensure that infection does not occur.

Also, never use cotton swabs or fingers to try to remove water from ears. Your fingernails can cut up the inside of your ears, cotton swabs can puncture eardrums, and scrape the ear canal as well. Similarly, do not try to use cotton swabs to remove earwax, as the natural substance protects against infection and waterproofs your ears.

There you have it, the signs to look out for, and the ways to avoid putting a damper on your summer.

Lauren Conte is a Communications Intern for Eosera, a biotechnology consumer products company.

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