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Paying Tribute on Armed Forces Day

By Siera Whitaker

May 20 is Armed Forces Day and Hearing Health Foundation is paying tribute to the men and women who serve in our armed forces.

The number one and two war wounds for active service members and veterans are hearing loss and tinnitus, directly impacting their ability to conduct missions and follow instructions. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, by the end of 2014 over 933,000 veterans received disability compensation as a result of hearing loss, and about 1.3 million received compensation for tinnitus.

Extended, unprotected exposure to noise that reaches 85 decibels (the sound of a lawnmower) or higher can cause permanent inner ear damage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states difficulty with hearing is the third most commonly reported chronic health condition in the U.S.; approximately 40 million Americans ages 20 to 69 have hearing loss in one or both ears, and one main cause is excessive, loud noise.

When it comes to hearing loss and tinnitus, soldiers are at an increased risk. They are susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) because they are exposed to loud machinery and explosions on a constant basis. In combat, soldiers are often exposed to sudden noises, such as from an improvised explosive device (IED) or other similar weapon, which are difficult to predict and be protected against. These sudden noises can result in temporary hearing loss and put military personnel at risk. However, the word “temporary” should be approached with caution. Repeated short-term hearing loss can damage the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss that becomes permanent.

Hearing loss as a result of noise is 100 percent preventable. Wearing hearing protection such as noise attenuating helmets, which use ear cups to protect against hazardous sound, or Tactical Communication and Protective Systems (TCAPS), can go a long way to reduce overall exposure.

Since these brave men and women are disproportionately impacted by hearing loss and tinnitus that likely affects many other aspects of their lives, Hearing Health Foundation is proud to pay tribute to them on Armed Forces Day. If you are a veteran, current service member, or have family or friends who have bravely served our country, please check out our veterans' resources and share your story about hearing loss or tinnitus with us.

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A Healthy Heart Could Mean Better Hearing Health

By Frankie Huang

In honor of American Heart Month in February, Hearing Health Foundation wants to shine light on the link between heart disease and hearing loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 610,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, making it the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S.

Heart disease is linked to or causes numerous health issues, including hearing loss. One study suggests that low-frequency hearing loss may be able to predict cardiovascular health. Using an audiogram, researchers were able to determine the probability of cardiovascular disease in men and women. The study found that there was a correlation of heart attacks in men, and a correlation of claudication (pain caused by too little blood flow) in women.

High blood pressure can also be a contributing factor to developing hearing loss, since the inner ear is sensitive to blood flow. High blood pressure damages blood vessels and increases the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow throughout the body. In other words, inadequate blood flow and nerve damage in the inner ear may lead to irreversible hearing loss.

A common cause of heart disease and hearing loss is smoking. Smoking increases blood pressure and plaque buildup, and causes hardening of the arteries, all of which decreases blood flow to the organs and other parts of the body. The effects of smoking damages the cardiovascular system, boosting the risk of hearing loss. Additionally, cigarettes contains nicotine, disrupting the neurotransmitters in the auditory nerve (which tell the brain which sound you are hearing) and preventing the brain to accurately interpret sound. Cigarette smoke contains many harmful chemicals that are believed to be ototoxic (toxic to the ear) that may damage hair cells.

There are a variety of ways to prevent heart disease and cut your risk for hearing loss. Eating healthy and incorporating moderate exercise into your daily life can drastically improve your health. Include more fish in your diet: Salmon, mackerel, and herring are high in the omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce high blood pressure and prevent plaque buildup, so you can decrease your overall risk of hearing loss.

Remember, a healthy heart leads to better hearing health.

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Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Affects More Than 50% Not in Noisy Jobs

By Yishane Lee

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made an announcement Feb. 7 on the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Among the many statistics cited, the CDC says:

  • 40 million U.S. adults ages 20 to 79 have NIHL

  • More than half (21 million) with hearing damage do not have noisy jobs

  • One in four U.S. adults who say they have good or excellent hearing actually show hearing damage

  • Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the U.S.

  • People report hearing loss at a rate nearly double of those reporting diabetes or cancer

The CDC says its latest Vital Signs report, using data from more than 3,500 hearing tests in the 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), shows “much of this [hearing] damage is from loud sounds encountered during everyday activities at home and in the community,” such as using a leaf blower or going to a loud concert without hearing protection. Nearly three-quarters of those who are exposed to loud noises never or rarely use hearing protection, the report says.

According to the press release, CDC researchers “found that 20 percent of people who reported no job-related noise exposure had hearing damage in a pattern usually caused by noise. This damage—shown by a distinctive drop in the ability to hear high-pitched sounds—appeared as early as age 20.” But it added that while a few studies have linked noise exposure among young people to the use of portable devices and entertainment venues, more research is needed to determine the relationship between this type of early noise exposure and hearing loss in older age.

Untreated hearing loss is linked with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and stress, the CDC says. In addition to causing hearing loss, chronic noise exposure can worsen heart disease and increase blood pressure, among other adverse health effects.

But don’t forget, noise is the only fully preventable cause of hearing loss.

Please see HHF’s resources on NIHL here, as well as our Summer 2015 cover story about NIHL. Taking care of your hearing should always be part of your overall health. If you suspect a hearing loss, get your hearing checked, and if you do have a hearing loss, get it treated. Avoid noisy areas, and wear protective earplugs or stronger when you need them in noisy environments. Download the CDC’s fact sheet here.

Receive updates on life-changing hearing research and resources by subscribing to HHF's free quarterly magazine and e-newsletter.

 
 
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URGENT: Demand Hearing Loss to be Acknowledged as a Disability

Recently, Hearing Health Foundation learned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study on the prevalence of disability in the U.S. The study examined vision loss, cognition, mobility, self-care and independent living, but failed to mention hearing loss, the third most common public health concern after diabetes and heart disease.

Hearing Health Foundation is outraged by this gross oversight and finds the exclusion of people living with hearing loss from the report to be a troubling concern. Failing to acknowledge hearing loss diminishes the fact that having a hearing loss is a concern worthy of attention and treatment, as well its impact on a person's quality of life, ability to work, and full participation in society.

Hearing Health Foundation is not sitting back quietly, and neither should you! We will be sending representatives at the White House and CDC a letter asking them to take swift and meaningful steps to correct this gross error, acknowledge hearing loss as a disability, and amend the report accordingly. 

If you would like to take action with HHF, please sign our petition on Change.org. You can also download this letter, sign and return it to us by e-mail or mail (Take Action, c/o Hearing Health Foundation, 363 7th Ave, NY, NY, 10001). We will be sending all letters on September 1st. 

If you have any questions or would like to share your own letter with us, please email us at info@hearinghealthfoundation.org.

Thank you,

Claire Schultz 

Chief Executive Officer 

Hearing Health Foundation

Sign up for our monthly Hearing Health e-newsletter to receive the latest research updates from the lab, hear from those directly impacted by hearing loss and learn about ways for you to help make hearing loss a thing of the past. 

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The Case for Genetic Testing

By Yishane Lee

Genetic causes account for roughly half of hearing loss cases in infants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many cases of progressive hearing loss that occur after infancy and childhood also have a genetic component.

At least 1,000 mutations in 64 genes linked to hearing loss have been identified. Thanks to rapid advances in genetic sequencing, identifying virtually all the genetic causes of hearing loss may occur within the decade, according to a recent report in the journal Genetic Testing and Molecular Biomarkers.

Researchers are using “targeted resequencing” to locate gene mutations in certain regions in the human genome that are linked to diseases much more quickly than sequencing the entire genome. In our Fall 2013 issue of Hearing Health magazine, Xue Zhong Liu, M.D., Ph.D., reviews the advances in sequencing technology and how this will affect the future treatment of hearing loss.

Because genetics can play such a significant role in hearing loss, genetic testing can answer questions you have about the cause of your or a loved one’s hearing loss. If the testing uncovers a mutation, it can help explain the hearing loss, its severity or progression, and whether other symptoms may become apparent. For instance, a person with Usher syndrome has not only hearing loss but also eventual blindness. You can proactively take steps to manage treatment and outcome. Knowing the genetic cause of a hearing loss can also help you predict whether the condition will be passed along to your children, or whether the children of other family members may have the condition. 

Last summer, Hearing Health magazine presented an overview of genetic causes of hearing loss, including Connexin 26 disorder. This is the most common cause of congenital hearing loss not related to a syndrome (with other symptoms, such as a thyroid problem). Mutations in the GJB2 gene affect development of the cochlea in the inner ear. Everyone carries two copies of the GJB2 gene (which encodes the protein connexin 26), and the mutations are usually recessive. So, two parents with one mutation each can have normal hearing. But if their child gets two faulty copies of the gene, the child will have a hearing loss. In fact, the majority of children born with hearing loss have normal hearing parents.

There are limits to genetic testing, however. For one thing not all the genes are known—yet. Also, a positive result for a mutation does not necessarily mean a person will get the condition associated with the mutation. And a negative result doesn’t mean you won’t get the particular condition, too—it may be that a different mutation in the same gene wasn’t detected, or there could be another mutation in a different gene that may cause the condition.

We have compiled a list of several dozen genetic testing centers nationwide that have specialized testing for hearing loss. Find a testing center near you.

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