Hearing Health

Turning Fourth of July Into a Science Lesson

By Kelly N. Barahona

In most cities if not towns of a certain size in the U.S., a grand display of fireworks for the Fourth of July is part of the celebration of America’s birthday. But just how loud are the fireworks people have come to expect every summer? Unfortunately fireworks can measure from 140 to as high as 165 decibels, easily a hearing-damaging event if you are sitting too close.

This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the festivities. With the abundance of decibel-reading apps for smartphones it’s easier than ever before to learn how much noise is in the world around us. Most apps use the smartphone’s microphone to give a reading of the decibel level. As with a professional-grade meter, most apps can also show how the noise fluctuates over time, in real time, and provide numerical reference points that users can compare to their own sound levels. Some apps even let you geo-tag the decibel level to a specific location, like your local coffee shop or favorite restaurant.

Parents, camp counselors, and teachers can turn the Fourth of July into a science lesson. On the night of the fireworks show, Hearing Health Foundation recommends staying at least one block away from where the fireworks are being displayed and using a smartphone app to measure the decibel level.

If you want to be closer to the action, protect your hearing by using foam earplugs or over-the-ear earmuffs for the youngest children. A fun but loud activity like this can be a good segue for conversations about how listening to music at too loud a volume and participating in noisy recreational activities may be harmful, as well as how to incorporate better hearing health practices in your daily life.

Fourth of July should be a time of fun and enjoyment, but as with anything, it is necessary to take precautions to make the holiday safe as well. Teach your loved ones about the noises and sounds around them to hopefully encourage everyone to take active measures to protect their hearing on a regular basis. Remember, noise is the most preventable cause of hearing loss.

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The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

By Alycia Gordan

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June is Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month and Hearing Health Foundation would like to shine light on the effects untreated hearing loss can have on our brains and memory. Hearing loss is often linked with dementia, and research is being conducted to establish the exact link between the two. Evidence suggests that by treating hearing loss, the risk of dementia can be mitigated.

Dementia is a medical term that is used to describe a host of symptoms, characterized by a deterioration in a patient’s cognitive abilities. The degeneration of brain cells causes neurons to stop functioning, leading to a series of dysfunctions.

A person may have dementia if at least two of his mental faculties are affected: the loss of memory and focus; difficulty communicating; short or interrupted attention spans; impaired judgment; or an inability to perform everyday tasks.

Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of otolaryngology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, conducted a study in 2011 in which the mental abilities of 639 cognitively stable individuals were supervised regularly for 12 to 18 years. The results indicated that volunteers with normal hearing were much less susceptible to acquiring dementia while those with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss were two, three, and five times more susceptible to the disorder, respectively.

Another study conducted by Lin in 2013 involved observing the cognitive abilities of 1,984 older adults over six years. The research concluded that older adults with hearing loss tended to experience 30 to 40 percent accelerated cognitive dysfunction and were at a higher risk of developing dementia.

What Is the Cause?

Since the exact link between hearing loss and dementia is still a mystery, there are theories about how the former may aggravate the latter.

One of the theories suggests that if the brain struggles to cope with degraded sounds, its resources are allocated to processing these sounds and this “cognitive load” causes a decrease in overall cognitive functioning. Moreover, hearing loss accelerates atrophy in the cerebrum which is not exclusive to processing sound as it also plays a role in memory. In addition, it is speculated that social isolation that results from hearing loss causes stress and depression and exacerbates cognitive deterioration.

What Is the Solution?

Not many studies have been conducted to check the influence of treating hearing loss for treating dementia. However, the studies that have been conducted so far do provide considerable hope.

One way to improve profound hearing loss is receiving cochlear implants. French researcher Isabelle Mosnier, M.D., of the Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, evaluated the effect of cochlear implants on cognitive functioning in 94 elderly people who had profound deafness (in at least one ear).

Mosnier found that hearing rehabilitation improved not only cognitive functioning of the elderly, but their speech perception as well.

The most direct link between auditory impairment and memory loss is the brain. Thus, any stimulus that helps the brain remain alert will keep the person active too. Hence, researchers are considering the use of music therapy to restore cognitive functions in people who suffer from memory loss.           

Concetta Tomaino, a cofounder of the Institute for Music and Neurological Function, found that music stimulates parts of the brain made inactive by dementia. In a pilot study, music therapy sessions were conducted with 45 individuals with chronic dementia and the results showed that neurological and cognitive abilities improved significantly for those in the music group.

This research shows there are techniques that can aid individuals with dementia and hearing loss. If you or a loved one has hearing problems, please see a hearing health professional to get a hearing test in order to potentially prevent future cognitive issues. 

Alycia Gordan writes for Brain Blog.

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

 
 
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Meet HHF's Small But Mighty Team

By Nadine Dehgan

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) is working around the clock to help find cures and treatments and also to better the lives of those with hearing loss. And we are doing it with a small and incredible team.

Recently I attended a bowling outing with HHF's full-time staff and our mighty army of interns. (Please see the photo.) Missing are Yishane Lee and Robin Wisser Kidder whose wonderful talent is used to edit and design Hearing Health magazine; Caroline Oberweger who aids with foundation grants; and Frankie Huang who helped as a marketing intern.

From left to right: Stephanie Jacovina, Breana King, Shawaza Majeed, Laura Friedman, Nadine Dehgan, Hai Zhou and Kelly Barahona

From left to right: Stephanie Jacovina, Breana King, Shawaza Majeed, Laura Friedman, Nadine Dehgan, Hai Zhou and Kelly Barahona


Thanks to these talented people, HHF has been able to: 

  • Increase awareness of preventable noise-induced hearing loss by developing. partnerships with peer organizations and corporations.

  • Register to fundraise in every state—a necessary and time-consuming process.

  • Write blog posts and magazine articles on various hearing loss topics as well as hearing research.

  • Secure media placement in the following outlets: The New Yorker, The Guardian, Men’s Journal, and others.

  • Rewrite our internal policies and procedures to streamline activities and reduce costs.

  • Send supporters and constituents countless communications including magazines, letters, and appeals to raise funds so we can continue our important work.

  • Communicate with the Federal Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, and various elected officials regarding the critical need for affordable hearing health care (e.g.,. over-the-counter hearing aids) and significance of funding hearing research.

  • Advocate for the reversal of the 2018 federal budget’s proposed elimination of all federalUniversal Newborn Hearing Screening funding, $18 million in total.

  • Announce our newly formed partnership with Hearing Charity of America’s Hearing Aid Donation Project to collect used hearing aids to give to those who need.

  • Increase Hearing Health magazine ad sales revenue enabling HHF to invest in growing its readership.

  • Continue to receive top ratings from charity watchdogs with HHF named twice in two categories in Consumer Reports’ top five best charities.

  • And most importantly increase funding to our critical hearing and balance research programs promoting innovative approaches by both early-stage scientists and established experts in their fields!

At HHF we all live and breathe our mission. I would like to recognize and express my gratitude to those the who give of their time and talent to our cause.

There is much to do and many unmet research needs—but together we will get there.

From the bottom of my heart I am grateful and hope you wil join me in thanking these folks. They help make it all possible.

Nadine Dehgan is the chief executive officer of Hearing Health Foundation.

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Getting Married? Turn It Down

By Emilio Cortez, Ed.D

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Wedding day celebrations often include music, but when music is too loud, you and your guests may experience hearing loss as a result. The problem of loud music is rampant and has contributed to the growing number of 48 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss.

Many bands and disc jockeys play music at 100 decibels (dB). If you’re not wearing earplugs, 100 dB can cause hearing loss in just 14 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A telltale sign that music is too loud is when you need to shout to the person next to you just to be heard. If the music at a wedding is played consistently at 90 dB of loudness, hearing loss can occur after two hours of exposure.

Since we are all the targets of dangerous decibels, we need to remember, “Be decibel-wise: under 85 keeps hearing alive.”

When interviewing bands or DJs for a wedding, insist that you want the music to be no louder than 80 dB—and then be prepared for bewildered faces. Since many musicians and DJs are accustomed to playing very loud music, some of them have already lost hearing, so 80 dB won’t seem loud enough; an alternative plan would be to make earplugs available to your guests (see below).

The louder music is played, and the more guests that attend a wedding, the louder guests must talk to converse which adds to the total loudness. You may want to appoint a wedding helper to monitor the music’s loudness and to remind musicians to turn down the volume as needed. Also, by having the music alternate between loud songs and softer music, you can give your guests and their ears a healthy rest from potentially dangerous decibels.

Many free decibel meter apps are available for both Apple and Android smartphones. You can check it for accuracy by talking into it in a normal speaking voice. You should be getting a reading somewhere between 60 and 70 dB, which is a normal reading for conversational speech. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has blogged about the accuracy of decibel meter apps.

If you choose to use earplugs that conform to your ear canal size, refer to the YouTube video, “Fitting Foam Earplugs.” In essence you want to roll the earplug down to toothpick size and then insert it into your ear, allowing it to expand in order to provide the most effective hearing protection.

My daughter is getting married this August, and I had her share this information with the prospective DJ so he knows exactly what I will be expecting as the father of the bride! Noise is the most preventable cause of hearing loss. Don’t squander it on your wedding day.

Emilio Cortez, Ed.D., is a member of the Hearing Loss Association of America of Pennsylvania and a co-chair of its Turn Down the Volume Committee.

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Hearing Health Foundation and Hearing Charities of America Join Forces

By Laura Friedman

Hearing Health Foundation and Hearing Charities of America Join Forces

Hearing Charities of America (HCOA) and Hearing Health Foundation are excited to announce a newly formed partnership in an effort to collect hearing aids that will be given to low-income individuals through the HCOA’s national assistance program, The Hearing Aid Project.

One quarter of Americans ages 20 to 65 suffer from hearing loss, which makes it one of the country’s most widespread public health concerns. The Hearing Aid Project was created to provide access to affordable hearing health services, while creating collaborative relationships to support this mission.

Countless hearing aids sit unused in drawers or are discarded once new hearing aids are purchased. Hearing Health Foundation is now a collection center for The Hearing Aid Project to ensure that quality, donated hearing aids can be refurbished and given to those in need.

“Hearing Health Foundation is thrilled to join forces with Hearing Charities of America and do our part in collecting hearing aids to be refurbished and distributed to those who need them,” said Nadine Dehgan, HHF’s CEO. “Minimal health insurance and Medicare coverage, as well as out-of-pocket costs, have been a major hurdle for many who could benefit from using hearing aids. Until quality hearing healthcare is available to all of the 48 million Americans living with hearing loss, HHF is glad to be doing its part to provide hearing aid assistance to those in need,” Dehgan said.

Hearing Charities of America and Hearing Health Foundation believe that healthy hearing should be enjoyed by all. To donate your hearings aids to be refurbished, please contact Hearing Health Foundation at info@hhf.org or 212-257-6140.

THE HEARING HEALTH CHALLENGE

In celebration of Better Hearing and Speech Month in May, Hearing Health Foundation is launching the Hearing Health Challenge. Although hearing loss is commonly associated with one’s normal aging process, more than half of those with hearing loss are younger than 65. The top two war wounds for active military personnel and veterans are hearing loss and tinnitus, accounting for 60 percent of this population.

Unfortunately, only 13 to 33 percent of those who need hearing aids use them; financial constraints, the lack of a perceived need, and stigma are leading reasons why hearing loss goes untreated for an average of 7 to 10 years after diagnosis. Hearing Health Foundation is committed to reducing the stigma, educating the public on the dangers of noise, advocating for greater access to hearing health care, and funding the best science to find better treatments and cures for hearing loss and its associated disorders.

CHALLENGE

  • For every hearing aid received within the month of May, a $200 cash donation will be made to HHF by an anonymous donor to support hearing research. 
     

  • For every dollar donated within the month of May, that dollar will be matched up to $33,500 by an anonymous donor to support hearing research.  

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AudiologyNow! 2017

By Kathleen Wallace

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The American Academy of Audiology’s (AAA) annual conference, AudiologyNow!, took place in the Indianapolis Convention Center in early April. Although four days of lectures addressed nearly every aspect of the audiological scope of practice, one overarching theme emerged this year: How will the field of audiology evolve from here?

This past year has posed various disruptions to the field of audiology, such as how over-the-counter hearing aid legislation will change delivery of services, how the continued interest in personal sound amplification products (PSAPs, also called “hearables”) will guide consumer choice, and how to improve evaluations and interventions to best serve individuals with hearing loss. These questions, along with many others, fueled an exciting dialogue among professionals from around the country.

AAA President Ian Windmill, Ph.D., urged members of the academy to embrace disruptions to the field, including the recently introduced legislation for nonprescription hearing aids. Although these changes may appear as an encroachment on the audiological scope of practice, Dr. Windmill urged that these may actually be beneficial to the field.

Dr. Windmill said hearing healthcare has never been more in the public eye or as highly discussed by health officials, politicians, and consumers than in this past year. This increased awareness could lead to the prioritization of hearing health, as consumers grow more cognizant of the repercussions of hearing loss. Furthermore, the introduction of hearing solutions at various price points and technology levels may improve accessibility. If audiologists were to embrace these alternatives to intervention, they will successfully evolve with the field while simultaneously demonstrating to consumers their dedication to patient-centered care.

This sentiment was echoed throughout the conference’s sessions. Additionally, multiple lectures discussed how audiologists could improve delivery of patient-centered care by improving counseling skills, utilization of self-assessments, and consumer education to shift the locus of control from care provider to joint decision-making between the consumer and the hearing provider.

Lastly, leading professionals in the field encouraged a return to the audiologists’ roots as rehabilitative professionals. In the years since the audiological scope of practice expanded to include the ability to dispense hearing aids, audiologists have slowly shifted their focus from providing rehabilitative services to a device-driven service centered on hearing aids. However, the delivery of unprecedented auditory rehabilitation to foster successful communication strategies will enable our profession to succeed in the face of the many disruptions to hearing technology.

AAA’s willingness to acknowledge the challenges facing hearing healthcare is very promising to its successful evolution as a field. Although the field of audiology is currently experiencing some growing pains, many hearing healthcare professionals are embracing this opportunity to rethink the delivery of care and how to improve patient satisfaction by challenging the status quo.

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What's That Noise?

By Laura Friedman

In honor of World Tinnitus Day April 18, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) wants to draw attention to the effects and challenges associated with tinnitus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates some 15% of Americans—about 50 million people—have experienced tinnitus. Roughly 20 million people struggle with chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases. It is also a top war wound among active U.S. military personnel and veterans.

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Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound when there is no external, acoustic source. Individuals with tinnitus may describe the noise as buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking. Roughly 90 percent of tinnitus cases occur with an underlying hearing loss.

Tinnitus can be either intermittent or chronic. People who experience intermittent tinnitus occasionally hear sounds in their ears that can last from minutes to hours after being exposed to excessively loud noises. An example would be someone sitting near the fence of a NASCAR race without wearing hearing protection. People with chronic tinnitus, on the other hand, often experience noise more frequently, which can last for more than three months.

The impact of tinnitus on everyday life differs from person to person. Researchers found that most people with chronic tinnitus are not too bothered by it. Many of these people prefer to only see a doctor for assurance that their tinnitus is not an indication of a serious disease or impending deafness. People who were bothered by their tinnitus reported that it was annoying, invasive, upsetting, and distracting in daily life. In a small tinnitus self-help group, some members frequently describe having problems sleeping, understanding speech, poor concentration, inability to relax, and depression.

People with age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, may also experience a ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in the ears. Presbycusis progresses over time and is generally more severe in men than in women and the risk increases with age, as shown in epidemiological surveys.

Although there is no cure for tinnitus, there are available treatments that can minimize tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus Activities Treatment (TAT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) are sound therapies that can lessen the effects of tinnitus, often times very helpful in combination with counseling. Furthermore, by using hearing protection and noise reduction technologies, and by avoiding excessive noise, many people can prevent significant hearing problems.

Taking care of your hearing should always be part of keeping healthy overall. If you suspect a hearing loss or tinnitus, HHF recommends getting your hearing checked. If you do have a hearing loss or tinnitus, talk with your hearing healthcare professional about available treatments. For more information, visit hhf.org/tinnitus or email us at info@hhf.org.

Laura Friedman is the Communications and Programs Manager of Hearing Health Foundation.

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Want to Be Happier in 2017? Try a Hearing Test.

By the Better Hearing Institute

When you’re making your list of New Year’s resolutions and to-dos for 2017, be sure to put this one near the top: a hearing test.

That’s right. Research shows that when people address hearing loss it improves their quality of life in many ways.

And it’s no wonder. Ignoring a hearing loss and leaving it unaddressed can be exhausting, lead to isolation, and has been tied to an assortment of health conditions, including depression, diminished cognitive function, and an increased risk of falling.

But when people get a hearing test and use professionally fitted and individually programmed hearing aids—when recommended by a hearing care professional—most say they’re happy with the improvements they see in multiple areas of their lives.

Here are just a few potential perks of treating hearing loss that may surprise you:

  1. Your spirits may brighten. People with hearing loss who use hearing aids are less likely to feel down, depressed or hopeless, BHI research shows.

  2. Your relationships may benefit. Most people with hearing loss who use hearing aids say it has a positive effect on their relationships, according to a BHI survey. Research also finds that they’re more likely to have a strong social network.

  3. You may start to see life’s sunny side a little more. People with hearing loss who use hearing aids are more likely to be optimistic, feel engaged in life, and even get more pleasure in doing things, BHI research finds.

  4. Taking the reins on life might become easier. BHI research shows that people with hearing loss who use hearing aids are more likely to tackle problems actively. Not a bad New Year’s resolution in and of itself.

  5. It may lighten your cognitive load. Experts say that effortful listening due to unaddressed hearing loss is associated with increased stress and poorer performance on memory tests. If you don’t have to put so much effort into listening due to untreated hearing loss, more cognitive resources may be available for other things—like remembering what was said, or enjoying the conversation with friends.

So, go ahead. Make a hearing test one of the New Year’s resolutions you keep in 2017. 

So do it for your health. Do it for your happiness. Get a hearing test.

To take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing check to help determine if you need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing health care professional, visit www.BetterHearing.org

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute.

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Your Cell Phone Can Save Your Hearing

By Murray Grossan, M.D.

As a ear, nose, and throat specialist I treat patients with hearing loss and tinnitus. Did you know that by simply by using your smartphone, you can help prevent these hearing conditions?

Loud noises damage the ear. But how loud is too loud? When a guest attends a wedding and sees children seated in front of eight-foot speakers, are the speakers too loud? Your phone knows.

When a parent yells to his teenagers to lower the volume of their music, is it truly too loud? Your phone knows.

There are many smartphone apps available to Apple and Android operating systems. A simple search for the terms “sound meters” or “decibel meters” will bring up  different apps, including many of which are free!

Hearing sounds at 115 decibels for more than 15 minutes can cause permanent hearing loss. With hearing loss you may also develop tinnitus. Chronic tinnitus can be so distracting that it can disrupt daily life, including the loss of sleep.

It is not essential to know all the ins and outs of sound measurement in order to protect your hearing. (For technical details, see the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s report.) A sound meter is all you need.

Why? It may be hard to realize how loud a sound really is, how close you are to it, and how long you are exposed to it. One person says the sound is too loud; another says it seems fine. A smartphone sound meter can measure the volume level. Recent research by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health scientists shows the apps’ accuracy is approaching that of professional sound meters. And once you know the danger, you can limit your exposure: Block, walk, and turn.

We know that many older people have hearing loss. But science is not sure if age causes the loss or if it is an accumulation of years of hearing loud noises, just as the cumulative effects of sun exposure are evident decades later. I have an 88-year-old patient with perfect hearing. She never used a noisy lawnmower.

If sound meter use becomes common, and we are all fully aware of the danger of noise exposure, you won’t see children seated in front of giant speakers at a wedding. And I sincerely hope that I will see fewer people at my office because they can’t hear and have tinnitus.

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'Tis the Season to Protect Your Hearing from Noisy Toys

By It's A Noisy Planet

The winter holidays are the time of year for giving and sharing! The holidays provide many opportunities to spend time with family and friends and enjoy some festive cheer. Perhaps you’ll see a local holiday musical or performance or participate in a holiday gift exchange. As you prepare to wrap (or unwrap) those gifts, it’s important to consider if that noisy toy could actually be a hazard. Ever thought about how those concerts and new toys and gadgets might affect your hearing?

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has found toys on store shelves that produce sounds loud enough to contribute to hearing damage over time, including music players and toys that are intended to be held close to the ear. Read the full U.S. PIRG report. During the holidays, make sure to consider the noise levels of toys for children and follow these simple tips to help keep the noise down:

  • Pack hearing protectors, such as earplugs or ear muffs, if you’re attending a local seasonal concert or other festivities. Musical events can register at or above 120 decibels—that’s roughly as loud as an ambulance siren.

  • Did one of your children get a new noisy toy? If the racket is driving you crazy, it may be too loud. Consider putting masking or packing tape over the toy’s speaker. This should muffle the sound enough to make it safe for everyone. Some toys have volume controls to lower the volume or turn off the sound completely.

  • Buy quiet gifts. Look for toys or gadgets with low-volume settings or ones that make no noise at all, such as books or puzzles.

  • Test out toys in the store before buying them to check sound levels. Ask yourself, “Is this too loud?” If so, find another toy with a softer sound. Also ask, “Can I control the volume on the toy and maintain a lower level of noise output?”

  • Limit “screen time” to cut back on noise. Televisions, tablet computers, and video games contribute to high sound levels in the home.

  • Turn on only one toy at a time. Avoid competing noises in the same area.

From everyone at Hearing Health Foundation and It’s a Noisy Planet. Protect Their Hearing® we wish you a happy holidays and a healthy New Year! 

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