Can You hear me?

“Say what? Could you please repeat that? You need to speak up! I can’t hear you!”

 
Commerical Free photo on flickr by Renate Dodell

I can’t hear you. I thought being deaf was for older folks.  Like our parents and our parent’s parents.  So in this decade of IPods and Bluetooth, guess what?  Hearing loss is for everyone, from teenagers to sixty five year olds and above.  There is no discrimination.  One in five people between the ages of 40 and 59 is already experiencing a deficit.  One in five teens suffers from hearing loss.  If you want to make your hearing environment safe, here are some tips to help your hearing last longer.

Inside our ears lie thousands of hair like cells that turn sound waves into electrical signals so the brain can interpret what we hear.  But very loud noise generates free radicals that damage those cells, and sometimes permanently.  There’s an over-the-counter supplement called N-acetyl cysteine that actually works better than earplugs alone at minimizing ear damage at any loud event if you take 900 to 1200 mg 3 x a day with meals for 14 days.  We’re talking air show, shooting range, Metallica concert-type loudness.  

If you find yourself in a concentrated loud event such as a spinning class with blasting music, or in the street with a jackhammer or in a place with loud machinery, if you go someplace quiet for a few minutes at intervals you can actually break the inflammation caused by free radicals and the effects will dissipate.

Looking for headphones that will help you in blocking out the noise?  Sound isolating ones are the best choice because they block the right proportion of high and low frequencies so you can hear your music at a lower volume.  Noise-cancelling headphones are less effective because they block mostly low frequencies.

Thanks to the increase in the number of IPhones and Android phones and personal electronic devices that deliver sound directly into the ear canal, the hearing of teens and adults alike is deteriorating at a rate that is phenomenal.  Nationwide surveys have revealed that teens across the country have an increasing problem and hearing professionals are having to work harder to deal with the situation in general, even though it is largely preventable.

Visit the Siemens Hearing Implements manufacturing plant in Piscataway, New Jersey.  You’ll hear the volume of small hand drills, buffing tools and other implements going endlessly and everywhere.  That hum, for most of us, is the result of other sounds, and we’re not talking low volume sounds. Loud music, delivered straight to the aural system through ear buds or other in the ear phones, can create conditions that strongly promote hearing loss.  Out of 500 teens asked by Siemens if they had ringing in their ears, roaring, buzzing or pain, nearly 46% said they had.

When you think of a significant increase in potential hearing loss, 46% is huge.  When a survey was done four years ago, the conclusions announced that 20 % of all teens in the survey showed signs of hearing loss.  Hearing loss is expected at my age, 65, and is also on the rise, however, when I think of experiencing hearing loss at age 20 I’m quite sure that would have been an upsetting and socially embarrassing issue for me.  I would have been angry and would not even have known, in the 70’s, what to do about the problem or if it could be corrected or future damage avoided.

Different teens with hearing loss volunteered their information.  One 19 year old now wears 2 hearing aids.  She was diagnosed with hearing loss at age 16.  On diagnosing her hearing loss it could have been a result of listening to her cellphone at a very high volume, and the use of earbuds directing the sound into her ear canals directly.

The diagnostic hearing docs have commented that teens know the risks, know it’s preventable and continue the behaviors as if they aren’t armed with the tools. There are specialized ear plugs that prevent this drastic hearing loss.  Siemens is one of the top manufacturers of ear plugs as well as hearing aids.  Why not avoid the hearing aids and get the ear plugs? These specialized ear plugs are for musicians, so teens would benefit.  They won’t damage your hearing, but more simply, you could turn down the volume.  Unfortunately that is not what usually happens. If your phone is emitting 85 decibels or louder, you must turn it down.  Sounds simple.  Why do folks not listen?

Hearing loss in adults has a number of contributing factors.  Obviously age, genetics, exposure to loud noise and chronic disease.  The chronic diseases are diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease.  When we lose our hearing as we age, this is generally a slow and progressive process that effects both ears.  Presbycusis starts chipping away at our hearing and begins effecting the high frequencies, then the low.  It becomes hard to understand other people when there are background noises, and it seems to be the normal path. Out of vanity or denial we tend to ignore our hearing loss until others bother us.

Hearing Loss

It does affect us all differently.  Some of us get depressed and anxious, others isolate socially and get tired and fatigued.  What is the impact of untreated hearing loss?  Studies show that both the person who is experiencing loss and their spouse became depressed and frustrated when they didn’t seek out help and wear hearing aids. When the affected spouse/partner got hearing aids and experienced relief and loss of frustration, that person and the spouse’s outlook on life, as well as their socialization, improved.  These findings were consistent with the findings of a large randomized controlled study which found that hearing loss was associated with decreased social/emotional, communication, and cognitive function in addition to increased depression for subjects who were unaided as compared to those who received hearing aids.

I wonder why people get vain about their hearing loss.  Consider the average 65 year old in 2015.  Still working, perhaps, with a healthy spouse and grandchildren.  So think about the fact that you would suffer at work.  You’d be asking business associates to repeat themselves constantly or you’d be pretending to not miss anything but you’d be missing a lot.  I know because that’s the stage I’m at.  You’d be missing valuable interaction with your grandchildren, who are only young for a short period of time.  You and your spouse would lose valuable communication and that works against a relationship every time.

A strong link has been found between degree of hearing loss and risk of developing dementia. Individuals with mild hearing loss were twice as likely to develop dementia as those with normal hearing, those with moderate hearing loss were three times more likely, and those with severe hearing loss had five times the risk. While this study could not definitively conclude that early treatment with hearing aids would reduce the risk of dementia, there was a positive correlation between degree of hearing loss and risk of dementia.

How every day do sounds stack up? Count the decibels: Something at zero is barely audible. Noises 10 times more intense clock in at 10 dB, and so on. Get hit with 85 or 90 dB for 30 minutes or more and you risk hearing loss.  Hard single-exposure risks would be 130 dB: a jet plane during takeoff from 100 feet, or 120 dB: a chain saw, or a thunderclap.  30 minutes or more of the following can cause damage: A car horn, a 3 hour concert or sports event.  Also, a snowmobile, an MP3 player at full volume, a motorcycle, train or subway.  Anything, as I said before, above 85 dB is dangerous and will promote hearing deficits.

Okay.  You’ve been married for 45 years and you’ve been arguing and joking about the things to the point where you can finish each other’s sentences.  But untreated hearing loss leads to family arguments, disagreements over what wasn’t heard and a slow move to isolation and rejection of the one whose hearing loss is effecting everyone else.  Contact your Otolaryngologist or hearing center.  Get a hearing test.  Keep your music and cell phone volumes down to a dull roar.  Monitor your children and grandchildren’s noise emitting devices and become more proactive for your own hearing issues.  Don’t miss out on those precious discussions with your grandkids and the talks amongst friends in restaurants that are the conversations that carry you through time to the next meeting. Life is too precious.  Get your hearing checked NOW.

Anatomy of the ear

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2015-08-11