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Hearing Aids May Improve Balance

Hearing Aids May Improve Balance
by Julia Evangelou Strait

Timothy Hullar, MD, (right) and medical student Miranda Colletta help patient Audrey Miller prepare for a balance test. Older adults with hearing loss appeared to perform better on balance tests with both hearing aids on, according to Hullar’s research. Credit: Robert Boston

Enhancing hearing appears to improve balance in older adults with hearing loss, according to new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Patients with hearing aids in both ears performed better on standard balance tests when their hearing aids were turned on compared with when they were off.

The small study, which appears in the journal The Laryngoscope, involved only 14 people ages 65 to 91 but is the first to demonstrate that sound information, separate from the balance system of the inner ear, contributes to maintaining the body’s stability. The study lends support to the idea that improving hearing through hearing aids or cochlear implants may help reduce the risk of falls in older people.

“We don’t think it’s just that wearing hearing aids makes the person more alert,” said senior author Timothy E. Hullar, MD, professor of otolaryngology at the School of Medicine. “The participants appeared to be using the sound information coming through their hearing aids as auditory reference points or landmarks to help maintain balance. It’s a bit like using your eyes to tell where you are in space. If we turn out the lights, people sway a little bit—more than they would if they could see. This study suggests that opening your ears also gives you information about balance.”
All participants served as their own controls, performing the balance tests with and without their hearing aids turned on. Since the researchers were interested in examining the effect of hearing, all tests were conducted in the presence of a sound source producing white noise, similar to the sound of radio static.
In one test, subjects’ eyes were covered as they stood with their feet together on a thick foam pad. In a second, more difficult task, patients stood on the floor with one foot in front of the other, heel to toe, also with no visual cues for balance. Patients were timed to see how long they could stand in these positions without moving their arms or feet, or requiring the aid of another person to maintain balance.
Several of the participants could maintain stability on the foam pad for at least 30 seconds (which is the considered normal), whether their hearing aids were on or not. But those having more difficulty with balance in this test performed better when their hearing aids were on. And the improvement in performance was even more apparent in the more challenging balance test.
“We wanted to see if we could detect an improvement even in people who did very well on the foam test,” Hullar said. “And we found, indeed, their balance improved during the harder test with their hearing aids on.”

For the foam pad test, patients maintained balance an average of 17 seconds with hearing aids off. With hearing aids on, this average increased to almost 26 seconds. And in the more difficult heel-to-toe test, patients remained stable an average of 5 seconds with hearing aids off. With them on, this time increased to an average of 10 seconds. Even with the small number of patients in the trial, both time differences were statistically significant.
Although patients could tell whether their hearing aids were on or off, the researchers randomized the order of the conditions in which each patient performed these tests, so that some performed the tests with hearing aids on first and some started with them off.
Hullar pointed out that many of the study patients did not report being consciously aware that they had performed better on these tests when their hearing aids were working. But he said he has heard anecdotal evidence that some people notice a difference.
“Many of my patients say their balance is better when they’re wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants,” Hullar said. “We wanted to find out if improved hearing really has a measurable effect on balance. And the metric that we use—how many seconds can you stand on a piece of foam—has a well-documented relationship to risk of falling.
“This is a small study,” Hullar added. “Obviously it needs to be repeated in a much larger study, and we’re seeking funding to do that.”

More information: “The effect of hearing aids on postural stability.” Laryngoscope. 2014 Oct 24. DOI: 10.1002/lary.24974. [Epub ahead of print]
Journal reference: Laryngoscope
Provided by Washington University in St. Louis

 

 

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Hear for the Holidays-The Healthy Hearing Holiday Table

Less than one month until Christmas!

The holidays can be particularly challenging for you or your loved ones with hearing aids or hearing loss.  If you are the host of a holiday party, please check out the infographic below for some easy tips to fine-tune the listening environment so that everyone involved can enjoy the holiday conversations and cheer!

Happy Hearing!

Paige

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Hunting and Hearing Loss

Hello again!

I hope everyone is staying warm and enjoying the transition to winter.

Can anyone see what is wrong with the picture above???

NO ONE IS WEARING HEARING PROTECTION!!!!!!

It is that time of year where I cannot stress enough the importance of wearing hearing protection while hunting!  Why are only half of you hunters wearing ear plugs/muffs??!?!! Did you know that a single gun shot can cause a permanent threshold shift, also known as a permanent hearing loss???  That buzzing sound or ringing in your ears you may be hearing after shooting a rifle without the use of hearing protection is your ears screaming out in pain; the hair cells in your cochlea have experienced acoustic trauma.  That ringing in your ears might become permanent too.

If you have a history of recreational/hunting noise exposure, ringing in  your ears (tinnitus) and/or hearing loss, please schedule an appointment with myself for a hearing assessment.  Let’s monitor your hearing stability and discuss hearing protection options that will protect your ears, but will benefit you by enhancing your ability to carry on conversations, detect game and hearing your surroundings all while protecting your ears!

Wishing everyone a safe hunting season filled with hearing protection!

Paige

Please read the article below from Michael Stewart discussing recreational firearm noise exposure.

Recreational Firearm Noise Exposure
Michael Stewart, PhD, CCC-A, Professor of Audiology, Central Michigan University

Firearms Are Loud
Exposure to noise greater than 140 dB can permanently damage hearing. Almost all firearms create noise that is over the 140-dB level. A small .22-caliber rifle can produce noise around 140 dB, while big-bore rifles and pistols can produce sound over 175 dB. Firing guns in a place where sounds can reverberate, or bounce off walls and other structures, can make noises louder and increase the risk of hearing loss. Also, adding muzzle brakes or other modifications can make the firearm louder. People who do not wear hearing protection while shooting can suffer a severe hearing loss with as little as one shot, if the conditions are right. Audiologists see this often, especially during hunting season when hunters and bystanders may be exposed to rapid fire from big-bore rifles, shotguns, or pistols.

Hearing Loss Due To Firearm Noise
People who use firearms are more likely to develop hearing loss than those who do not. Firearm users tend to have high-frequency permanent hearing loss, which means that they may have trouble hearing speech sounds like “s,” “th,” or “v” and other high-pitched sounds. The left ear (in right-handed shooters) often suffers more damage than the right ear because it is closer to, and directly in line with, the muzzle of the firearm. Also, the right ear is partially protected by head shadow. People with high-frequency hearing loss may say that they can hear what is said but that it is not clear, and they may accuse others of mumbling. They may not get their hearing tested because they don’t think they have a problem. They may also have ringing in their ears, called tinnitus. The ringing, like the hearing loss, can be permanent.

Protecting Your Hearing From Firearm Noise
The good news is that people can prevent hearing loss by using appropriate hearing protective devices (HPDs), such as earmuffs or earplugs. However, studies have shown that only about half of shooters wear hearing protection all the time when target practicing. Hunters are even less likely to wear hearing protection because they say they cannot hear approaching game or other noises. While some HPDs do limit what a person can hear, there are many products that allow shooters to hear softer sounds while still protecting them from loud sounds like firearm noise.

Two types of HPDs designed for shooting sports are electronic HPDs and nonlinear HPDs. Electronic HPDs make softer sounds louder but shut off when there is a loud noise. The device then becomes hearing protection. Electronic HPD styles include earmuffs, custom-made in-the-ear devices, one-size-fits-all plugs, and behind-the-ear devices.

Nonlinear HPDs are not electronic and are designed to allow soft and moderate sounds to pass through, while still reducing loud sounds. Nonlinear HPDs can be either earplugs that are inserted into the ear or custom-made earmolds. Nonlinear HPDs that have filters are the best choice. They are better than those that use mechanical valves. This is because the valves may not close fast enough to protect hearing from loud noise.

The U.S. military uses both electronic and nonlinear HPDs to protect soldiers’ hearing during combat and weapons training. Electronic HPDs cost from less than $100 for earmuffs to over $1,000 for high-technology custom-made devices. Insert plug-type nonlinear HPDs cost around $10–$20, while custom-made nonlinear devices cost around $100–$150 per pair. Talk with your audiologist to choose the type of hearing protection that is right for you.

Tips To Protect Your Hearing:

  • Always use some type of hearing protection any time you fire a gun.
  • Always have disposable HPDs handy—make them part of your gear.
  • Double-protect your ears, like putting muffs over plugs, when shooting big-bore firearms.
  • Choose smaller caliber firearms for target practice and hunting.
  • Choose single-shot firearms instead of lever action, pump, or semi-automatic guns.
  • Avoid shooting in groups or in reverberant environments.
  • Use electronic or nonlinear HPDs for hunting.

 

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Is There a Cure for Tinnitus???

What does Steve Martin, Vincent van Gogh, Chris Martin, Pete, Townshend, Ozzy Osbourne and Barbra Streisand all have in common??? Famous, sure, but did you know that each of those individuals suffer from tinnitus. They are not alone-the prevalence of tinnitus is estimated to affect as many as 360,000 Canadians, and 150,000 Canadians experience a degree of tinnitus that significantly affects their quality of life.

Let me begin by explaining what tinnitus is. Tinnitus is a ringing, humming, buzzing, or other sound in your head or ears that does not have an outside source. The sound comes from within your head. For most people, tinnitus is a constant sound. Tinnitus is NOT a disease – it is a symptom!

How can a “little noise” be so detrimental to so many people???

  • Some individuals who suffer from tinnitus report:
  • Feeling helpless and frustrated
  •  Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Depressed or anxious
  • Problem concentrating
  • Reduced job performance
  • Decreased productivity
  • Family or relationship problems
  • Avoiding social activities
  • Suicidal thoughts

You might be reading my blog looking for a cure for tinnitus. Unfortunately research is still being done to find a cure; there is no cure yet. I wish there was a magic pill I could give my patients to silence their tinnitus; unfortunately no pill exists. What about “alternative” methods like acupuncture, hypnosis, vitamins/herbs or homeopathy? None of these methods have been shown by research to help people with tinnitus more than a placebo (a placebo is like a “sugar pill”).

There is help for your tinnitus! Research has shown that even though we cannot change the tinnitus, we can change our reactions to it! Changing the reactions to tinnitus can make it less of a problem. The key is to learn how to manage our reactions to tinnitus. The goal is to feel better even though the tinnitus does not change.

How are reactions to tinnitus managed?
Methods used at The Hearing & Dizziness Clinic include:
Sound-based methods (i.e. tinnitus masking, hearing aids)
– Education
– Counseling
EACH OF THESE METHODS HAVE BEEN SHOWN BY RESEARCH TO HELP SOME PEOPLE WITH TINNITUS!

Here at The Hearing & Dizziness Clinic we are empathetic to you and your tinnitus. Give our clinic a call if you would like to schedule a tinnitus evaluation with our Doctors of Audiology.
Thanks for reading!
Paige Pierozynski, Au.D