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Treating Hearing Loss With Inner Ear Drug Delivery

Hearing loss has a tremendous impact on our quality of life. The ability to hear is a vital part of our overall sensory experience and our connection to the world around us. The impact of hearing loss may be profound, with consequences for the social, functional, and psychological well-being of the person. A hearing impairment limits our engagement and affects our self-identity. Because many people with hearing loss neglect treatment due to the options available, a pharmaceutical approach to treatment may be the answer. New research is focusing on the inner ear for effective drug delivery.

Medications

Although there are 466 million people worldwide who have hearing loss, there are no FDA-approved drugs available for preventing and treating inner ear disorders. A lack of clinical experience involving the inner ear creates challenges for the pharmaceutical companies that are developing inner ear medications. With indications such as ototoxicity and Meniere’s disease, these companies are developing therapies such as otoprotection, hair cell regeneration, and gene therapy. Selecting the most appropriate delivery method that will transport the medication is of vital importance.

Delivery Method

Inner ear drug delivery involves three routes of administration: intratympanic, intracochlear, and systemic. Intratympanic uses a syringe injection to the tympanic membrane to deliver a drug across the middle ear and into the cochlea. This route is beneficial for administering drug solutions, drug suspensions, and injectable gels. Intracochlear is the transfer of the drug into the cochlea. Although this method is precise, it is also high-risk. An injection, a perfusion system, or a cochlear implant device are the delivery methods for this route. Systemic delivery is the favored route for future delivery as it poses a low risk for complications and is more comfortable for patients. Research is focusing on finding new systemic administration methods for ear therapy.

Advancements

There is progress in the improvement of inner ear drug delivery systems. Drug targeting, gene and stem cell therapy, and hair cell regeneration are making effective inner ear drug delivery a reality. Collaboration is vital for translating lab bench results into viable treatment options. Researchers feel confident that partnership will overcome the challenges of administering therapy directly to the inner ear.

Challenges

There are obstacles to be cleared in the development of efficient inner ear drug delivery systems. The main problem is not knowing the exact drug formulation for the intended drug delivery system. Another issue is the conversion of clinical findings that utilized animal models to applications for humans. What works in a rat may not be successful in a human. For systemic drug delivery, achieving a therapeutic dose in the inner ear after crossing the blood-labyrinth barrier without side-effects is the goal.

The Future

Inner ear therapies will encourage patients to seek care for their hearing loss. As an alternative to a hearing device, drugs provide a long-lasting, convenient, and efficient treatment option. The research team hopes that inner ear drug delivery systems will lay the groundwork for effective prevention and treatment with medications.

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What You May Be Hearing When You Sleep

can we hear while we sleep

Have you ever wondered about what you hear at night? If so, you’re not alone. The topic of whether or not our hearing stays on even when our other senses have turned off during sleep has been one of considerable debate.
New research may now be showing that we do, in fact, process auditory information in our sleep. These findings could prove valuable in the future for those who use hearing technology for hearing loss.
Naptime hearing
Research from Vanderbilt University recently released preliminary results from an EEG study that offered surprising insight into hearing and sleep. In the study, the team worked with a group of preschool-age children at the university’s preschool. The children were placed in a quiet and isolated room for naptime, and while they were asleep, researchers played a group of three nonsense words over a short period. The preschoolers’ brainwaves were tested using an EEG machine.
Following the nap, the team showed the kids a variety of nonsense words, including those played during naptime.
According to the results, the children showed signs of recognition for the naptime nonsense words, confirming the hypothesis that they were still hearing and processing sounds while asleep.
Researchers dig into hearing during sleep
This isn’t the first study to take a closer look at whether or not we process auditory information during sleep, how it happens and how it affects us. It has been a question that has intrigued scientists for years:

  • In a 2016 study, a team from the École Normale Supérieure in Paris used EEG to monitor the brains of volunteers listening to recordings of spoken words. Participants were asked to classify these words as either objects or animals. The results showed varying degrees of information processing depending on the depth of sleep (light non-REM, non-REM or REM).
  • Earlier findings from Johns Hopkins also took a look at how the brain processes sound during sleep and why some sounds seem to wake us while others don’t. In this study, an undergraduate student uncovered where in the frontal cortex this process might take place. “We found that during waking, only areas around primary auditory cortex are activated by the tones,” Serena J. Gondek, study lead and author said. “Then, during light and deep sleep, you find not only primary auditory activation, but the frontal lobe also responds.”
  • Another study published in Current Biology in 2014 found that sleeping participants were able make decisions (“task relevant responses”) in response to spoken words. The study reiterated previous findings that the brain does not completely shut down and disconnect during sleep as we once thought.

As researchers continue to explore how and what we hear while sleeping, experts believe this valuable information not only helps us to understand better how hearing works but may also one day translate into better hearing technology and treatment options for those with hearing loss.
If you have questions about your hearing or believe you have hearing loss, contact our office to schedule an appointment for a hearing evaluation.

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Make This Holiday Season A Little Bit Quieter

noisy toys and hearing loss

The excitement of the holiday season is here, and children everywhere are thrilled. The kiddos are counting the days until Santa brings lots of fun things. One problem with all this fun is the noise these toys may bring with them! Excessive noise is harmful to a child’s hearing. The American Academy of Otolaryngology believes that three million children under the age of 18 may have a problem hearing. So as the holidays arrive, take the time to help protect your child’s hearing.

The Impact Of Noise

A noise-induced hearing loss doesn’t just affect one’s ability to hear. For children, it also affects a child’s speech, language, cognitive, social, and emotional behavior. The viral video and computer games on the market today can reach sound levels of 135 decibels. For comparison, this sound level is equal to that of a jackhammer. Music players are no better. When a child listens to their favorite music through earbuds, they may be enduring 110 decibels. Prolonged listening to music at this level will likely produce a hearing loss of some degree.

No Warnings

A significant problem with all of the noisy toys that are available this holiday season is that manufacturers do not warn parents of the potential dangers these toys pose to their children’s hearing. Thankfully, groups are working to change this policy. The Sight & Hearing Association (SHA) tests toys and alerts parents to potential dangers associated with the noisemakers. This organization tests toys at distances that children typically play with them, unlike the intervals that manufacturers use. For this holiday season, the group is offering the following tips to help protect your child’s hearing:

  • Always check the sound level of a toy before you purchase it.
  • If a toy is earsplitting report it to the Consumer Product Safety Commision or the Sight & Hearing Association.
  • Try applying masking or packing tape over the speaker of a toy to reduce the volume.
  • Only purchase toys that have volume controls.

Toys With Less Noise

For the sake of your child’s hearing, it is vital that you as a parent provide an atmosphere for your child that is quiet. Try to minimize the noise and provide time for reading, talking, and listening. There are great gifts that don’t damage hearing. Here are a few to help you get started:

  • Books. Books are not only quiet, but they also help children develop reading skills.
  • Educational toys. Shop for computer games with educational themes.
  • These gifts are quiet and fun for the whole family.
  • Construction sets. Building blocks are quiet and develop diverse skills in your child.
  • Card games. These noiseless games are not only fun but help your child with math and language skills.

Make this holiday special this year by reducing the noise that is cumulative and detrimental to your child’s hearing. The damage is irreversible, so it is wise to protect children early. Keep an eye on their activities, listen to their toys volume, and spend good times with your child doing quiet activities. Happy holidays!

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The Stigma of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss stigma

Hearing loss is an increasingly common diagnosis, and yet, it remains a diagnosis with a stigma. Millions of people worldwide are affected by hearing loss. These people are of all ages, come from all different backgrounds and still have to overcome certain ingrained beliefs about hearing impairment.
Common beliefs about hearing loss
Whether they are the things we tell ourselves, the well-meaning comments from friends and family or the impressions we get from strangers, there are many common beliefs about hearing loss that often prevent us and others from seeking treatment. Some of the most commonly cited beliefs include:

  • I’m too young for hearing loss
  • It’s not bad enough for hearing aids
  • People will treat me differently

What experts and many who are now comfortable with their loss agree on is that, the stigma of hearing loss needs to end.
The research into hearing loss stigma
As hearing loss becomes more common, researchers have begun to take a closer look at people’s commonly held views and personal experiences. The results show that beliefs and perceptions may be affected by many things and that these beliefs and perceptions could have serious consequences when they prevent people from treating their hearing loss.
One study found that “perceived stigma emerged as an important theme influencing decision-making processes at multiple points along the experiential continuum of hearing loss.” In other words, it was found to prevent individuals from accepting that they may have hearing loss, scheduling hearing evaluations to diagnose hearing loss and even if hearing aids were purchased and used. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to even more serious conditions including cognitive decline.
Another study suggested that something as simple as age or use of a hearing aid could affect one’s view on hearing loss. The results found that “Younger women perceive greater stigma than older women. Less stigma is associated with hearing aid use than hearing loss, suggesting a positive effect of hearing loss management.”
There is no doubt from anecdotal evidence and more formal surveys and studies that views on hearing loss, our own views and those of others, can play a significant role in treating hearing loss.
Opening the lines of communication
What experts see as most important in battling the stigma of hearing loss is open communication about it. Hearing healthcare providers are leading the way to dispel the myths and doing away with the stigma. Here’s how:

  • Changing the conversation: Questions about the effect that hearing loss can have on life can make all the difference. How does hearing loss impact life? How would life change with treatment?
  • Encouraging responsibility: Treating hearing loss is as much about the individual with hearing loss as it is about those around them. Treatment strategies such as hearing aids can reduce frustration and improve communication for everyone, building stronger relationships along the way.
  • Discussing difficult situations: There will still be times when hearing can be difficult. Open discussion between patients and hearing healthcare providers about these types of situations and strategies to navigate them can help patients feel more comfortable and confident.
  • Connecting with others: Regularly connect with others managing hearing loss, hearing aids and the stigma around both. These connections can help diminish the internal stigma as a reminder of just how common hearing loss is.

If you believe you have hearing loss, don’t give in to the fear of stigma. Schedule an appointment for a hearing evaluation today.

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Windy Weather And Hearing Aids

Hearing aids in windy weather

Sometimes wearing a hearing aid can be a challenge even despite all of the technological developments recently. While the sound quality and ease of use have significantly improved in hearing aids, there are still elements of the environment that have their way of making it harder to hear.
Hearing aids work excellently in optimal environments no matter if they are behind the ear, partially in the ear, or completely hidden within the ear canal. They do wonders in keying in on the sounds you want and need to hear, and minimizing all the background noise that just doesn’t matter. Living with a hearing aid does wonders to combat all of the negative feelings and struggles that come with sensorineural hearing loss.
But wind, rain, and warm weather will present a challenge to your hearing aid wearing experience at times. Rain, water, and sweat each can seep into your hearing aid and cause functional damage. Protecting your hearing aid when you’re exposed to rain, intending to take a plunge in the water or find yourself getting a little sweaty is the best way to make sure your hearing aid stays intact.
Wind And Hearing Aids
Although wind may not pose the same kind of threat to the integrity of your hearing aid like water, rain, or sweat can, it can significantly impact your ability to hear. To someone wearing a hearing aid, wind can sound just like someone blowing on a microphone to see if it’s working.
This noise can be extremely aggravating to a hearing aid wearer and it can make hearing anything else very difficult. Some hearing aids do a better job of blocking out the wind noise, but they may block out other sounds the wearer needs to hear as well, thus becoming significantly less effective.
Dealing With The Wind
You could remove your hearing aids in windy situations, but then you’re struggling with missing out on important conversations and sounds and signals in the auditory environment. Instead, the easiest thing you can do to protect your hearing aids in windy situations is to wear a cap that covers your ears. This will block out the wind and improve your sound quality greatly. It’s an inexpensive fix and it works most of the time.
You can also invest a small amount into hearing aid covers. They are little sock-like structures that cover your behind-the-ear hearing aid. These little covers have the same effect as wearing a hat. They protect the hearing aid from wind and block out all of that annoying wind noise without blocking out the essential sounds.
You can also look into upgrading your hearing aid. Older hearing aid models are less effective against wind compared to newer models. Of course, models that fit completely within the ear canal are even better.
With a little planning combating the wind can become quite simple. Check the weather forecast for wind conditions before you go out and always carry a cap around with you to have handy in windy situations.

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Acclimatizing To Your New Hearing Aids

Hearing Exercises for Getting Used to Hearing Aids

For many people with hearing loss, hearing aids can be a life changer. Instead of having to strain to follow a conversation in a busy restaurant or having to constantly raise the volume of the TV, hearing aids allow people with hearing loss to listen to the world at just the right volume.
While hearing aids are an important tool to maintain one’s quality of life despite hearing loss, many people don’t rush to their hearing healthcare professional as soon as they notice that their hearing isn’t as good as it used to be. Rather, many people end up waiting quite a while before they take action to treat their hearing loss.
Many people with hearing loss avoid getting help from a medical professional for a whole variety of reasons, but most commonly because they are in denial about their hearing loss. Although it is certainly recommended to seek out professional hearing healthcare as soon as possible, many people don’t even realize how much hearing they’ve actually lost.
This is because hearing loss often gets progressively worse over time. Thus, it can be difficult for someone to recognize how much their hearing abilities have changed. Small adaptations here and there, like turning up the TV or asking people to repeat themselves often help people with hearing loss get by, but they are certainly no way to live a high-quality life. The best decision that someone with hearing loss can make is to see a hearing healthcare professional, but that’s only the first step.
Once someone does seek out help from a hearing healthcare provider, treatment can begin. Although a hearing healthcare professional will be able to recommend best treatment options for every individual, many people with hearing loss eventually start to wear hearing aids, which can help them engage with the world just like they did before hearing loss.
Training Yourself For Hearing Aids
Hearing aids might be life-changing little devices, but it’s important to remember that it takes time for our brains to adjust to this new way of hearing. Just like it takes time for our bodies to get back into a workout routine after an injury, our brains need time to relearn how to hear.
While hearing loss may not completely take away one’s ability to hear, it does significantly reduce the amount of information that one’s brain receives. This means that one’s brain has likely started to focus more on the sounds that it can hear and may have stopped using or reallocated neural pathways responsible for other sounds it can’t hear to other tasks. When one uses hearing aids, those missing sounds return and the brain needs to be retrained to be able to properly understand and use those sounds.
Listening Activities
One of the best ways to retrain a brain after hearing loss is to do listening activities. These activities will likely be recommended by a hearing healthcare provider to most people who are new to hearing aids. Just like a physical therapist might recommend shoulder exercises after a rotator cuff injury, doing listening exercises is important for regaining maximum hearing ability with new hearing aids.
Although your hearing healthcare professional will recommend specific activities, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Hearing aids only work when you wear them. Most hearing professionals will tell new hearing aid users that they ought to wear their devices whenever they are awake. Although many people will try to only wear their hearing aids when they think they need them, it’s often best to keep them on throughout one’s waking hours so that one’s brain can adjust to the wide variety of sounds in our daily lives.
  • Hearing exercises take dedication and time. There are a wide variety of different exercises available for people with hearing aids, but the number one most important thing is that a new hearing aid user does the exercises they’re prescribed. The activities don’t do any good if they’re never done.

If you’re a new hearing aid user, you’ve already taken the first step toward better hearing health by seeing your hearing healthcare professional. Getting the most out of your hearing aids takes time, however, so it’s important that you dedicate yourself to retraining your brain to hear all of the sounds in the wonderful world around you by wearing your hearing aids and doing the appropriate exercises.

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What's Behind the Clogged Ear Feeling

man holding his ears in discomfort

Summertime at the pool or the beach is time well spent. But, it doesn’t come without its disadvantages. The risk of sunburn is at the top of the list of annoyances, but clogged ears from trapped water comes in a close second. That feeling like your ears are clogged after spending a lot of time in the water can be one of the most irritating feelings, and often takes a while to go away.
But you don’t have to just be a swimmer to experience the feeling of clogged ears. That stuffy ear experience can happen as a result of other conditions too and could be an indicator of more serious issues if left untreated.
Here are some of the most common causes behind that clogged ear feeling, and what you can do about them:
Trapped Fluid
Fluid that becomes trapped in the ear as a result of swimming or ear infection can become very painful, especially if it gets behind the eardrum into the middle ear.  Although plenty of earwax in the ear works hard to keep water out, sometimes water sneaks in, especially if a lot of time is spent in the pool or other types of water.
Typically the body will relieve the issue on its own and the fluid will eventually drain. But, if it does not and you are experiencing severe pain or consistent discharge that lasts more than a day, call the doctor and get it checked out.
In the meantime, if you feel water has creeped into your ear during your last swim, tilt your head, and pull down on your earlobe for a while to help water flow back out. You may also need to help open up your eustachian tubes to let water trapped behind the eardrum drain. Try using a warm compress to assist in that, or yawn repeatedly, chew gum, or breathe deeply.
Earwax Buildup
Earwax can occasionally build up, causing that irritating clogged feeling. But, earwax buildup can also cause earaches, ringing in the ear (called Tinnitus), itchy ears, discharge, odor, hearing loss, and coughing.
Normally you shouldn’t need to do anything about earwax, because it takes care of itself and makes its way out of the ear when needed. But sometimes, it builds up and needs to be removed with some help. Never attempt to remove earwax on your own, especially if that involves inserting anything at all into your ear canal. You can run the very real risk of puncturing or damaging your eardrum by doing this.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Leaving your ears unprotected to noise levels above 85 decibels will cause damage to your inner ear over time, resulting in sensorineural hearing loss. Noise exposure for longer than a brief moment, such as a loud concert venue or a party may leave you with a feeling your ears are clogged, or an annoying ringing in your ears.
This may be temporary and fade away within a day or two. But, repeated exposure is certain to cause some degree of hearing loss. Protect yourself in advance by wearing earplugs when you’re involved in any loud activities.
If you’re experiencing a clogged or stuffy feeling in your ears that just won’t go away, please don’t hesitate to call our office today to talk to a hearing health professional.