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Not Just for Sleeping: White Noise Can Improve Your Hearing

Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you turn on relaxing sounds before bed? White noise is used by many to drift off to dreamland at night with machines and even smartphone applications replicating the noise, but a new study by the University of Basel has found that white noise may be able to do much more than help you catch some Z’s. Though it is essentially an extra background noise, researchers have concluded that it can make hearing pure sounds more precise, a realization with the possibility of aiding in the future development of cochlear implants.

How Is White Noise Special?

Most of us associate white noise with the sound an old television set makes without a signal, but white noise is far different than other noise. By definition, white noise is described as a random signal made up of sounds from all the frequencies the human ear can hear, but at the same exact intensity. How does that help you sleep and hear? Since it is created from all of the frequencies the ear and brain can perceive, no sound is uniquely distinct, turning everything you hear into a blurred “hissing” or “shushing” sound. This continuous sound makes it much easier for us to sleep through things such as a door slamming or a ringing phone, as they are folded into the blur and muffled. Next time you put on white noise before going to bed, remember that you are hearing every sound from every frequency between 20Hz to 20,000Hz all at once.

University of Basel’s Findings

Your brain has an extraordinary ability to pick out relevant information from less relevant background noise thanks to an area that processes auditory stimuli called the auditory cortex. Led by Professor Dr.Tania Rinaldi Barkat from the Department of Biomedicine, the University of Basel’s team investigated sound perception and sound discrimination in a challenging sound environment.
Past studies have concluded that the distinction between sounds becomes more difficult the closer they are in frequency, which led researchers to believe that introducing white noise would make the task even more challenging. Despite their beliefs, the opposite was observed, with research concluding that “the brain’s ability to distinguish subtle tone differences improved when white noise was added to the background. Compared to a quiet environment, the noise thus facilitated auditory perception.” But how?

White Noise Reduced Neuronal Activity

Data presented by the group had found that white noise reduced the activity of the nerve cells in the auditory cortex by a significant margin. In contradictory fashion, this inhibition of the neuronal activity led to a more precise perception of pure tones. We found that less overlap occurred between populations of neurons during two separate tone representations,” stated Dr. Barkat. “As a result, the overall reduction in neuronal activity produced a more distinct tone representation.”

This Conclusion May Help In The Future

According to Dr. Barkat, it is possible that cochlear implants could use an effect similar to white noise in order to improve the frequency resolution and in turn, the hearing of their users. To determine whether white noise may help you, speak to a hearing health professional about possible options.

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Holistic Methods That May Help Ease Your Tinnitus

With around 50 million Americans reporting some form of tinnitus and 1 in 5 saying their condition is disabling, it’s clear that tinnitus is a serious problem that affects the day to day lives of many. Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus, but there are ways to ease or treat your symptoms depending on the root cause. For some, an underlying ailment such as a blood vessel condition or impacted earwax may be the cause of the bothersome buzzing, while others may choose to use medication such as antidepressants to reduce symptoms. Though medication may be a treatment option, certain medications are ototoxic and may actually worsen your tinnitus symptoms, leading some patients to prefer more holistic methods to avoid being introduced to new prescriptions. These certain adjustments to your daily life may reduce your tinnitus symptoms and increase your quality of life.

Lifestyle Changes

There are a number of changes you can make that may reduce your tinnitus symptoms that do not require supplements or medication.

  • Manage Stress. Studies have linked the onset of tinnitus to stressful events in patient’s lives, and there is a clear correlation between the severity of tinnitus symptoms and stress levels. Reducing stress may reduce the chance of experiencing tinnitus, or make your symptoms easier to cope with.
  • Avoid Possible Irritation. Some medications, stimulants, and environments are known to worsen tinnitus symptoms. Avoiding aspirin, nicotine, caffeine, and exposure to loud noises may stop the ringing from becoming more severe.
  • Drink Less, Hear More. Alcohol consumption is known to increase the severity of your tinnitus due to alcohol’s ability to dilate the blood vessels causing more blood to flow within the inner ear. This increased blood flow may change the composition of fluid in the inner ear and can have accompanying vertigo as well.

Alternative Medicine

Though there is little evidence to support alternative medicine’s treatment of tinnitus, some alternative therapies have been used to help patients with their symptoms.

  • Zinc Supplements. Research has found that some patients with tinnitus may have low blood zinc levels. A 2003 study by the Ankara Numune Research and Education Hospital in Turkey found that patients who took 50mg of Zinc daily for 2 months reported a 10 dB decrease in the volume of their tinnitus, though these results are inconclusive.
  • Vitamin B. Like Zinc, Vitamin B deficiency is more common in people with tinnitus. Though some studies have found an improvement in symptom severity following Vitamin B12 therapy, the results are not overwhelmingly significant.
  • Tinnitus has often been linked to trouble sleeping, with exhaustion leading to higher levels of stress, anxiety, and severity of symptoms. Melatonin is a hormone used to regulate sleep cycles, which may make falling and staying asleep much easier.

Seek The Advice of a Hearing Health Professional

Starting a supplement regimen or new medication without the approval of a health care provider may result in worsening symptoms. Before starting any treatment options, it is best to consult a hearing health professional who knows your unique health needs and can give you the most up to date medical advice.

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The Future Is Today: Brain-Controlled Hearing Aids

When you imagine what the future will be like in, say, 20 years, what do you see? Pop culture fosters expectations of flying cars, personal jetpacks, hoverboards, and much more. Some recent technological advances even seem like something you would find in a science fiction novel, not in real life—like self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality technologies.
Another futuristic advancement that may soon be a reality is more closely related to current hearing devices than to flying cars: brain-controlled hearing aids. Hearing aids have already seen numerous advances and developments in recent years, making them more effective than ever before. Today’s hearing aids are smaller, more comfortable, more discreet, and more powerful than those of years past.
Even with recent advances, hearing aids are still imperfect. One area where hearing aid users often notice a big difference from before they wore or needed hearing aids is in listening to a speaker when other noise is present. In a person with normal hearing, your brain distinguishes between the target speaker and all other noises, allowing you to focus on the target and minimize your attention to other speakers or sounds.
However, hearing aids cannot automatically perform this same function. If you increase the volume on your hearing aid in an effort to better hear the target speaker, you are also increasing the volume on all of the background noise. Some hearing aids allow the user to identify a target speaker by turning their head or gaze towards the target speaker, or by manually selecting the target speaker. These features are helpful yet imperfect; if the hearing aid user cannot maintain a gaze in the direction of the target speaker, does not want to use manual selections, or the target speaker is very close to another speaker, these features come up short.
Enter brain-controlled hearing aids. Previous research has determined that when a person focuses their listening efforts on a certain speaker in a noisy environment, their brain waves track the voice of the target speaker. The aim of a brain-controlled hearing aid is to monitor the brainwaves of the user in order to facilitate hearing and amplifying the voice of the target speaker.
Although much research and development remains to be explored in this field, recent research has shown promise in separating and amplifying the sound of a target speaker among background noise and other speakers. In a 2019 experiment, researchers used an auditory attention decoding (AAD) process to detect and amplify a target speaker among mixed background noise. The study participants indicated that it was significantly easier to follow the voice of the target speaker in the AAD-enhanced audio than in the original mixed audio. This advance can be used in brain-controlled hearing aids to amplify the voice of the target speaker and enable the listener to better follow a specific voice.
One major obstacle that remains to be overcome by researchers is determining a noninvasive and nonintrusive way to monitor the brain signals of the hearing aid user. This, along with an AAD process that accurately and rapidly identifies the target speaker, will present a challenge for researchers and developers. Still, the promise of brain-controlled hearing aids is very real and is closer than we may realize today.
For more information about brain-controlled hearing aids and other exciting advancements in the audiology field, we encourage you to contact our hearing professional today.

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How to Better Include Children with Hearing Loss in Team Sports

Are you aware of any professional athletes with hearing loss? You may have heard of Derrick Coleman, who was the first legally deaf offensive player in the NFL. Or perhaps you watched a baseball game played by Curtis Pride, who, in 1993, was the first legally deaf player in the MLB in over 50 years.
While these athletes and others are inspiring in how they have overcome obstacles in order to succeed, the number of well-known athletes with hearing loss is sadly few. This is due at least in part to the difficulties players with hearing loss often encounter while participating in sports.
Imagine for a moment the challenges you might encounter in team sports if you are deaf or hard of hearing. You may not be able to hear the referee’s whistle to indicate that play should start or stop. You may also miss other important signals, such as the start of a race. You may not be able to understand what your coach tells you in a huddle or from the sidelines. You may not be able to effectively communicate with your teammates.
Due to these difficulties and others, children with hearing loss are often left out of team sports, or they may eventually give up and withdraw because of the challenges these sports present. This can be damaging to the child’s self-confidence, friendships, social activity, physical health, and overall development.
If you have a child with hearing loss or if you coach a team sport, it is important to know how children with hearing loss can be better included. Here are a few tips to help you include your child with hearing loss in team sports:
If you have a child with hearing loss:

  • Communicate with your child’s coach about your child’s needs and what might be most helpful to your child.
  • Ask whether trained support staff for children with sensory challenges are available. While support staff may not be available for the entire league, there may be sufficient resources to provide support staff for one or two teams.
  • Show your child’s coach or the team’s support staff how your child’s hearing device works.
  • Consider becoming a coach for your child’s team. Become involved in your child’s school sports by attending athletic department meetings and encouraging the coaches to become better educated on how to assist players with differing needs.

If you are coaching a team that includes one or more children with hearing loss:

  • Reach out to parents and ask how you can best support their child. Express a willingness to learn.
  • Understand that each situation is different. A solution that works for one child with hearing loss may not work for another. Keep in mind that other needs may be present on the team as well, such as children with attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and more.
  • Encourage team members to ask questions to learn how to better support the player with hearing loss. Promote respectful conversations about their challenges and solutions.
  • Face the players when you speak to them.
  • If you show a video, especially one with poor audio, provide a transcript.
  • When you discuss plays on the drawing board, add clear text labels.
  • After reviewing a game or discussing other important information, provide a written note detailing what you discussed

These simple tips can play a big role in making team sports an easier and more enjoyable experience for all children.
To learn more about how to accommodate and advocate for children with hearing loss, we welcome you to contact our hearing practice today. We are eager to assist you!

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How Clean is Too Clean? Cotton Swabs Can Be Harmful To Your Ears

Most would agree that good hygiene is an important aspect of your health, but how clean is too clean? When it comes to your ears, cleaning them with cotton swabs can actually damage your hearing and your eardrum. Despite their common usage in movies or at your local pharmacy, Q-Tips can be more harmful than helpful, leading the Scottish Parliament to ban plastic cotton buds this year in an effort to combat excessive litter and reduce their usage for inadvisable ear cleaning. Though it is admirable to try and maintain a healthy body, there is a wide consensus against cotton swabs for cleaning your ears. If you are experiencing a blockage, it is best to receive help from a medical professional, but when it comes to your day to day hygiene, let your ears handle it on their own. Your hearing will thank you.

How Can Cotton Swabs Damage My Ear?

Though they seem like the perfect length and shape to clean your ears, there is a consensus against cotton swabs for a reason. Puncturing your eardrum with a cotton swab due to going too far into the ear canal is more common than you might think, especially in children. This accidental puncture can not only damage your hearing but may also result in painful ear infections and an accumulation of fluid and bacteria. Not so hygienic, right?
Depending on the material your Q-Tip is made out of, it may also be abrasive to the sensitive skin within your ear. Some cotton swabs utilize a paper or plastic stick, which can scratch or puncture fragile areas of the ear resulting in infection, vertigo, and even permanent deafness.

Cleaning Your Ear Can Actually Be Counterproductive

Instead of removing ear wax, cotton swabs may actually push it deeper into the ear, compacting it and making your wax harder to remove. This misplaced wax can cause a whole host of problems, including ear fullness, hearing loss, and you guessed it: infection. If a blockage is created by your cotton swab, you may need to seek treatment from a doctor for removal, causing many more problems than they solve.

Your Ear Is Designed To Clean Itself

Earwax, also known as Cerumen, is an important part of your ear’s environment. Cerumen coats the inner ear protecting fragile cells and trapping dust and debris. Without this defense,  debris can travel to your inner ear and damage structures that we require to hear. Removing this natural part of the ear’s ecosystem can not only cause damage to your hearing but will actually make your ear less hygienic. Your body is designed to move earwax out of your ear through natural movements such as chewing, yawning, or skin cell growth inside the ear. Without this process, dust and debris may build up within the ear and cause infection, leading doctors to give simple advice when it comes to cleaning your ears: Don’t!
If you are experiencing ear pain, fullness, hearing loss, or suspect you may have an unnatural amount of earwax, it is best to consult a hearing health professional. You may be suffering from an infection that requires antibiotics or may need something as simple as proper cleaning.

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The Structure Of A Hearing Aid And How It Works

A hearing loss can have a profound impact on your life, your career, and your relationships. If you choose the correct one, a hearing aid can make a significant difference in your ability to communicate while enhancing your enjoyment of life. Knowing what goes into the design of hearing aids will help you choose the most appropriate device for your hearing needs. Regardless of the style of hearing aid you have, all hearing aids share three essential components:

  • The hearing aid microphone picks up sounds and sends them to the amplifier. New technology distinguishes between speech and background noise, making it easier to understand a conversation.
  • Converting sounds from the microphone into an electrical signal and then sending the message to the receiver is the function of the amplifier. Amplification power is dependent upon the severity of the user’s hearing loss.
  • Power source. Batteries power the hearing device. Batteries may be either rechargeable or disposable, depending on the model.

These three components are in all hearing aids. Depending on the design and the severity of your hearing loss, a few other parts might be residing inside your hearing aid.

Buttons And Switches

Hearing aids that are of the receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) type come equipped with a button or a switch. A hearing healthcare professional programs the button or switch to perform different functions such as alternating between settings or increasing and decreasing volume. Make a point of knowing the purpose of your switch.

Wire

A hearing aid wire is typically thin and coated in plastic. The wire extends from the body of the hearing aid to the speaker, which resides in the ear. The transmission of power and signals takes place in the wire. Hearing aid wires feature conductor materials, shielding, and jacketing manufactured for custom hearing solutions.

Receiver/Speaker

Delivering the sound to the ear is the responsibility of the receiver, which is also known as the speaker. When the speaker receives an electrical signal from the amplifier, it converts it to sound. The speaker is inside the ear dome or earmold, depending on the severity of hearing loss and lifestyle.

Domes

A dome is a small piece of silicone that attaches to hearing aid tubing and fits deep in the ear canal. Domes come in an array of shapes and sizes to accommodate the unique anatomy of a person’s ear canal. A hearing healthcare professional can help you pick the appropriate size for a proper fit.

Earmold

Earmolds are plastic or acrylic and fit inside your ear canal to form an acoustic seal for the electronic sound coming in. The fit and the shape of your earmold will depend on the model of hearing aid you are utilizing and the severity of your hearing loss. Because they provide the highest amount of amplification, earmolds are for those with severe to profound hearing loss.
Hearing loss is a severe health issue, so do not ignore it. If you suspect that you may have a hearing loss, schedule a hearing screening with a hearing healthcare professional. Swift acting will significantly enhance the quality of your life.

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Disaster Preparedness For People With Hearing Loss

Natural disasters come in many types. From simple power outages to fires, hurricanes, and tornadoes, natural disasters can exact a heavy toll. Being prepared for an emergency is an essential part of staying safe during difficult times. For those with hearing loss, there are extra challenges involving getting information and communicating with others during these trying times. Here are some emergency preparedness steps for those of you with hearing loss.

Hearing Loss-Friendly Weather-Alert Radio

Continuous weather information is accessible from the National Weather Service on a nationwide network called NOAA Weather Radio (NWR). You can receive hazard information for your area by looking for NWR receivers. The receivers have specialized connectors that can work together with security systems, shakers, pillow vibrators, and strobe lights.

Receive Reverse 911 Alerts

It is possible to receive text alerts with emergency information on your smartphone. This information includes instructions for evacuating or avoiding dangerous areas during environmental disasters. By signing up for this service, you can get life-saving information much sooner than on local news or social media.

Assemble Your Emergency Kit

Pack a bag in advance that contains everything you might need if a disaster occurs. Items should include emergency preparedness items specifically for people with hearing loss.

  • A 4-week supply of hearing aid batteries
  • Battery charger for cochlear implants
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Pen and paper for writing messages
  • A waterproof container for storing hearing aids
  • Battery removal tool
  • Dry kit
  • Telephone number of hearing healthcare professional
  • Batteries for any additional ALDs you may have

If you have a hearing dog, there are a few extra items to pack as well:

  • 1-2-week supply of food and treats
  • Water for at least 24 hours
  • Collar and leash
  • Service ID
  • Copies of dog’s immunization records

Train For A Disaster

Many communities now have programs that educate and prepare citizens for potential disasters. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) programs teach necessary disaster response skills, fire safety, and medical operations. The classrooms and training environments are accessible to people with hearing loss. Some venues have assistive listening systems, while others offer amplified sound microphones or sign language interpreters.

Support Network

If you have a hearing loss and live alone, forming a support system is crucial. A small network of neighbors, friends, and family can work together during an emergency to ensure everyone stays safe and receives up-to-date emergency information. Please remember to inform your network about any health concerns, assistive listening devices, or medical supplies. This information is vital for responders who may help you during a disaster. You may consider using communication cards to communicate with rescue workers. These cards can alert a rescuer to your hearing loss and use images, symbols, and words to convey meaning.
If you have a hearing loss, it is essential that you take the time to prepare for natural disasters. Assemble a kit, sign up for alerts, and train for emergencies. Contact your hearing healthcare professional for additional tips and help for emergency preparedness.

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Assistive Listening Systems and Your Hearing Prerogative

With over 48 million Americans across the country and an astounding 466 million worldwide suffering from disabling hearing loss, staying up to date with advancing technology and new laws and regulations may be the difference between accessing your right to hear in public and private settings or struggling to receive the help you’re entitled to. Thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), everyone has the right to hear in public places, making sure that if public address systems are used, an assistive listening system (ALS) is available for those with hearing loss as well. With numerous types of ALS systems available, technology has made it much easier to increase your quality of life while in public settings, whether they help eliminate background noise, or are discretely hidden to aid you without needing to use and return noticeable devices.

What Type of ALS’ Are There?

Fortunately, finding venues with an ALS should be simple thanks to ADA guidelines. To abide by the ADA’s Standards for Accessible Design, venues must have signs that properly show that they utilize assistive listening systems by displaying the blue international symbol, and numerous types of systems must be made available upon request with strict standards, right down to the size of audio jacks.

1. Hearing Loops

The most widely used and preferred ALS, hearing loops are a discretely hidden wire that surrounds a seating area that plugs into an amplifier and PA system. The loop then converts sound from the PA system into an electromagnetic signal that is received and translated into sound by telecoils found in most hearing aids.

 2. WiFi Systems

Though these do not follow ADA guidelines and are not an acceptable ALS system in the eyes of the law, WiFi systems are becoming increasingly popular with the rise of smartphones and tablets. While audio is streaming, sound is delivered through a WiFi connection to an appropriate app on your smartphone or tablet. Unfortunately, this requires attendants to use their own device as a receiver, failing to reach the ADA’s requirement of equal access.

3. RF Systems

Requiring a receiver that you must borrow from the venue, RF systems are becoming less popular for more convenient and user-friendly listening systems. Utilizing radio frequencies, RF systems transmit sound to receivers and earbuds like a personal radio. Though the ADA Compatibility Mandate required RF systems to be upgraded in 2012, they are still drastically lacking in technology compared to other systems.

You Have A Right To Hear

Assistive listening systems are increasing the quality of life for the millions of users with hearing loss by fulfilling their right to hear. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, whether it be concert halls, transportation hubs, or places of worship, systems such as the Hearing Loop or WiFi are ensuring that hearing loss will not stop you from participating in the joyful activities of your daily life. Whether you wear hearing aids or are struggling with untreated hearing loss, it’s important to know your rights when it comes to hearing in public places.

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The Importance of Child Hearing Screenings and Their Impact on Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is the number one congenital disability in the United States. Whether the hearing loss is congenital or an acquired hearing loss, the consequences of hearing loss can be devastating if left untreated. Even a slight hearing loss can cause speech and language delays that are considered to be educationally significant. These children can have emotional difficulties, perform poorly in school and can suffer from personal-social maladjustments. A child hearing screening is an essential tool in dealing with the loss of hearing. The school hearing screening’s impact on hearing loss is the subject of a new study.

The Problem

Children in North Carolina receive screenings only before the beginning of public school. This practice goes against the recommendations of several organizations guidelines that suggest testing throughout multiple grades. Because of this, hearing loss may go untreated in many children. Because of the potential negative impact of hearing loss on auditory learning and communication, researchers are looking at the effects that screening procedures have on outcomes.

Study Methods

1.181 children in grades kindergarten through ninth grade received a screening at a charter school during the fall of 2016. Two years after this, 862 children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade underwent testing to replicate the previous study findings and to collect additional data if possible. Two hearing healthcare professionals, two speech-language pathologists, and a large group of graduate students took part. The protocol for the screening includes:

  • All children in the study receive a screening at 1, 2, 4, and 6 kHz at 20 dB HL with a minimum of two stimuli before recording a response or no response to the stimuli.
  • The children who fail at least one frequency receive rescreening at 20 dB as a check for reliability. The examiners remove the headphones and reinstruct the child.
  • Any failure to respond at one or more frequencies in either ear is a failure at 25 dB HL.
  • A rescreening of children within three weeks by a clinician who is not familiar with the initial results will need scheduling and a referral for a diagnostic evaluation if they do not pass the rescreening is also a possibility.
  • A hearing healthcare professional will administer otoscopy and tympanometry on all children who fail the initial screening.

Results

According to the conclusions of the study, a comparable number of children failed the screenings for pure tone in 2016 and 2018. This finding suggests that the results are replicable. All of the children failing the rescreening were part of distribution across grades with the majority of failures concentrated in third grade in 2016 and fifth grade in 2018. The otoscopy and tympanometry findings were abnormal in four percent of the children in the 2016 screening and three percent in the 2018 testing. Those students passing the pure tone rescreening at 25 dB received a referral for medical intervention. The results indicate that the screening criterion increases the failure rate of the initial screening.

Indications

The study indicates that a school-wide hearing screening can identify more children with potential hearing loss. More research should take place to recommend universal screening criteria. Although the authors recommend diagnostic testing following a screening, the study indicates that parents are not prone to follow up even when the testing is free. These and other barriers to compliance must receive exposure.