Hearing Loss And Prevention

How to Prevent Hearing Loss

After your child is born and you count ten fingers and ten toes your newborn will have a hearing test. A soft rubber probe will be placed in your baby’s ear and electrodes on his or her scalp will detect sound transmitted through the ear canal.

Hearing loss is the number one birth defect in America, affecting over 100 babies born each day. If mild hearing loss goes undetected your precious child will be 10 times more likely to be held back at least one grade, twice as likely to never get past a 4th grade reading level and could need over $400,000 in special education services.

A newborn hearing test is completely painless for the sleeping baby and costs less than $50. Thirty states make newborn hearing tests mandatory and Tennessee is one of them. But what happens after the newborn test is still a concern to professionals. The first few months of life are a critical time for stimulating auditory pathways to the hearing centers of the brain, and too many babies do not receive the recommended follow- up tests.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the “one-three-six rule,” which starts with a hearing test before 1 month of age, usually done before the baby leaves the hospital. If any hearing loss is detected, a complete audiologic evaluation should be scheduled before the baby is 3 months old. If the evaluation confirms hearing loss, then intervention should take place before the age of 6 months.

“Emotions run high when parents discover that their child has a 30 percent hearing loss that could have been detected before they were in school and before the child experienced problems with learning, behavior and socialization,” says Christopher St. Charles, M.D., an otolaryngologist with Associates in Ear, Nose and Throat. “They feel so guilty and by then it’s nearly impossible to make a significant difference.”

By Barbara Bowen

Can Hearing Be Restored?

For children and adults, damage to hearing is more likely to be correctable if it is conductive hearing loss.

“Conductive hearing loss is when sound can’t get to the hearing nerve due to blockage or other problems in the outer and middle ear,” explains Dr. St. Charles. “Wax or fluid buildup, a hole in the eardrum and problems with the bones of the ear can contribute to this type of impairment.”

There are medical treatments to reverse conductive hearing loss, including removing wax or fluid, fixing an eardrum hole and replacing ear bones.

“If the hearing loss is due to fluid behind the eardrum, it can usually be treated with a combination of antibiotics, decongestants and sometimes steroids,” says Jack Greer, M.D. and an otolaryngologist with Chattanooga Ear, Nose and Throat. “Even some forms of sudden sensorineural hearing loss can be treated with high doses of steroids and be corrected.”

Sensorineural loss, or nerve damage, is when sound gets through the outer and middle ear to reach the auditory nerve, but the nerve is unable to respond appropriately. Exposure to loud noises is the most common cause of auditory nerve damage and is preventable, but rarely reversible.

“If you have been diagnosed with hearing loss you should be evaluated by an ear, nose and throat specialist to determine the cause of the hearing loss,” advises Dr. Greer. “The evaluation will include a thorough hearing history, microscopic examination of the ear and an audiogram.”

Turn Down The Volume

“Music contributes to hearing loss in 25 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 54,” says Dr. St. Charles. “Loud concerts, not just rock concerts, and the use of ear buds with iPods and MP3 players are factors for noise-induced hearing loss.”

“Parents should check the volume level of their children’s iPods,” cautions Dr. Shawn Lancaster, Au.D., CCC-A, an audiologist with The Speech and Hearing Center. “Generally if you can stand next to your child and hear the music they are listening to through ear buds or earphones, it is definitely loud enough to damage their hearing.”

Delicate ears should not be exposed to sound pressure levels above 85dB (decibels). Excessive or prolonged loud noises can damage the tiny hairs in the inner ear and lead to nerve damage and hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss affects 26 million American adults who live, work and play in environments that are hazardous to hearing.

“We live in a noisy world and there are sounds we don’t think about that could hurt our hearing,” says Darnell Scafe, M.A., CCC-A, a clinical audiologist with Audiology Services. “You should always wear ear protection when using something as simple as a weed eater or leaf blower.” Experts recommend earplugs for mowing the lawn, using power tools, firearms or operating loud machinery.

“If you have a history of noise exposure, family history of hearing loss, ringing, buzzing or humming in one or both ears, difficulty hearing with background noise or any symptom of hearing loss, it is highly recommended that you have a hearing evaluation,” says Dr. Megan Johnson, Au.D., a doctor of audiology at Johnson Audiology. “In fact, it is recommended that you get a hearing evaluation as part of your annual health check.”

Can You Hear Me Now?

Even infants who pass the initial hearing tests can later develop hearing loss as adolescents. Symptoms are often overlooked by parents until a teacher mentions lack of attention in class or the child’s grades begin to slide. The ability to follow verbal instructions is a key indicator.

“I tell parents to watch if their adolescent is responding to instructions they want to hear like, ‘Do you want to go get an ice cream cone’ and not just the ones they don’t want to hear like, ‘Take out the trash’,” says Dr. St. Charles.

Indications of hearing loss in children and adults are isolation from social conversations, higher volumes on the television and/or a ringing or buzzing sensation in the ears. For adults the ability to distinguish conversation from background noise in a restaurant or public setting can be the first clue.

Hearing impairment is the third most common medical condition in older adults. Usually beginning between the ages of 40 and 50, men are more likely to suffer hearing loss than women.

“Age-related hearing loss is slowly progressive with age,” Dr. Greer explains. “Hearing aids will help patients hear better but will not slow down the hearing loss, which can be accelerated by other medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”

Hearing aids and assisted listening devices are available in a wide variety of styles. Some devices, nearly invisible and very high tech and others as simple as a set of television headphones, can help those with hearing loss.

“Most people resist getting a hearing aid,” Dr. St. Charles says. “I tell them if you want to be 72 and alone in an apartment, then don’t get a hearing aid. You won’t be able to understand the waitress, so you will avoid going to restaurants; you won’t be able to hear the sermon, so you will skip church; and you won’t be able to participate in social conversations, so you will stop trying to communicate.”

Hearing Assistance

Across the area, audiologists provide hearing evaluations and hearing assistance. Different styles of hearing aids are offered that fit in or around your ears and provide different levels of sound. “The latest and greatest hearing aid available is the Receiver- In-Canal (RIC or open fit),” says Scafe. “Open fit instruments and specifically the RICs are very discreet and help to keep the ear open, resulting in a more natural, comfortable fit.” Receiver-In-Canal hearing aid is a small behind the ear unit attached to a thin tube with a tiny tip that sits in the ear canal.

Other hearing aids include: In-The-Ear (ITE) that fits the entire bowl of the ear, extending into the ear canal; In-The-Canal (ITC) that fits outside the ear canal; Mini- Canals (MC) that fit mostly in the ear canal and extend slightly outside of the ear canal; Completely-In-The-Canal (CIC) that fits deeply within the ear canal and is barely visible; Behind-The-Ear (BTE) that is in a curved case and fits securely behind the ear. Other options include remote microphones and digital technology that allows for the sound of hearing aids to be customized to your needs.

Loss of hearing is considered a “hidden handicap” that can dramatically affect learning abilities and an active, happy lifestyle. It is important that parents watch their children for symptoms associated with hearing loss and if needed, have their hearing checked. Young adults and older adults need to take the necessary steps to protect their hearing from being damaged irreversibly. From childhood through the golden years, no one wants to miss the sounds of a laughing child, the first “I love you,” whispered words of encouragement or birdsongs signaling the coming of spring.