Help prevent and treat hearing loss

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Having trouble hearing? Don't just tolerate it. Communicating with others is essential and hearing loss is a common concern. It can isolate you from your loved ones and interfere on many levels. But you can take action. "I encourage them not to put up with it," said audiologist Jo Anne Price at Certified Hearing. "You can do better than that."

The first thing to do is see your doctor. You may be able to be treated in the office, if it's relatively simple problem like an object in the ear or excessive ear wax. From there you may be referred to an audiologist to do a hearing test and perhaps get fitted for a type of sound amplifier or hearing aid.

Price said your loved ones want to talk with you, that's why they're concerned. They want you to interact with them and be part of the conversation. If they are concerned that a family member is having difficulty hearing, according to Price what they are really saying to you is, "I think communicating with you is important."

She sees patients of all ages, some older adults and some very young children. According to Price five percent of kids under 18 have some hearing loss. Providence St. Mary Medical Center does a hearing screen for babies right after they're born. So parents can have a pretty good idea of where they stand with regard to their child's hearing.

Since she started the business in 1975, Price has encouraged parents to get their child's vision and hearing tested right away so they can have all the opportunities at language development at an early age. However hearing loss is probably more associated with those 55 and older because there is a genetic tendency to lose hearing as you age. A third of the population of those between age 65-75 have some hearing loss. According to Price, for those older than 75 almost half have hearing loss. Some is the result of aging, but some hearing loss is from direct exposure to loud noise.

Price said this noise exposure can come from a variety of sources such as guns, combines, industrial noise, electric amplifiers, headsets and others. But even though there's more technology to transmit sound, there's also now more protective technology.

Price loves the new technology and she's empowered to help people of all ages hear better and have a better quality of life. "Now there's more technology to help. You can get Ipod earphones that don't go up beyond 85 decibels. You can even get custom ear plugs."

That means there's all kinds of hearing aids and amplifiers, too. "They're great if they fit appropriately. We have great technology now," Price said. And it's at a much lower cost now, too.

She loves her job, helping people have a better quality of life, to hear and interact better with their loved ones.

Price suggested to prevent hearing loss, avoid loud noises or wear ear protection--it's sensible. And all the advances in technology has helped also. "If the foam earplugs are uncomfortable they make comfy ones out of silicone. Some ear protections now tune out the frequencies that are damaging."

According to Price, the noise that's destructive is anything over 90 decibels. "It's the sound pressure level, a shotgun is 120-130 decibels, even a short burst of noise, the sound pressure hits the eardrum and damages the hair cells in the inner ear."

"Hearing aids are better than not hearing at all but it's better if you can prevent it," she said.

The ramifications of untreated hearing loss include socially withdrawing because you can't clearly hear the conversations around you, Price said. "There can develop concerns about cognitive function when the input is incomplete, the responses can be incomplete. I've seen people who have become quite depressed. They often think people are angry because they raise their voices and they look angry when talking loudly. They may be feeling they're not fitting in anymore. They're not part of the group anymore. They may be labeled as having dementia and cognitive loss when it's actually hearing loss. You can't remember what you didn't hear. It affects relationships and families."

Often the grown children help encourage the parent to come in and get screened. "The kids care that the parent participates." When trying to communicate with someone with severe hearing loss, remove the background noise and add more clarity to conversations. It's important to face the person you're talking with rather than being turned to one side. Anything that affects communication affects everyone involved. "It's a two-way street not one way," she said. It goes beyond just the family. "It's helpful for physicians if their patients can hear them."

Price suggested starting with a "pocket talker," for amplified hearing enhancement. It amplifies sounds closest to the listener while it reduces background noise. She urges people to come in, get some help and information. Don't just order something through the mail without the ability to return it. Get your hearing checked, she said. Because of digital technology now they can custom fit hearing devices. "Some have fancier noise suppression," Price said. The specifications are as individual as the fit. There is a recision law in Washington state that clarifies a return policy for hearing aids. If you can't wear them you shouldn't keep them, she said. Make sure it fits right.

"The patient wants to do better. We may have to work at it, fine tune it. They end up doing quite well. You have to be patient and work on it. Get some help. If you need information or if you need help changing the batteries and cleaning the hearing aids come in, we'll help you."

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