October is Audiology Awareness Month. People can be so reluctant to seek treatment when they suspect hearing loss but help is available and it may be easier than you think. Dr. Jennifer Sowards joins MassAppeal with some tips on hearing loss prevention and treatment.
What is an audiologist?
Let’s start off with the basics. An audiologist is a health care professional who is trained to evaluate hearing loss and related disorders, including balance (vestibular) disorders and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and to rehabilitate individuals with hearing loss and related disorders.
The best way to avoid noise-induced hearing loss is to keep away from loud noise as much as you can. Generally, a noise is probably loud enough to damage your hearing if you have to raise your voice to talk to other people, you can't hear what people nearby are saying, it hurts your ears, or you have ringing in your ears or muffled hearing afterwards. Noise levels are measured in decibels (dB): the higher the number, the louder the noise. Protect your hearing during loud events and activities. To protect your hearing during loud activities and events (such as at nightclubs, gigs or sports events) by moving away from sources of loud noises (such as loudspeakers), try to take a break from the noise every 15 minutes, give your hearing about 18 hours to recover after exposure to lots of loud noise, and consider wearing earplugs – you can buy re-usable musicians' earplugs that reduce the volume of music but don't muffle it. You might also want to consider having regular hearing checks (once a year, say) if you're at a higher risk of noise-induced hearing loss – for example, if you're a musician or work in noisy environments.
If you have hearing problems, help is available. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of your hearing loss. Removing wax blockage is a reversible cause of hearing loss. Your doctor may remove earwax using suction or a small tool with a loop on the end. Another treatment is having a surgical procedure. Some types of hearing loss can be treated with surgery, including abnormalities of the ear drum or bones of hearing (ossicles). If you've had repeated infections with persistent fluid, your doctor may insert small tubes that help your ears drain. Hearing aids are also another treatment. If your hearing loss is due to damage to your inner ear, a hearing aid can be helpful. An audiologist can discuss with you the potential benefits of a hearing aid and fit you with a device. Open fit aids are currently the most popular, due to fit and features offered. And lastly, Cochlear implants. If you have more severe hearing loss and gain limited benefit from conventional hearing aids, then a cochlear implant may be an option. Unlike a hearing aid that amplifies sound and directs it into your ear canal, a cochlear implant bypasses damaged or nonworking parts of your inner ear and directly stimulates the hearing nerve. An audiologist, along with a medical doctor who specializes in disorders of the ears, nose and throat (ENT), can discuss the risks and benefits.
Dr. Sowards sits with Danny New from MassAppeal to go over tips, frequently asked questions, and more. Watch the clip below.