Balancing: It’s all in your ears

Even the simplest action, like walking, is affected by a person’s sense of balance. This balance comes from a complex combination involving the visual system and kinesthetic senses, along with one other important area: the inner ear. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, without those three parts working in concert, a person becomes dizzy and loses their sense of balance. The inner ear plays a critical role in balance, and any disturbances, such as calcium deposits, can affect a person’s balance.

Some other causes of dizziness include Meniere’s Disease, certain drugs, and head trauma. In order to determine what is causing a person to lose their balance, a doctor may conduct a balance assessment to monitor any changes and detect the site of the problem. Symptoms of balance issues include having rapid, involuntary eye movements; vertigo and dizziness; and difficulty or awkward walking/running. If you suspect you may have problems with your balance, talk to your doctor about the health of your inner ear. He or she can assess your condition and determine the existence of any abnormalities.

Have you heard?

People aren’t the only ones with interesting hearing mechanisms and facts. Check out these random tidbits about animal hearing from the Better Hearing Institute, Teachers Domain, and the University of Washington:

  • Snakes do not have ears, but their tongues are sensitive to sound vibrations.
  • Owls distinguish sound directions partly by measuring the difference in time it takes the sound to reach each ear. This difference is typically less than 200 millionths of a second!
  • Cicadas have hearing organs in their stomachs
  • Crickets have hearing organs in their knees; sound waves cause a thin membrane on the cricket’s legs to vibrate
  • It is thought that owls can create an image of the world around them based only on sound, much like humans do with their eyes
  • Although fish do not have ears, they can hear pressure changes through ridges on their bodies
  • Dolphins can hear frequencies up to at least 100,000 Hz.  Compare this to a dog’s ability to hear up to 40,000 Hz and a person’s 20,000 Hz
  • During World War I, the military kept parrots on France’s Eiffel Tower because their extra-sensitive hearing allowed them to warn of incoming enemy aircraft before any person could hear it
  • All mammals have external ears, but many can move them to help pinpoint the direction of sounds. Some animals, like elephants, can even use their ears to stay cool by waving them like fans. And you thought you could twitch your ears!

How can I protect my hearing?

According to the Better Hearing Institute, one-third of hearing loss is preventable. So what measures can you take to protect your own hearing? For starters, it’s important to limit the amount of time you spend doing noisy activities. This seems obvious, but many people don’t realize that repeated exposures to loud noises can add up to cause damage later. Second, if you must participate in a noisy activity (such as mowing the lawn), wear proper protection. By wearing ear plugs or muffs, people can limit the amount of noise that enters the ear canal. These devices can be purchased at most sporting goods stores or a basic drug store. Third, turn down the noise that you can control. It’s easy to leave the TV on too loud or be tempted to crank up the stereo in the car, but even these small choices can have negative consequences on your hearing. Instead, make a conscious effort to keep the volume down low when you’re watching TV and listening to the radio.

This goes for all handheld devices, as well. Personal music players with ear bud-style headphones allow the music to have direct access to your ear canal, so listeners must use extra caution when using these types of players. Finally, the Better Hearing Institute recommends that patients ask their doctor about possible negative side effects of their medications. Some medicines can actually be dangerous to a person’s hearing, so do some research and talk to your doctor about your concerns. When it comes to hearing, prevention is the key to preservation.

Caution: Recreational activities could damage your hearing

In July, people across the nation celebrated America’s independence with cookouts, parties, and, most of all, fireworks. And although setting off your own fireworks can be visually stimulating and exciting, it’s important to remember that it can also be dangerous to your hearing. At a distance of 10 feet, fireworks can produce up to 155 decibels of noise – well over the 85 decibels thought to cause hearing loss after repeated exposure. The Better Hearing Institute suggests that people use caution by wearing ear plugs or ear muffs during not only firework presentations, but also the following recreational activities:

  • Snowmobiling – 99 decibels
  • Video arcades – 110 decibels
  • Movie theaters – 118 decibels
  • Motor-boating – up to 115 decibels
  • Motorcycling – up to 120 decibels
  • Live concerts – 120 decibels +
  • Health clubs – 120 decibels
  • Shooting range (gunshots) – up to 167 decibels

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Congenital hearing loss in children

Although it is more common for people to acquire hearing loss through age or exposure to loud noises, between one and six of every 1,000 newborn babies are born with congenital (or present-at-birth) hearing loss. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, more than 50% of all congenital cases are caused by genetics. There are thought to be at least three separate genetic causes of congenital hearing loss, including situations in which at least one parent has genetically caused hearing loss. In this situation, the chance of the affected gene being passed to a child is much higher (at least 50%) than in cases where neither parent has hearing loss.

In some cases, both parents may carry a recessive gene for hearing loss, meaning that although neither of them has lost their hearing, they still have the ability to pass that gene on to their children. In this case, there is about a 25% chance of the child being born with hearing loss. Finally, there is also the chance that the mother can pass a hearing loss gene to her child through the X-chromosome, meaning it can only be passed on to male children, who have just one X chromosome (females have two). Hearing loss is also a known characteristic of Down syndrome and other genetic conditions.

However, there are also several causes of congenital hearing loss that are not related to genetics. These generally include infections or toxins in the mother during pregnancy or conditions affecting the baby shortly after birth. For instance, babies who are exposed to German measles or herpes while in the womb can develop congenital hearing loss. It’s very important to talk to your True Dental Discounts, hearing plan doctor about your chances of passing on hearing loss to your child so you can be as educated as possible prior to the birth.

Could your child’s toys negatively impact his hearing?

Walk around your local toy store and you’ll see millions of different toys for your child to play with. Many of them include a sound component, which, in addition to being annoying to parents, can also pose a risk to a child’s hearing. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, some children’s toys – like sirens or squeaky rubber toys – can actually emit sounds of 90 decibels. To put that in perspective, adults experiencing that level of noise at work would have to wear ear protection!

Worse, when held up to a child’s ear during play, these toys can actually reach up to 120 decibels – a painful level that can result in permanent hearing loss. The Association suggests that some of the most dangerous toys for hearing include cap guns, vehicles with sirens, walkie talkies, vacuum toys, and even talking dolls. Before buying a new toy, be sure to test out its sound component; if you already have dangerous toys at home, take out the batteries to ensure they stay quiet. Healthy hearing practices begin at a young age, so start protecting your child at all times – even during play time. Talk to a doctor in your discount hearing plan if you have any questions or concerns about toys around your house.

Solutions for hearing loss around the home

Most of us take for granted that we can talk to someone over the phone and open the door when we hear the door bell chime. But for people with hearing loss, these tasks are not so simple. Fortunately, technology has now made it possible for hard-of-hearing people to “hear” the door bell and other alerts in the home, as well as carry on a conversation over the phone. For instance, telephone amplifiers can be coupled with a person’s hearing aid to improve the person’s ability to hear a caller.

For people who still cannot hear well enough for a conversation, they can use Voice Carry Over, which is used with a telephone relay service. In these cases, the operator translates what the other person is saying by converting their words to text on a screen. When it comes to “hearing” the door bell, people can install systems that pick up the signal and cause lights to flash, fans to spin, or a small device to vibrate. The same goes for sleeping alarms, fire alarms, and more. Talk to your True Dental Discounts hearing specialist about the best options for your home to find out more information.

Growing up with hearing loss

Children with hearing loss frequently experience special difficulties in their social and academic development, particularly children who lost their hearing early in life. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the academic gap between children with hearing loss and other children widens as school becomes more difficult and advanced. It is imperative that parents employ the help of an intervention professional to set their child up for success. A specialist can work on a child’s academic and social development, the latter being key because many children with hearing loss feel isolated from their peers, especially if the child does not know many other children with hearing loss.

The good news is that research shows children with hearing loss who get help very early in life can develop language skills at the same level as their peers. The important thing is to start seeing a specialist as soon as possible and involve the entire family in the program. Talk to your True Dental Discounts – hearing plan audiologist to find out more information on child hearing loss – timing is critical.

Musicians may need extra hearing protection

Everyone knows it can be dangerous to your hearing to go to noisy concerts or blast music in the car, but did you know it can also be harmful to the one playing the music, as well? According to the American Hearing Research Foundation, the most damage comes from high-frequency sounds, such as those produced by violins and violas. This is especially true for the left ear because it is held close to the instrument during performances. Many violinists face a conundrum because they need to have excellent hearing to adjust the instrument’s pitch levels while playing, yet their hearing is gradually damaged by playing.

For non-string instruments like trumpets, experts recommend musicians use mutes to muffle the sound and protect their hearing. Other musicians, including violinists, have the option of wearing special “vented” ear plugs that help protect the ears without distorting the musician’s perception of the pitch. A doctor on your hearing plan can make specialized recommendations to fit your instrument and situation, so protect your hearing by scheduling an appointment before your next performance.

Survey shows untreated hearing loss may reduce quality of life

Although you may not think of it in these terms, hearing loss can dramatically affect a person’s quality of life. In a 2007 survey conducted by the National Family Opinion panel, families reported that hearing loss resulted in up to $12,000 of decreased income, depending on the severity of the hearing loss. Much of this discrepancy, according to the Better Hearing Institute, is the result of miscommunication on the job. Most jobs require strong verbal communications skills in order to interact with customers, work with colleagues or bring in new clients.

In cases of people with hearing loss, it is often difficult to perform at the required level without a hearing-aid instrument. As a result, many untreated hearing-impaired employees face the risk of making a mistake on the job and consequentially become anxious or self-conscious in their daily tasks. Unfortunately, many people wait until retirement to seek help; they worry others will judge them for wearing a hearing aid or using other helpful instruments. In that case, according to the Better Hearing Institute, a worker with untreated hearing loss may be negatively impacted for “the rest of his or her life in the form of lost wages, lost promotions, lost opportunities and unrealized dreams, not to mention lower income in their retirement.” The good news is that this does not have to be true.

In fact, the study showed that the use of hearing instruments mitigated the effects of hearing loss by a full 50 percent. For this reason, it is critically important that people who have difficulty hearing seek out the help of an audiologist. You can find one with the help of True Dental Discounts at little cost to you. He or she will help you identify your individual hearing needs at work and home and start you on a path to a more relaxed and successful life. Why wait?