Using Speech Bananas in Hearing Tests and Hearing Loss Assessments

Sorry to disappoint you, but the “speech banana” is not an innovative new super fruit; it’s not for eating at all.The “speech banana” is a distinctive pattern depicted on an audiogram. Audiograms are typically charted with the frequency level (measured in Hertz) on one the x axis and volume level (measured in Decibels) on the y axis.

The phrase ‘speech banana’ stems from the banana-shaped cluster of points on the audiogram that arises when human language is analyzed. Nearly the whole alphabet and the majority of letter combinations (such as th, ch, sh, and ng) fall into the speech banana range on an audiogram. The primary exceptions are the letters q, w, x, and y.

For those who have normal hearing, you can hear sounds inside this range, but can also hear higher-frequency sounds such as leaves rustling or birds chirping and lower-frequency sounds such as tubas or machinery. However the sounds that are most important to our communications with other humans are the sounds we make when talking. Individuals with hearing loss often have difficulty hearing specific vowels and the letter combinations ng, ch, sh and th.

Consequently, audiologists and hearing specialists are most focused on hearing loss that develops within the region of the speech banana. If an audiogram exposes that an individual has hearing loss within the speech banana region, it is nearly certain that they’re having communication difficulties.

The speech banana is considered so vital to healthy hearing that many school districts have required audiograms for their students so that they can identify and address hearing problems early, espcially those affecting communications. The significance of this special range of sounds is also why hearing aids need to be properly tuned and programmed by a professional audiologist or hearing specialist, to make sure you can hear the sounds of human speech clearly.Whether you presently use hearing aids or not, give us a call if you have questions about your hearing ability in the critical speech banana frequency and volume range.

Can Low Cost Personal Sound Amplifiers Substitute for Hearing Aids?

What is the exact difference between a hearing aid and a personal sound amplifier (PSA)? One difference is that the PSA is being aggressively advertised in recent months generating a great deal of confusion. You don’t see comparable advertisements for hearing aids in part because they are medical devices according to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and cannot be sold without having been prescribed by a an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. Hearing aids are intended for individuals with hearing problems ranging from modest to extensive. They are programmed for each individual to precisely target their unique hearing impairment as determined by the dispenser or audiologist.

Personal sound amplifiers, on the other hand, were designed to raise the volume of sounds for people who have normal hearing. Some PSAs look similar to hearing aids, in that they are small and can be worn on the body, but the only thing that they do is amplify sound. PSAs are not able to correct the unique sorts of difficulties that hearing-impaired individuals have.

The low price of PSAs (under $100, in contrast to thousands of dollars for the top hearing aids) can make them seem appealing to people on a limited budget. The vast variation in cost is one of the reasons the FDA has gotten involved establishing websites and information campaigns to ensure that consumers understand the distinction. In case you are having difficulty hearing, do not purchase a personal sound amplifier without having your hearing checked by a professional audiologist. Using a personal sound amplifier instead of having your hearing examined can postpone vital treatment that could bring back your hearing, and in some situations (turning the volume up too high) can even further damage your hearing.

So, prior to making any decision about buying a device to help your hearing, see your hearing instrument specialist or audiologist. Some cases of hearing loss, such as those due to excessive ear wax, can be reversed in one office visit. Other types of hearing impairment may be more serious or even irreversible, but they can also be effectively cared for using quality hearing aids that have been correctly prescribed and adjusted. An audiologist or hearing instrument specialist will be able to establish the underlying cause of your problem. In certain cases you won’t require a hearing aid or a personal sound amplifier.

If, on the other hand, your hearing specialist or audiologist finds no evidence of serious hearing loss, and you’re still having trouble hearing weaker sounds, then you can think about buying a PSA. If you choose to buy a personal sound amplifier, you’ll want to check the specifications carefully and try to find one that states it amplifies in the frequency range of human conversation. That range is 1000 to 2000 Hertz. Also, don’t purchase any PSAs that don’t come with volume controls and electronically-enforced loudness limits that do not allow their volume levels to exceed 135 decibels. There’s a role for PSAs in the marketplace when utilized by the right individuals. PSAs can be very helpful for people with normal hearing to hear faraway or weak sounds better. The risk in PSAs is mixing them up with hearing aids – which they aren’t. If you suspect hearing loss, make an appointment to have your hearingprofessionally tested.

How Should Range Shooters Safeguard Their Hearing and Ears?

America has a strong history of gun usage, based to some degree on the TV and movies we knew as a kids, which showed us pictures of policemen and cowboys firing guns pretty much all the time. Regular exposure to these visuals is among many reasons that you will find so many American gun owners who very much enjoy shooting them at firing ranges or on hunts. The part of the story that you never see in the movies or on television is just what happens to these shooters in their later years. Many wind up nearly deaf or with severe hearing disabilities.

Guns are noisy, and noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL, is a very real concern, among the most common causes of hearing losses in the US. Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by two types of noise – sustained high noise levels (such as working around heavy machinery), and transient sounds at high volumes (such as explosions or gunfire).

The volume of sounds is measured in decibels; complete silence is zero decibels, breathing is 10 decibels, and normal conversation is 60 decibels. The decibel scale is logarithmic. 50 decibels is twice as loud as 40, and 60 is four times as loud as 40. Continuous exposure to noises above 90 decibels can lead to irreversible, NIHL within just a couple weeks. Comparable ear damage can occur much faster at higher decibel levels. It takes only a few minutes of sounds at 120 decibels, for example from a jet engine or rock concert, to lead to permanent ear damage. Gunshots come in at 140 decibels.

Irrespective of how they may feel about guns, there is one subject on which gun enthusiasts and hearing experts concur – no one should be shooting guns without using hearing protection. What kind of ear protection is most effective will depend to some extent on where you plan to shoot.

If you normally shoot guns at ranges, the most-recommended hearing protection is the over-the-ear “muff” headphones, because they keep the sound of gunfire from hitting not only your inner ears, but the cochlear bones behind them. Many shooters who care about their hearing partner over-the-ear ear muffs with in-the-ear foam ear plugs with a Noise Reduction Rating of 30 or higher, to attain even more protection. For increased protection, choose headphones with electronic noise-cancelling technology. They are the highest priced option, but do offer the maximum level of protection. These headphones block the gunfire sounds while enabling you to hear normal conversations.

Regardless of whether you’re a novice or experienced range shooter, ask your hearing care specialist about the latest in hearing protection options, and never go to the shooting range without protection. And bear in mind, hearing protection doesn’t do you any good, at your house, inside your backpack, or hanging around your neck. You need to use it at all times.

Tips on How to Find the BestHeadphones for Your Children

When you have kids, sooner or later they are going to ask you to purchase them headphones to use with their music players, computers, and gaming systems. And there are reasons for this, because headphones can enhance the experience of these multimedia, but there are certain characteristics you should look for when you shop.

Good fit is definitely the first thing to look for.Children’s heads are smaller, so headphones intended for adults will not fit them properly, and might not provide the complete range of sound to them. Kids might also wind up damaging headphones that are too big for their heads by repeatedly repositioning or adjusting them. Many kid’s headphones come with flexible headbands that make the initial fitting easier, and which permit refitting as the child grows.

The most crucial feature you should look for, however, is that the headphones include some type of Sound Limiting Technology. Kids are kids, and are going to want to play games and music at the highest volume levels possible; however, this may cause ear damage and hearing loss. As a result, it is best to limit your choices for kids’ headphones to those that do not allow loud volume levels, and that come with preset limits that guarantee they are never louder than 80 to 85 decibels. This advice is more important if you are buying “ear buds” that aren’t worn over the ears but in the outer ear canal.

A different thing take into consideration is durability and sturdiness, because kids are hard on fragile things, and some headphones can be quite fragileindeed. Parenting magazines or consumer guides that provide product comparisons are a great place to learn more about headphone durability. At times you will need to give up a small amount of durability to get a lighter weight product. Certain headphones are simply too heavy for children’s heads no matter how many additional wonderful features they have.

Whichever make of children’s headphones you decide upon, do them a favor and set limits as to how often they can use them. Keep in mind that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is triggered by both the volume and length of the sound contact. Despite having the Sound Limiting Technology, too many hours wearing headphones may cause ear damage.

Replace or Repair a Damaged Hearing Aid?

One of the more common questions we hear is, “My hearing aid is broken or just isn’t functioning the same way it used to – do you think I should purchase a new one, or have it repaired?” The truthful answer needs to be, “Well, that depends.” The issue of whether to replace or repair depends on many factors, and the “best answer” is as individual as the people asking the question.

It’s worthwhile to state upfront, that all hearing aids, without regard for their initial quality or price, can be expected to stop working at some point. The surroundings that hearing aids operate in – your ear canals – is a hostile one for sophisticated electronic devices, filled with ear wax (cerumen) and moisture. Ear wax is generated naturally, and we need it because it protects the lining of our ear canals, but it can “gum up the works” of hearing aids; likewise, lingering water is normal after swimming or showering, but it too can harm hearing aids. Add to these two factors breakage (from inadvertently dropping the aids) and normal wear and tear (as internal tubing or components wear out), and you can safely bet that at some point your hearing aid will need either replacement or repair.

So how do you decide between replace and repair? The most important factor really is you, and whether you like your current hearing aids. If you like them and are familiar with the sound that they produce or really like the fit, repair could be the better option for you.

Another factor to consider, naturally, is cost – while a new pair of hearing aids might cost thousands, your current hearing aids may cost only a few hundred dollars to fix. The part we can’t answer for you is the impact of insurance. A few insurance plans include replacements, but not repairs or have different policies on full or partial coverage.

If you decide to pursue a repair, the next logical question is “Should I take them back to where I purchased them?”Although you could choose to work with a far off repair lab directly, your neighborhood hearing specialist is a valuable resource. Ask yourself if you are capable of assessing whether a poorly functioning hearing aid needs cleaning versus repair? Can you determine if your broken aid is capable of being repaired? Your local audiologist or hearing instrument specialist will be able to tell you what is actually wrong with it and might be able to correct it right then. For hearing aid repairs which cannot be accomplished locally, your audiologist will manage the shipping, paperwork and lab directions for you. Because they work in volume with suppliers, their pricing may be the same or better than you could get yourself.

If you choose to replace your hearing aid, you will have many additional options to look at since the last time you shopped. Newer hearing aid designs may have functions that you are interested in, and can be fine-tuned and programmed to match your unique hearing needs. So the choice whether to “replace or repair” is still yours to make, but hopefully this information will help you make it.

Treatment, Prevention and Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear – Acute External Otitis

Acute external otitis or otitis externa – more commonly known as swimmer’s ear – is an infection that strikes the outer ear canal, the area outside your eardrum. It is termed “swimmer’s ear” because it quite often arises due to moisture staying in the ears after swimming; this provides a moist environment that promotes microbial growth. Swimmer’s ear may also be triggered by stiking your fingertips, Q-tips, or other objects into the ears, because they can scrape or damage the sensitive ear canal lining, leaving it open to infection. Luckily for us swimmer’s ear is readily treated. If left untreated, swimmer’s ear can cause severe complications so it is important to identify the signs and symptoms of the infection.

Swimmer’s ear happens as the result of the ear’s innate protection mechanisms (including the glands that secrete ear wax or cerumen) becoming overloaded. Too much moisture in the ear, damage to the lining of the ear canal, and sensitivity reactions can all create an advantageous environment for the growth of bacteria, and lead to infection. Certain activities will raise your risk of contracting swimmer’s ear. Swimming, use of inside-the-ear devices (including hearing aids or ear buds), overly aggressive cleaning of the ear canal and allergies all raise your likelihood of infection.

The most typical symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching in the ear canal, minor discomfort that is made worse by tugging on your ear, a mild redness inside the ear, and mild drainage of a clear, odorless fluid. Moderate symptoms include increased itching and pain and discharge of pus-like liquids. Extreme cases of swimmer’s ear are accompanied by symptoms such as fever, severe pain which may radiate into other parts of the head, neck and face, swelling redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, and possibly blockage of the ear canal. If untreated, complications from swimmer’s ear can be very serious. Complications may include short-term hearing loss, long-term ear infections, deep tissue infections which may spread to other parts of the body, and bone or cartilage loss. So if you experience even the milder symptoms of swimmer’s ear, it’s a good idea to see your health care provider right away.

Doctors usually diagnose swimmer’s ear after a visual examination with an otoscope. Doctors will also make certain that your eardrum hasn’t been damaged or ruptured. If swimmer’s ear is the problem, it is usually treated by first cleaning the ears with care, and then prescribing antibiotic or antifungal eardrops to fight the infection. For widespread, severe infections a course of antibiotics taken orally may be prescribed.

To prevent swimmer’s ear, dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or showering, avoid swimming in untreated water resources, and don’t insert foreign objects into your ears to clean them.

Figuring Out the Links Between Hearing Loss, Dementia and Alzheimer’s

If you have some form of hearing impairment, do you ever find that listening to people talk is work, and that you need to try really hard to understand what people say? You are not alone. The sensation that listening and understanding is tiring work is typical among people with hearing impairment – even those that wear hearing aids.

As though that was not bad enough, it may not be just your ability to hear that is impacted, but also cognitive abilities. The latest research studies have established that there is a strong association between hearing loss and your risk of contracting Alzheimer’s and dementia.

One of these research studies, conducted at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, analyzed 639 people between the ages of 36 and 90, for a period of sixteen years. The data showed that 58 study participants – 9% of the total – had developed dementia and 37 – 6 percent – had developed Alzheimer’s disease. They found that for every ten decibels of hearing loss, the individuals’ odds of developing dementia increased by 20 percent; the more significant the degree of hearing loss, the greater their chance of dementia.

A separate research study of 1,984 people, also sixteen years in duration, demonstrated comparable results linking hearing loss and dementia. In this second research study, investigators also found decline of cognitive capabilities among the hearing-impaired over the course of the study. Compared to participants with normal hearing, those with hearing loss developed memory loss 40% faster. A pivotal, but depressing, conclusion in both studies was that the adverse cognitive effects were not diminished by wearing hearing aids. The link between hearing loss and loss of cognitive functions is an active area of inquiry, but researchers have proposed a few hypotheses to explain the results seen thus far. One of these explanations relates to the question that began this article, about needing to work harder to hear; this has been called cognitive overload. Some researchers suspect that if you are hearing-impaired, your brain tires itself out so much just trying to hear that it has a reduced capacity to understand what is being said. The resulting lack of understanding may cause social isolation, a factor that has been demonstrated in other research studies to lead to dementia. Another idea is that neither dementia nor hearing loss cause the other, but that they’re both related to an as-yet-undiscovered pathological mechanism – possibly vascular, possibly genetic, possibly environmental – that causes both.

Despite the fact that these study outcomes are a little dismaying, there is hope that comes from them. For those of us who wear hearing aids, these outcomes serve as a reminder to see our hearing specialists on a regular basis to keep the aids properly fitted and tuned, so that we aren’t constantly straining to hear. If you don’t have to work so hard to hear, you have greater cognitive power to understand what is being said, and remember it. Also, if loss of hearing is linked to dementia, knowing this might lead to interventional methods that can prevent its onset.

Healing with Music – Essentials of Music Therapy

Sound is a vital part of our lives, but like most things, its impact on us depends on both the quality of the sounds we hear, and the quantity of them. For example, for most of us, listening to music we enjoy is comforting and restful, but flip the volume of the same music up too loud – such as at a concert or when listening to headphones on maximum volume – and the very same music is jarring and capable of inducing stress.

While the quality of the sounds we hear is subjective, and depends upon individual tastes, the quantity (as measured by loudness ,in decibels) is very objective. Being exposed to loud sounds, especially for prolonged periods of time, can permanently damage the sensitive hair cells that permit us to hear, and lead to noise-induced hearing loss. As a result of being exposed to these loud sounds, an estimated one in five Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (constantly hearing a buzzing or ringing sound in the ears). Its easy to understand how excessive volume can cause stress, but so too can really quiet sounds. For instance, the dripping of a faucet or ticking of a clock have been shown to trigger stress, anxiety and insomnia.

On the flip side, sound can be used to lower stress and anxiety and even treat some types of hearing loss. Chanting, ocean surf, birds singing or falling water are sounds that most people find soothing and calming. More and more, these types of sounds are being used by psychologists to treat anxiety rather than create it, and by audiologists to treat hearing problems such as tinnitus rather than cause them. Music therapy is reaching the mainstream in clinics and hospitals to accelerate healing after surgery, in stroke rehabilitation, and to impede the progression of Alzheimer’s. Both at home and in offices, white noise generators (which produce a sound similar to surf) have been used to conquer sleep disorders and to mask the background sounds of noisy environments.

More directly related to hearing loss, sound and music therapy is being used more and more to treat tinnitus by creating what specialists call a threshold shift, which allows tinnitus patients to psychologically mask the constant buzzing or ringing sounds they hear. Using music therapy, audiologists have been able to help tinnitus sufferers to retrain their brains, to focus less on the continuous buzzing, and to focus more on the foreground sounds they want to hear, and which are more pleasant. While the tinnitus ringing doesn’t disappear, the stress and anxiety that it otherwise produces are reduced. The patients learn to focus attention on desirable sounds in favor of undesirable ones.

So if you or a family member has tinnitus, give us a call and set up a consultation so that we can discuss treatment options, which may include music therapy, with you.

Regenerating Hair Cells in the Ears is One Potential Route for Reversing Hearing Loss

As hearing professionals, one of the frustrations we experience in our practice is that the issues that have caused hearing problems in our patients can’t be reversed. Damage to the tiny, very sensitive hair cells of the inner ear is among the more common reasons for hearing loss. The job of these hair cells is to vibrate in response to sound waves. Our sense of hearing is the result of these vibrations being converted into electrical impulses and delivered to the brain for interpretation.

These hair cell structures must be really small and sensitive to do their jobs correctly. It is precisely because they are very small and sensitive that they are also readily damaged. This damage may occur as the result of aging, infections, medications, and by extended exposure to high-volume sounds, resulting in noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL. Once these hair cells have been harmed in human ears, science has to date not found any way to repair or “fix” them. Therefore, hearing professionals and audiologists have to treat hearing loss technologically, using hearing aids or cochlear implants.

This wouldn’t be the case if humans were more like fish and chickens. That may seem like an odd statement, however it is true, because – unlike humans – some birds and fish can regenerate the hair cells in their inner ears, thereby regaining their hearing once it has become lost. For reasons that are not fully understood, chickens and zebra fish have the ability to spontaneously replicate and replace damaged hair cells, and thus attain full functional recovery from hearing loss.

While it is vital to state at the outset that the following research is in its early stages and that no practical benefits for humans have yet been achieved, sizeable breakthroughs in the treatment of hearing loss may come in the future as the result of the innovative Hearing Restoration Project (HRP). Funded by a nonprofit organization called the Hearing Health Foundation, this research is currently being conducted in 14 different laboratories in the United States and Canada.Working to identify the molecules that allow the replication and regeneration in some animals, HRP researchers hope to find a way to stimulate human hair cells to do the same.

Because there are so many different molecules mixed up in regeneration process – some that facilitate replication, some that impede it – the researchers’ work is slow-moving and difficult. By pinpointing which of the molecules regulate this process in avian or fish cochlea, the scientists are hoping to pinpoint which molecules promote hair cell growth. Some of the HRP scientists are pursuing gene therapies as a way to stimulate such regrowth, while others are working on using stem cells to accomplish the same goal.

Our entire staff extends to them our well wishes and hopes for their success, because nothing would thrill us more than being able to completely heal our clients’ hearing loss.

Can it Trigger Additional Hearing Losses if I am Subjected to High Decibel Sounds When I am Using My Hearing Aid?

Patients that are being fitted for a hearing aid to help them hear better often ask what the hearing aid will do with sounds which are still too loud for them. This is a normal question, one for which there is fortunately a comforting answer.

In a nutshell, modern hearing aids that are properly fitted and adjusted are designed to avoid amplifying sounds that are already very loud. We can’t overemphasize how important the phrase in bold is; this is the reason you need professional help with selecting and fitting your hearing aids.

An explanation of how hearing aids work is required to give a complete answer. Basically, they pick up sounds and transform them into digital information, which is then processed by the microchip in the hearing aid in many different ways before being routed to your ears. Your individual needs can be met with these digital hearing aids by programming and adjusting the maximum volume and the quality of sounds. An example might be that we program your hearing aid to amplify high-frequency sounds and reduce the volume of lower-frequency sounds if you suffer from primarily high-frequency hearing loss. If you suffer more from low-frequency hearing loss, the hearing aid can be programmed accordingly.

The newest digital hearing aids can also filter sounds to make them easier for you to understand. For example, if foreground voices are obscured by background noise, the hearing aid can detect the noise and suppress it or lower its volume, amplifying only the voices. The hearing aids can also be adjusted to dynamically compensate for differences in volume; if the speaker or music you are listening to starts softly but then increases and becomes too loud, the hearing aid can compensate for this. Directional microphones assist this process by detecting the direction of sounds. They allow sounds from the direction you are facing while suppressing sounds from the side and behind.

An important point to remember is that hearing aids will not protect your ears from loud sounds like earplugs do. Noise-induced hearing loss can still be caused by loud sounds such as chainsaws or overly amplified rock concerts. But in most situations your properly fitted and programmed hearing aid should handle most of the range of sounds you’re likely to encounter.

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