The Spring Cleaning Guide for your Ear Canals

As Spring slowly makes her rise, many of us begin to feel the urge to shake out our rugs, tuck away our bulky winter clothes, and clear out the cluttered cabinets that have languished on our to-do lists for too long. In this same spirit we should also include our very own often-forgotten nooks… our ear canals.

While there are certainly those who tend to these important byways into our heads, there are also those among us who entirely forget the need to occasionally clean these canals. And despite the bad rap that earwax can occasionally get, it’s actually an important element of our ears’ protection mechanism. But like everything else, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

In fact, a buildup of too much earwax can actually cause temporary deafness, pain and discomfort, and even permanent damage to the ear drum if left for too long. However, the many methods currently promoted for self-cleaning out earwax are not created equal. Below is a review of some of the more popular approaches, and helpful information about each of them so that you continue to take care of your ears while they continue to take care of you.

Cotton Swabs

By far the most common approach to cleaning our ears out and perhaps the least effective! In fact, on closer (magnified) analysis of an ear canal after having been “cleaned” with a cotton swab, it’s clear that cotton swabs actually push more earwax into the ear canal than they pull out. The reason for this is because earwax is formed in the outer third of our ear canal, to provide protection from debris and pathogens, but the large cotton swab smooshes that wax deeper into the canal while pulling just a fraction of it out.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Another widely used method is to rinse the ear canal out with hydrogen peroxide. It helps soften and loosen any hardened earwax buildup which can then be either (carefully) removed with a cotton ball (not swab), or allowed to drain out of the ear. It’s important to note that frequent use of hydrogen peroxide, however, has been known to irritate the ears and create itchy, red skin, which can actually prompt the ears to produce even more earwax. So when using this method, do it no more than twice a week.

Irrigation

The ear canal is designed to be self-cleaning and under normal and healthy conditions we won’t even have enough ear wax in our canals to be concerned about. But in the instances where we do need some extra support, creating a simple ear flush can be a safe and effective way to help the natural cleaning process of the ear. A common recipe is to mix equal parts of white vinegar, warm water, and rubbing alcohol, and then to use a dropper to put a few drops of this solution into the ears. After letting it sit in the canal for a few minutes, simply turn your head and allow the softened wax to drain out of your canals.

Mineral Oil

The majority of the contents of earwax itself are fat-soluble molecules (hence its namesake, “wax”), which is why using an oil like mineral oil is so effective at loosening and removing extra earwax buildup. You can actually use any pure liquid oil for this method (i.e. olive oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, etc), but it’s important not to use oils with added perfumes or chemicals (like baby oil, for instance). Similar to the irrigation method, the oil of your choice is placed in your ear canal (just a few drops will do the trick), allowed to sit for a few minutes while it softens the ear wax, and then drained out by turning your head. Using oil that is just slightly warmer than your body temperature works faster at dissolving any extra wax.

Ear Candling

Despite the claims made by manufacturers and adherents of ear candles, there has been a strong warning about them issued by the FDA, which, simply put, is that they are dangerous and potentially harmful if used as instructed by the packaging. The reason for this is that ear candles are designed to have one end of a hollow, wax-covered trumpet inserted into your ear canal, while the other end of the trumpet slowly burns. There have been cases of the hot ash falling into the trumpet and burning the ear canals of the user. It’s definitely better to pursue the safer methods listed above!

Reasons Why You Should Say Yes to a Hearing Aid

The use of hearing aids has always been resisted by young and old alike. Sometimes, years pass before people even realize that they need them. Surveys have shown that majority of people wait for at least 7 years from the time a hearing loss is detected to the actually getting a hearing aid for themselves. Moreover, the loss of hearing sensation is a gradual process that happens over extended periods of time. Often, we do not even realize what sounds we are no longer able to fathom.

The resistance towards adding a hearing aid to enhance one’s hearing health is a result of a multitude of factors ranging from the cost and time involved to acquire them, the initial discomfort associated with its use to the denial by people of the existence of a problem in the first place. In fact, most people go for an evaluation to determine the need for a hearing aid only at the insistence of their spouse or a co-worker.

And then, there’s the stigma surrounding the use of hearing aids. Despite hearing aids being just another physical aid like the prescription glasses, they are identified with old age. Since the process of aging is synonymous with losing one’s charm and vigor, people have an obvious aversion to sporting a hearing aid. Even at the cost of several sounds and tones being shut out in some dark abyss. With the newer technologies and advanced option like in-the-ear models, this prejudice needs reevaluation.

So, if you’ve been harboring this sentiment or see a loved one or a colleague at work resisting the inclusion of a hearing aid in their life, it is time you give these compelling reasons a serious thought.

The Earlier The Better

We all know the age old saying “prevention is better than cure.” Well, in cases like these, early treatment amounts to less damage, if not prevention. So, even if you ‘think’ you do not require a hearing aid just yet, it is better to ignore such thoughts for once. Early intervention ensures timely adjustment to hearing aids. This, in turn, helps prevent the tendency of our brain to ‘forget’ the sounds that you have stopped hearing. When the hearing aids pick up these forgotten frequencies, the brain takes some time to adjust to those sounds again and process them correctly. This is because the nerve impulses for such tones have to be regenerated from scratch once the hearing aid brings them back. And if a lot of time has lapsed before this adjustment happens, the once-familiar sounds start feeling “funny.” Often, people blame it on the device and the initial awkwardness invariably leads to discontinuation and non-compliance.

Better Quality of Life

Imagine a day when you don’t have to strain your ears to ‘be in a conversation’ or without the struggles of positioning yourself strategically in order to hear well. Sounds relaxing, isn’t it? Research has shown that the use of hearing aids not only improves the quality of life but it also brings about the betterment of cognitive abilities and even makes way for harmonious relationships.

Protects Your Cognitive Health

Various studies have found the hearing loss to be associated with dementia. In such a scenario, the preservation of brain health becomes a prime reason to seek help and treatment. Although this linkage is a sad revelation considering the already prevalent hardships that are associated with hearing loss, it is reassuring to know that if the treatment of hearing loss is carried out early and aggressively, it can actually prevent the cognitive decline of the brain. Some studies have even gone further to say that early treatment of hearing loss can reverse the impairment of cognitive functions even after they have begun.

Helps You Stay Connected

As mentioned earlier, the use of hearing aids facilitates stress-free conversations with our loved ones, without having to worry about the lip movements, the hand gestures, the lighting and what not. Naturally, It doesn’t come as a surprise when most hearing aid wearers remark how much they were missing without even realizing it.

Getting a hearing aid is not such a complex process that it’s made to be. And more often than not, people regret having delayed making this choice. You don’t want to be one among them, do you? Take that first step and leave the rest to us. Call 254-774-7727 today!

Hearing Aids: The Top Reasons for Reluctance

The electric hearing aid device has been helping people better hear the world around them since the early 20th century1. However, even with decades of proven success, many with hearing issues are still reluctant to incorporate the device into their daily lives. Why is this?

The root of the problem may vary from person to person, but often includes the fear of being perceived as old or weak. The hard truth is that our society does not respect the older among us the way that it should. When you get down to the heart of it, older persons may often be treated negatively or, worse, ignored altogether. The stigma is undeniable.

Let’s further explore some possible reasons why someone may refuse hearing aids:

Pride
Possibly the most common of all reasons for not wanting to wear hearing aids is pride. For many, wearing hearing aids is admitting that they’re getting older. To that end, it is also an admission that one is indeed not immortal. This leap of thought is morbid but prevalent nonetheless.

Letting go of the hopeful grasp on youth is not an easy task for some. Most people who refuse hearing aids will choose to ignore the signs of hearing loss (missing words or phrases in conversation, talking to people from close range, watching TV at an abnormally high volume) and simply try to get by in order to avoid using a device.

Ageism
As people age, the body declines. This is a fact of nature. However, in our youth-centric culture, that does not always prevent people from jumping to assumptions in regard to age and its effects on one’s abilities. Hearing aids are no different. For example, an uninformed person may assume that someone with a hearing aid is inefficient and does not complete tasks quickly. An individual may be reluctant to wear one due to fear of age-related judgment being passed – by friends, family, co-workers or even strangers.

Fear of New Challenges
A new medical device such as a hearing aid is a significant change in one’s life. That’s the key word here. CHANGE. For older individuals who are accustomed to their particular way of life, deviation or interruption are not exactly welcome occurrences. The process of learning how to use a hearing aid and how to adapt it to daily life can be daunting for some. Physicians and families can help alleviate the fear with education, assistance and, most of all, patience.

Don’t Let Hearing Loss Keep You From Hiking

Have you been diagnosed with hearing loss? If you think that diagnosis means giving up activities like hiking, think again. Every year millions of Americans head out on hiking trails and hearing loss doesn’t have to keep you from being one of them.

According to the American Hiking Society, over 34 million people hiked America’s trails in 2013. It is estimated that the number of hikers getting out on the cross-country web of trails has only continued to grow thanks to the many benefits of hiking that can be enjoyed no matter your hearing ability.

Relieve Stress and Anxiety

For many, hiking is an activity that can help ease the stress of daily life. Whether it’s the frustration of clearly understanding people throughout the day, life’s many responsibilities, rising medical costs or polarizing politics, a walk in nature has long been seen as an antidote. John Muir summed it up beautifully over a hundred years ago when he said, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” (John Muir, Our National Parks).

Scientists are now looking into the mental health benefits of spending time in nature, not just the mountains. Several small studies have indicated that walking in a natural setting vs. an urban setting may help reduce anxiety, improve cognition and even decrease the risk of depression.

Improve Cardiovascular Health

Experts recommend most adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. Hearing loss doesn’t change this recommendation. Aerobic exercise can help improve total cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease. Hiking is a great way to add more blood pumping movement to your week and can be tailored to your level with the right trail. If you’re just getting started, opt for shorter and more level trails that can get you off the treadmill without risking over exertion. More advanced hikers and walkers can look for longer trails with more challenging terrain and hills. Always talk to your physician about the best activity level for you before getting started.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

We often learn that as we age that achieving and maintaining a healthy weight takes a little more work than it did at 20. If a diagnosis of hearing loss has been a transition for you, it may be time to get back on track with that healthy weight and hiking can help.

Hiking isn’t just a good aerobic exercise. It is also a total body workout that can help build muscle and core strength. This added muscle burns even more calories making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

Hiking with Hearing Loss

Whatever your level of hearing, going for a hike can be an enjoyable pastime with a wealth benefits. When hiking with hearing loss, these tips can help:

  • Be prepared – Get familiar with your trail before you head out and bring a map or GPS device to help stay on track. Not all trails are well marked and getting clear directions from other hikers, or park rangers may be difficult depending upon hearing ability.
  • Hike with a friend – This is good advice for anyone hitting the trails. A hiking partner can help navigate, get assistance in the event of an emergency and offer companionship along the way.
  • Use your senses – Tune into the environment and those around you with all your senses. Regularly scan the trail around and behind you to ensure you’re aware of others and the trail. Smells and the feel of steps on the ground can also alert you to other hikers nearby.

Don’t let the loss of hearing keep you from hiking and other activities you enjoy. Head out into nature today and reap the rewards!

The Hearing Aids of Tomorrow are Here Today

For all types of technology, there are many qualified and dedicated people working around the clock to improve the designs and software of the devices of yesterday. The world of healthcare is no exception to these advancements, which are always in the best interests of patients. Naturally, this includes the intricacies of hearing aid technology as well. From hardware (the physical device itself) to software (the programming that makes it work), the healthcare industry has seen immense progress in hearing aid technology over the last decade, let alone since their first commercial use back in the early 1900’s.

While it is the job of a competent hearing care provider to be in the know about the latest types of hearing aids and hearing aids accessories, this information is still accessible and understandable to those who benefit from the devices as well. As you can imagine, those small devices that go into your ears to help you hear have a lot that go into them, and staying up to date on what the newest advancements are is one of the best ways to make sure your hearing experience is perfectly suited for you.

There are two main types of hearing aids that have seen great technological advancements in similar and unique ways. The most common type is the behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid. These can come with an earmold (for higher levels of hearing impairment), built so that the receiver is in the ear itself, or even as miniature designs to create more subtlety when worn.

Newer behind-the-ear aids now come in a variety of looks and styles, ranging from common skin-toned shades, to sleek and stylish black and steel-colored bodies. In-the-ear aids are smaller and all-around less noticeable than behind-the-ear aids. Many people who are brand new to hearing aids may not be familiar with these types of discreet models due to them not fitting the somewhat stereotypical image of hearing aids, but thanks to advancements in the field, they are just as common as BTE aids, and are selected depending on the type of hearing loss being treated. If you are in need of new hearing aids, remember to ask to see the various models available to you.

When it comes to the extra features of modern hearing aids, one of the most impressive is surely the option to have full integration of Bluetooth technology into just about any type of hearing aid. Bluetooth technology allows one to wirelessly stream audio from any Bluetooth-enabled device to a speaker within range, and in 2017, we can finally add hearing aids to that list of speakers.

Wearers of hearing aids can now enjoy the privacy of listening to music, watching a movie, or taking a phone call from their smartphone or tablet directly into their hearing aids with a few simple button taps. The integration of Bluetooth technology is an add-on feature for hearing aids which can increase price considerably, so be sure to shop around extensively to get the best pricing.

Could This Medicine Be Causing Your Hearing Loss?

Ask most people what causes hearing loss, and they’re quick to suggest loud noise, aging or genetics. According to experts such as audiologists, while these are common causes of hearing loss, there are several lesser-known reasons you may not be hearing as clearly as you once were and one can be found right in your medicine cabinet.

Recent hearing loss research is pointing to common household pain relievers as a more surprising cause of the condition affecting an estimated 37 million Americans. Aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen are all part of a group of drugs known as ototoxic medications. Ototoxic medications, those that “cause functional impairment and cellular degeneration of the tissues of the inner ear,” include the regularly used, over-the-counter pain and inflammation reducers, as well as:

  • Certain antibiotics (aminoglycoside antibiotics such as streptomycin)
  • Chemotherapy drugs (cisplatin, carboplatin, etc.)
  • Loop diuretics (Lasix, ethacrynic acid)

According to the research, these ototoxic medications are known to damage cochlea in the inner ear. This damage first becomes noticeable with tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or vertigo. It has been difficult for experts to determine just how many people’s hearing has been impacted by taking aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. The fact that these medicines may cause hearing loss is still relatively unknown. As with anything else, awareness and minimizing risk is an important first step.

If these medicines are a regular part of your week, now is the time to take action.

  • Talk with your ear doctor and physician about your medications and dosage. It is often larger doses that can negatively impact hearing function. Discuss any changes that may help reduce your risk or slow down your rate of hearing loss such as taking them less frequently or in lower doses. Also, discuss non-ototoxic alternatives to your current medications that may meet your needs for pain or reducing inflammation without posing a risk to your hearing.
  • Get a regular hearing evaluation to monitor your hearing. These tests can provide a baseline and track any changes that may be caused by aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Should any sudden changes occur, such as ringing in the ears (tinnitus), contact your audiologist immediately to set up a hearing consultation and get to the bottom of the issue. In many cases, symptoms may stop when you stop taking the medication.
  • Take a closer look at your health and diet. Some of the newest research on hearing lossindicates that factors such as maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, adding regular fitness to your week and maintaining a healthy diet can help reduce your risk. With a shifting focus in America from managing sickness to preventing it, you may see more and more research on how a healthy lifestyle can help prevent or improve a variety of conditions and concerns such as loss of hearing.

If you have been diagnosed with any degree of hearing loss or believe you are experiencing more limited hearing, consider what may be in your medicine cabinet and how it could be affecting you. Always work closely with your physician and ear doctor to uncover hidden reasons for hearing loss and how to slow its progress.

Take Immediate Action for Sudden Hearing Loss

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), a division of the National Institute for Health (NIH), defines sudden deafness as “unexplained, rapid loss of hearing – usually in one ear – either at once or over several days.”

Anyone who has experienced this should seek medical help immediately. It may be something as simple as earwax clogging the ear canal. However, if the cause is serious, like damage to the inner ear, any delays in treatment can negatively impact the success of the treatment.

Sudden deafness is also called Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) and it should be viewed as a medical emergency. A quick hearing test is used to diagnose SSHL and to determine if the hearing loss is due to a blockage or a sensory issue. AmericanHearing.org states that a loss of 30 decibels of hearing affecting at least three linked frequencies is the standard for a diagnosis of SSHL. A healthcare provider may order blood tests and scans to attempt to pinpoint the exact cause of the hearing loss.

What Causes Sudden Hearing Loss?

Ninety percent of people with SSHL will lose hearing in only one ear and many will first notice it in the morning when they wake, when they try to use the deaf ear, or after a loud popping sound in the ear. SSHL may also cause ringing in the ear, dizziness or both. It is often difficult to determine why it happens, but here are some of the common causes:

  • Prolonged exposure to loud noises
  • Head trauma
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Ototoxic drugs (like some chemotherapy drugs)
  • Blood circulation problems
  • Tumors
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Neurologic issues like Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Aging
  • Congenital causes 

What is the Treatment for SSHL?

In around fifty percent of patients, hearing will return in the same spontaneous way it was lost, usually within fourteen days or so.   Overall treatment rates are solid with an estimated eighty-five percent of patients regaining some level of hearing, either spontaneously or with treatment, according to the NIDCD.

When a precise cause can be identified, appropriate treatments will be provided. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the cause is found to be an infection. Immune suppression drugs may be used if the cause is determined to be an autoimmune disease.

A common treatment for sudden hearing loss with an unknown cause is corticosteroids. Steroids reduce inflammation and decrease swelling to help the body fight illnesses and infections. Steroids are used to treat a wide variety of issues and ailments and should be used as directed by a healthcare professional for the best results.

Sudden Hearing Loss and Stroke

With fast care, SSHL patients can experience good results from treatment but should be aware that there is some recent research that points to a relationship between sudden hearing loss and impending stroke. The study authors recommend seeing a neurologist if diagnosed with SSHL by your hearing healthcare provider.

Schedule a hearing evaluation with us to assess your hearing health and remember to seek help immediately if you experience sudden hearing loss.

Suffering from Listening Fatigue?

Listening requires work. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be so many relationship books and funny memes about it. Some situations and certain people require an extreme amount of listening energy. So, when you feel that talking to some people drains you, you are not being dramatic.

It’s often said that we hear with our ears but we listen with our brains. That’s so true, but let’s explore what that really means. Of course, the first step is taking in the signals with our ears, but oh my goodness, what follows is elaborate. Our brains, our amazing brains, are processing the information from those signals by running it by our memory and cognition centers AND at the same time, formulating our responses. (Yes, most of us are formulating our responses while the other person is still speaking). All of this happens in a time frame that allows for fluid conversational give-and-take.

It’s amazing and it’s exhausting. Now, imagine living that complex process every single day without the benefit of healthy hearing. When part of the system breaks down due to hearing loss, our cognitive stress increases as compensations are made. Compensations like, intently focusing on the speaker’s mouth for more clues or mentally filling in gaps for words we didn’t quite hear.

The extra exertion needed to make adjustments can lead to symptoms like lack of energy, sadness, irritability and exhaustion. While not a clinically accepted condition yet, many in the hearing healthcare community call it Listening Fatigue. Luckily, hearing aids can provide significant improvements for those suffering from hearing loss, and the fatigue and isolation often associated with it.

Even with hearing aids, certain environments may still be difficult to navigate. Here are simple steps you can take to protect against being overwhelmed by noise.

Tips to Prevent Listening Fatigue

  • Take frequent listening breaks by going to a quiet space or turning off your hearing aids.
  • Turn off background noises like music or the television.
  • Rest or sleep before spending time in a noisy environment.
  • At large gatherings, move to a less noisy area and speak with only one or two people at a time.
  • Avoid noisy environments when already tired.
  • Practice deep breathing and mindfulness. (Mindfulness Tip Sheets)
  • Tell others what you need. – “Please, face me when you speak.” or “Please, speak up.”
  • Plan ahead for outings at crowded venues like theaters or restaurants:
    • Read about the play or show before seeing it
    • Find out if the venue has assisted listening devices or captions
    • Sit in a quieter area, if there is one

Following these steps may give your ears and brain the support they need to help you enjoy a robust and fulfilling social life. A hearing impairment should not cause you to miss out on the things you love.

If you have untreated hearing loss, schedule a hearing evaluation with us to identify your hearing issue and to develop a custom treatment plan. If you have hearing aids and are still struggling to do what you love, talk to us about adjusting your hearing health plan.

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