The Science of Hearing, Uncategorized

How The Ear Hears

Mechanical Ear (1973) by Chuck Baird  (1947-2012)

The human ear, like those of other mammals, is so extraordinarily sensitive that it can detect sound-wave-induced vibrations of the eardrum that move by less than the width of an atom. Now, researchers at MIT have discovered important new details of how the ear achieves this amazing ability to pick up faint sounds.

The new findings help explain how our ears can detect vibrations a million times less intense than those we can detect through the sense of touch, for example. The results appear in the journal Physical Review Letters, in a paper by visiting scientist and lead author Jonathan Sellon, professor of electrical engineering and senior author Dennis Freeman, visiting scientist Roozbeh Ghaffari, and members of the Grodzinsky group at MIT.

Both the ear’s sensitivity and its selectivity – its ability to distinguish different frequencies of sound – depend crucially on the behavior of a minuscule gelatinous structure in the inner ear called the tectorial membrane, which Freeman and his students have been studying for more than a decade. Now, they have found that the way the gel membrane gives our hearing its extreme sensitivity has to do with the size, stiffness, and distribution of nanoscale pores in that membrane, and the way those nanopores control the movement of water within the gel.

The tectorial membrane lies atop the tiny hairs that line the inner ear, or cochlea. These sensory receptors are arranged in tufts that are each sensitive to different frequencies of sound, in a progression along the length of the tightly curled structure. The fact that the tips of those hairs are embedded in the tectorial membrane means its behavior strongly affects the way those hairs respond to sound.

“Mechanically, it’s Jell-O,” Freeman says, describing the tiny tectorial membrane, which is thinner than a hair. Though it’s essentially a saturated sponge-like structure made mostly of water, “if you squeeze it as hard as you can, you can’t get the water out. It’s held together by electrostatic forces,” he explains. But though there are many gel-based materials in the body, including cartilage, elastin and tendons, the tectorial membrane develops from a different set of genetic instructions.

The purpose of the structure was a puzzle initially. “Why would you want that?” Sellon says. Sitting right on top of the sensitive sound-pickup structure, “it’s the kind of thing that muffles most kinds of microphones,” he says. “Yet it’s essential for hearing,” and any defects in its structure caused by gene variations can significantly degrade a person’s hearing.

After detailed tests of the microscopic structure, the team found that the size and arrangement of pores within it, and the way those properties affect how water within the gel moves back and forth between pores in response to vibration, makes the response of the whole system highly selective. Both the highest and lowest tones coming into the ear are less affected by the amplification provided by the tectorial membrane, while the middle frequencies are more strongly amplified.

“It’s tuned just right to get the signal you need,” Sellon says, to amplify the sounds that are most useful.

The team found that the tectorial membrane’s structure “looked like a solid but behaved like a liquid,” Freeman says – which makes sense since it is composed mostly of liquid. “What we’re finding is that the tectorial membrane is less solid than we thought.” The key finding, which he says the team hadn’t anticipated, was that “for middle frequencies, the structure moves as a liquid; but for high and low frequencies, it only behaves as a solid.”

Overall, the researchers hope that a better understanding of these mechanisms may help in devising ways to counteract various kinds of hearing impairment – either through mechanical aids such as improved cochlear implants, or medical interventions such as drugs that may alter the nanopores or the properties of the fluid in the tectorial membrane. “If the size of the pores is important for the functioning of hearing, there are things you could do,” Freeman says.

Scientific studies play a crucial role in everything from the development of new treatments, to the new technologies that make today’s hearing aids so vastly different from those in prior years.

If you haven’t had your hearing tested in over a year, it’s time to make an appointment with your audiologist. If you live in the New York City area, we would love to see you. We pride ourselves on the high level of care we give, and we stand out from other practices in the professional, friendly way we approach the care we give to patients. You aren’t just a chart here.

Audiological Diagnostics • We’re All Ears©
Offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan & Queens
(718) 745-2826

 

Sources:
https://www.sciencedaily.com/
http://web.mit.edu/

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Uncategorized

The Risks of Hearing Loss

For those of us well into middle age, we look forward and say to our friends “As long as I still have my mind together, then the rest can fall apart”

Not hearing well isn’t just frustrating; it can bring surprising health risks. Here’s what you need to know.

Hearing loss is frustrating for those who have it and for their loved ones. But research from Johns Hopkins reveals that it also is linked with walking problems, falls and even dementia.

In a study that tracked 639 adults for nearly 12 years, Johns Hopkins expert Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues found that:

  • Mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk.
  • Moderate loss tripled risk, and
  • People with a severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia.

Everything from genes and noise exposure to medications, head injuries and infections can play a role in hearing loss. Trouble detecting soft or high-pitched sounds is often the first sign that stereocilia —the delicate hair cells that convert sound waves into electrical signals within the ear—have been damaged. Soft sounds include phone conversations or background noise in settings such as restaurants. High-pitched sounds may include children’s voices. Ringing in the ears, called tinnitus, is another early signal of possible hearing loss.

“Brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain,” Lin says. “Hearing loss also contributes to social isolation. You may not want to be with people as much, and when you are you may not engage in conversation as much. These factors may contribute to dementia.”

As you walk, your ears pick up subtle cues that help with balance. Hearing loss mutes these important signals, Lin notes. “It also makes your brain work harder just to process sound. This subconscious multitasking may interfere with some of the mental processing needed to walk safely.”

Can hearing aids reduce these risks? Lin hopes to find out in a new study, still in the planning stages. “These studies have never been done before,” he notes. “What we do know is that there’s no downside to using hearing aids. They help most people who try them. And in those people, they can make all the difference in the world—allowing people to reengage with friends and family and to be more involved again.”

Although nearly 27 million Americans age 50 and older have hearing loss, only one in seven uses a hearing aid. If you think your hearing has diminished, it’s worth making an appointment with an audiologist for a hearing check, Lin says. If you have hearing loss, don’t let the following myths keep you from getting help.

“My hearing’s not that bad.”

Hearing aid users wait, on average, 10 years before getting help for hearing loss. But during that time, communication with loved ones becomes more difficult, and isolation and health risks increase. “Our findings emphasized just how important it is to be proactive in addressing any hearing declines over time,” says Lin.

“Wearing hearing aids means I’m old, and I’m not ready for that.”

It’s normal to feel worried that hearing loss means you’re aging—and to want to hide it.

Plenty of people with a hearing impairment sit silently rather than joining in conversations and activities, because they fear that hearing problems will make them seem helpless or less than competent. The truth: Connecting with others can help your brain stay younger and keep you involved with life.

“I don’t like the way hearing aids look.”

Forget the old days of big, whistling earpieces. Today’s hearing aids and cochlear implants are smaller (and less conspicuous) than ever before. Even celebrities (like former president Bill Clinton and football Hall of Famer Mike Singletary) are wearing them proudly.

“I heard that hearing aids are difficult to use.”

There is a breaking-in period as you—and your central auditory system and brain—adjust to life with hearing aids. That’s why most doctors and hearing centers include a trial period, so you can be sure the type you’ve chosen—whether it’s a miniature behind-the-ear model or one that fits into your ear—is right for you.

When a sense (taste, smell, sight, hearing, touch) is altered, the brain reorganizes and adjusts. In the case of poor hearers, researchers found that the gray matter density of the auditory areas was lower in people with decreased hearing ability, suggesting a link between hearing ability and brain volume.

“As hearing ability declines with age, interventions such as hearing aids should be considered not only to improve hearing but to preserve the brain,” said lead author Jonathan Peelle, PhD, research associate in the Department of Neurology. “People hear differently, and those with even moderate hearing loss may have to work harder to understand complex sentences.”

In a pair of studies, researchers measured the relationship of hearing acuity to the brain, first measuring the brain’s response to increasingly complex sentences and then measuring cortical brain volume in auditory cortex. Older adults (60-77 years of age) with normal hearing for their age were evaluated to determine whether normal variations in hearing ability impacted the structure or function of the network of areas in the brain supporting speech comprehension.

The studies found that people with hearing loss showed less brain activity on functional MRI scans when listening to complex sentences. Poorer hearers also had less gray matter in the auditory cortex, suggesting that areas of the brain related to auditory processing may show accelerated atrophy when hearing ability declines.

In general, research suggests that hearing sensitivity has cascading consequences for the neural processes supporting both perception and cognition. Although the research was conducted in older adults, the findings also have implications for younger adults, including those concerned about listening to music at loud volumes. “Your hearing ability directly affects how the brain processes sounds, including speech,” says Dr. Peelle. “Preserving your hearing doesn’t only protect your ears, but also helps your brain perform at its best.”

The research appears in the latest edition of The Journal of Neuroscience and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Physicians should monitor hearing in patients as they age, noting that individuals who still fall within normal hearing ability may have increasing complaints of speech comprehension issues. Patients should talk to their physician or an audiologist if they are experiencing any difficulty hearing or understanding speech.

There are a lot of reasons to get your hearing tested annually. We think you’ll agree that these are some good reasons, too.

Audiological Diagnostics • We’re All Ears™
Offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens
(718) 745-2826

Sources:
http://www.jneurosci.org/
https://www.nih.gov/

Hearing Health Facts, Uncategorized

A Gym Membership Won’t Help Your Hearing

ear working out

Imagine doing no physical activity, eating junk food for many years, and finding yourself in terrible shape with weight-related issues, and letting denial prevent you from action. Perhaps one day you would look in a mirror or see your reflection in a window or your relative shape in a group photo and finally resolve to join a gym.

Your initial visits to the gym would invariably involve challenges, but if you stuck with it and changed your eating habits, you would find that your physical health and appearance improved.

Procrastination about hearing loss
doesn’t work that way, and
can have severe ramifications

When a sense (taste, smell, sight, hearing, touch) is altered, the brain reorganizes and adjusts. In the case of poor hearers, researchers found that the gray matter density of the auditory areas was lower in people with decreased hearing ability, suggesting a link between hearing ability and brain volume/mass.

“As hearing ability declines with age, interventions such as hearing aids should be considered not only to improve hearing but to preserve the brain,” said lead author Jonathan Peelle, PhD, research associate in the Department of Neurology. “People hear differently, and those with even moderate hearing loss may have to work harder to understand complex sentences.”

In a pair of studies, researchers measured the relationship of hearing acuity to the brain, first measuring the brain’s response to increasingly complex sentences and then measuring cortical brain volume in auditory cortex. Older adults (60-77 years of age) with normal hearing for their age were evaluated to determine whether normal variations in hearing ability impacted the structure or function of the network of areas in the brain supporting speech comprehension.

The studies found that people with hearing loss showed less brain activity on functional MRI scans when listening to complex sentences. Poorer hearers also had less gray matter in the auditory cortex, suggesting that areas of the brain related to auditory processing may show accelerated atrophy when hearing ability declines.

In general, research suggests that hearing sensitivity has cascading consequences for the neural processes supporting both perception and cognition. Although the research was conducted in older adults, the findings also have implications for younger adults, including those concerned about listening to music at loud volumes. “Your hearing ability directly affects how the brain processes sounds, including speech,” says Dr. Peelle. “Preserving your hearing doesn’t only protect your ears, but also helps your brain perform at its best.”

The research appears in the latest edition of The Journal of Neuroscience and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Physicians should monitor hearing in patients as they age, noting that individuals who still fall within normal hearing ability may have increasing complaints of speech comprehension issues. Patients should talk to their physician or an audiologist if they are experiencing any difficulty hearing or understanding speech.

The real risk of allowing hearing to decline unabated is the possibility of auditory deprivation.

We’ve known for decades that the changes in the brain occur after substantial hearing loss and deafness.  However, recent work demonstrated brain changes and cortical re-organization occurs even with mild Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL). The brain changes and re-organizes based on a mild degradation of the stimulus or a mild lack of audibility.

Auditory deprivation occurs when the brain’s function of changing sounds into words is disabled due to hearing loss over an extended period of time.

As an example, if someone’s hearing loss is measured at the moderate level, and no hearing aids are worn to compensate, the loss could very well continue and hearing over the course of that ten year denial period will worsen.

As a person’s hearing declines, the brain’s ability to transform sounds into words also declines, and if left unchecked, will finally become an irreversible condition. Auditory deprivation is the equivalent of taking a person from their home and dropping them in the middle of a place in which a different language is used. You may be able to hear the speech –though muffled –but your brain’s ability to transform the speech into context will be gone, and will stay gone.

You may feel that your hearing loss “isn’t that bad” or that you can put it off, but rather than risk the worst-case scenario, what you absolutely should do is to get your hearing tested annually, and resolve to do something about it, if you have hearing loss.

If you are in the New York City area, and need a hearing test, or would like to learn more about hearing aids, give us a call and we’ll set you up with an appointment. We accept most insurances, and we are passionate about helping people to be more aware and conscientious about their hearing health.

Audiological Diagnostics • We’re All Ears©
Offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens
(718) 745-2826

Sources:
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/
https://www.pennmedicine.org/
https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/

Hearing Loss and Overall Health, Uncategorized

♥ L.O.V.E. ♥

Last year, we celebrated Valentine’s Day with a post about the connections between hearing loss and heart health, which can be found by clicking here.

This year, we’re focusing on romance – OK, and hearing; because we’re us after all!

Valentine AudioDx 2019.png

Romantic relationships are dependent upon emotional, verbal and physical connections. For people who are hard of hearing and their significant others, hearing loss can be a barrier to all of these things. In a 2007 article from The ASHA Leader, an audiologist and professor, Patricia Chute talked about some of the confusion involved in romantic relationships with hearing loss:

“All too often spouses blame each other’s ability to listen when in fact it is truly a hearing problem that is chipping away at their ability to communicate,” Chute said.

And a survey by Cochlear Americas that same year revealed that the relationship people with hearing loss cited as most likely to suffer was that with their romantic partner – a whopping 35 percent said romantic relationships trumped others in communication difficulties. When asked about their feelings when conversing with someone who appeared not to be listening because of hearing loss, 54 percent of people said they felt frustrated, 32 percent felt annoyed, 23 percent were sad and 18 percent felt ignored.

It’s not hard to imagine that relationships with significant others suffer the most; after all, in today’s busy world of work, volunteer activities and raising children or grandchildren, romantic relationships often thrive on finding brief, spontaneous and meaningful moments to connect emotionally. However, with untreated hearing loss, romance and spontaneity often take a hit as a result of the difficulties in communication.

While hearing aids are the solution to hearing loss, many people have a negative opinion of them but we’re here to tell you there are things to love about hearing aids:

♥  Untreated hearing loss may continue to decline. Hearing aids help to prevent that          decline.

  Hearing aids are smaller, more powerful, and have more capabilities than their predecessors.

  Devices worn behind the ear aren’t as visible as you think. Take a look at the images on another of our blog posts, by clicking here.

  Hearing aids today come as simple or as complex as you like. Many have the capability to stream phone calls through Bluetooth. Others allow the user to adjust settings in specific environments and a GPS within the device recognizes the location on the next visit and automatically switches to the preferred settings. There are a wide variety of choices based on the manufacturer that is chosen and what smartphone you have.

   But what we love most of all, are dispensing hearing aids to patients who have, in the past, been stubbornly refusing hearing aids, until they realize it’s time and once they hear all of the things they’ve been missing, their emotions range from amazement to happy tears.

We’d love to see you at our offices, and we’d be happy to help you with your hearing health needs, but no matter where you go, we’re happiest when we know you take your hearing seriously.

Life is full of too many things worth hearing to willfully miss out.

If you’re in the New York City area and would like to come in for a hearing test, or if you’ve had a hearing test and want to discuss hearing aids (no pressure, no obligation) feel free to give us a call. We have hearing aids to try for a couple of weeks just to see how it goes; you have nothing to lose but your fear.

Audiological Diagnostics ♥ We’re All Ears™
Offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan & Queens
(718) 745-2826

The Sound of Photos, Uncategorized

The Sound of Photos Series No. 6: “MAKE SOME NOISE!!”

This year’s Super Bowl was a sleeper, but it doesn’t take a championship game to rock the rafters in noise level.

stadium

For many people, the sounds of a sporting event are part of the experience. People want or even crave the sound of cars racing around a track or the collective rumble of fans cheering or chanting when their team has a great play. To appreciate just how loud sporting events can be here are some record-breaking facts:

The loudest sporting event ever: On September 29, 2014 the loudest crowd roar was recorded at a Kansas City Chiefs game, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. The roar clocked in at 142.2dB and was recorded with eight seconds remaining in the first quarter.

The loudest college sporting event: In 1992, during a game between the Nebraska Huskers and the Washington Huskies, a whopping 133.6dB sound level was recorded at Husky Stadium. According to Wikipedia.com, Husky Stadium has long been recognized as one of the loudest stadiums in the nation. This is in part due to the stadium’s design; almost 70 percent of the seats are located between the end zones, covered by cantilevered metal roofs that trap the sound.

The loudest crowd-roar at an indoor sporting event: Fans attending the Sacramento Kings vs. Detroit Pistons game at Sleep Train Arena on November 15, 2013 certainly got an earful. Screaming fans achieved a 126dB sound level during a fourth quarter timeout.

To put that into perspective, the sound level of an aircraft carrier flight deck is averaged at 130 dB.

Unprotected exposure to sound levels this loud, though perhaps exciting in the moment, comes with a price: damage to your hearing. In fact, exposure to a sound that is 120dB or louder causes immediate damage

It’s important to point out that most sporting events don’t always clock in at these extremely loud levels but they are still very loud and can be hazardous to your hearing. To figure out if you are at risk, you must consider two things: the loudness level and how long you may be exposed to it. Do you know how loud your favorite sporting event is? Probably not, so here are some sound-level ranges for popular sporting events as reported from the Noise Navigator Sound Level Database.

Professional Sporting Event                                      Loudness Level in dB

Basketball                                                                                       99-118
Football                                                                                           91-81
Soccer                                                                                              100
Car Race (Formula One, Nascar, Stock)                                    90-115
Baseball                                                                                           85-107
Hockey                                                                                             99-103

Now, think about how much time you spend at these events and keep in mind that as the sound level increases, the time in which you can be exposed to it decreases. For example, if you go to a basketball game that is 97dB loud, you can only be exposed to this level for 30 minutes before you run the risk of damaging your hearing. Most basketball games are one to two hours long so in order to ensure you don’t damage your hearing you would need to wear hearing protection.

Hearing protection can quickly take a dangerous sound level to a safer one and allow you to enjoy the whole sporting event without the damaging effects or the noise hangover (i.e. ringing ears, muffled hearing, fatigue, and headache). There are many kinds of hearing protection to meet your needs and that allow you to still enjoy the experience.

To get an even more accurate idea of just how loud a sporting event is and if you should be wearing hearing protection, download a sound level meter app to your smartphone. Starkey Hearing Technologies offers a free app called SoundCheck that uses the microphones on the device to measure sound levels and inform you if your ears may be in danger.

If you are ever without a phone, keep in mind your ears can be your warning system for dangerous levels as well. Sound levels are too loud when:

  • You have to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing nearby
  • The noise hurts your ears
  • You develop a buzzing or ringing sound in your ears, even temporarily
  • You don’t hear as well as you normally do until several hours after you get away from the noise.

This is the final entry in our “Sound of Photos” Series. We hope that you’ve found the information helpful and it has encouraged you to take good care of your hearing.

If you live in the New York City area and want to get your hearing checked or have some custom ear plugs made, feel free to wear your favorite team’s jersey to the appointment; we’ll save the trash talk for game time!

Audiological Diagnostics • We’re All Ears™
Offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan & Queens
(718) 745-2826

The Sound of Photos, Uncategorized

The Sound of Photos Series No. 5 – CAN You Hear The Specials??

We’ve all been there: Busy restaurant, loud conversations, bad acoustics, dishes clanking, sometimes even music piped in and here comes a waiter asking if we want to hear the day’s specials. We miss a lot of the information and that’s no surprise, considering busy restaurant noise can reach and maintain a level of 90 dB; in general, sounds above 85 dB are considered dangerous, particularly for prolonged periods of time.

Taken by Beatrice Murch (blmurch)

The following is an article found by clicking here

Finding a quiet place to share a meal and conversation can be a challenge in the city that never sleeps.

But it’s a necessity for Manhattanite Greg Scott, who has hearing loss.

Scott, by day an industry research associate at a finance firm, is the creator of SoundPrint, a free app that allows users to measure noise levels in restaurants, bars and other venues as well as search for places by sound level on a map.

The idea came to him as he tried to navigate the dating scene in the city.

“I would search for quiet spots online so I could better converse and connect with a date,” Scott told amNewYork in an email. “I would arrive and the place would be super noisy — music blasting or with poor acoustics and interior design.”

SoundPrint, which officially launched last month, has received 25,000 decibel level submissions, Scott said. About half are from New York City, with the majority being restaurants, followed by bars and cafes.

Scott said while he originally developed the app for people with hearing loss and other sensory disorders, those with normal hearing use it, too.

“Many people don’t enjoy raising their voices to be heard or straining their neck to decipher what someone is saying during a dinner,” he said. “Another goal is to alert the restaurant and bar owners that there is a sizable segment of the dining population that desires a more acoustic-friendly atmosphere.”

Noise — whether it’s from bars, airplanes or construction crews — is one of the top complaints phoned into the city’s 311 line.

Rather than penalize loud venues, Scott wants to highlight places where diners don’t have to shout to be heard.

“This is not about turning New York City into some quiet little village,” said Arline Bronzaft, a board member of the environmental group GrowNYC and leading expert in the impact of noise who advised Scott while he developed the app. “It’s about lessening the din so good sounds can be heard.”

Like other sound level apps such as Noise Hunter and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH), SoundPrint uses a smartphone’s microphone to measure decibel readings, but adds a crowdsourcing component.

The average reading for a venue is placed in one of four categories based on hearing health guidelines researched by NIOSH, the Environmental Protection Agency and others, Scott said. A reading of 70 A-weighted decibels (or dBA) or lower is deemed quiet, 71-75 dBA is moderate, 76-80 dBA is loud and 81 dBA and up is very loud.

Many of the NYC sites on the map are concentrated in Manhattan, but Scott said he is hoping for more submissions from the other four boroughs.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said he doesn’t see apps like SoundPrint being a detriment to businesses.

“Some customers seek a quiet restaurant due to hearing loss or because they simply want a more intimate atmosphere, while others seek a loud, party-like scene,” he said. “There shouldn’t be any issues as long as the app is used to direct people to restaurants where they can get the experience they want.”

Scott said reaction from the industry has been positive, with some restaurants reaching out to feature designated quieter areas. One eatery that had high readings on the app, Pepe Giallo in Chelsea, even had an acoustic consultant install paneling to reduce noise levels, he said.

“We want to work with the venues and help them,” said Scott, who recently added guidelines for mitigating noise issues to SoundPrint’s website. “That’s one of the main goals/purposes in addition to helping people find the quieter spots.”

The SoundPrint app is currently only available for IOS – hopefully they come out with something for Android, soon!  The more people utilizing this app, the more resources will be available to all, and we think that’s pretty nifty! If you have an iPhone and would like to download the app, you can use your QR code reader right here:

frame

If you find you’re having difficulties hearing in places like restaurants, it would be best to take a hearing test before more hearing loss occurs. An annual hearing test is recommended for everyone!

If you’re in the New York City area and need a hearing test or hearing aids, we would be very happy to help you. We accept most insurances (plus, we’re all pretty awesome!) Feel free to give us a call.

Audiological Diagnostics • We’re All Ears™
Offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan & Queens
(718) 745-2826

The Sound of Photos

The Sound Of Photos Series No. 4: Concerts

Live music events are exciting and fun. Going to see a favorite artist or band in an arena can be a real adrenaline boost, but it can also negatively affect your hearing, if you don’t take precautions.

hearing-loss-concert-640x360

If you’re unlucky, all it takes is one loud concert to spark a lifetime of ear problems — a constellation of symptoms that include not just hearing loss but also ringing in the ears, sound sensitivity, a feeling of aural fullness and even chronic ear pain.

Scientists are just now starting to understand the more nuanced workings of the inner ear, or cochlea, a tiny, snail shaped organ buried deep inside a skull bone — and about how noise exposure can gum up the complicated system in multiple ways.

Many people are familiar with muffled hearing and ringing ears — called tinnitus — after a concert or loud sporting event. Even if these symptoms go away within days, they can portend permanent ear damage, even years later.

The effect of noise is cumulative, insidious and, researchers say, irreversible.

“Over the course of one’s lifetime, the damage builds up,” said Paul Fuchs, a professor of otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 50 percent of Americans age 75 and older have a disabling hearing loss, where their trouble understanding speech becomes apparent to them and to others.

Among teens, many of whom are wedded to ear buds and loud music, nearly 20 percent report some hearing loss. Tinnitus, a usually relentless ringing that can be much more distressing than hearing loss, plagues 10 to 15 percent of adults, according to various studies.

Chris Munson, 55, an engineer and former home-audio enthusiast from suburban Dallas, loved his music loud in his younger days.

He also had tinnitus that came and went. In hindsight, he said, “it was absolutely a warning sign, but if you don’t know how to read those warning signs, you ignore them.”

One day eight years ago — having listened to excerpts from films including “The Matrix” with his elaborate home-theater setup the previous night — Munson awoke with “my head in a ball of sound,” he said. The ringing worsened over time, spreading from one ear to both and expanding from one steady tone to several fluctuating ones. This time, the ringing didn’t go away. Instead, it worsened over time.

Soon afterward, Munson also developed mild hyperacusis — a sensitivity that renders everyday noises uncomfortably loud or even painful. He describes his tinnitus as a screaming, constant multi-tone with no real-world correlation. Now he gets an ache in the ear canal from the hum of the refrigerator and the snap of a pop top. To avoid clinking dishware, which causes him ear pain, his family eats from paper plates.

The home theater gathers dust.

“Your ears have a budget,” he said. “Spend it too quickly and you’re broke.”

Why noise can hurt

How does loud or unending noise damage hearing?

Basically, a sound wave vibrates the eardrum and then passes to the cochlea, which contains rows of microscopic hair cells bathed in fluid. These hair cells move with the sound and send signals through the auditory nerve to the brain, which interprets the sound.

Noise that’s too loud or long-lasting destroys the hair cells, causing hearing loss or partial deafness. But that’s not all. Recent studies show that noise also severs connections between nerves and brain, a likely cause of such abnormalities as the inability to separate background from foreground sound. People typically notice the problem when conversing in a crowded restaurant.

The mechanisms of tinnitus remain a mystery. One study used electrodes to measure the brain activity of a 50-year-old man with tinnitus and hearing loss. The patient had been a recreational firearm user in his younger days.

The effects of the tinnitus permeated many parts of his brain, while a matching tone activated only the part of the brain that processes hearing. In other words, the “noise” of tinnitus affects the brain far differently than a similar real noise does. That may explain why tinnitus is so distressing, said Phillip Gander, a postdoctoral research scholar at the University of Iowa, who is the study’s co-author.

Noise can also activate pain fibers in the inner ear. These fibers, which have been identified in mice though not yet in humans, probably explain the pain that occurs with an intensely loud noise as well as pain that can linger after the noise stops, said Jaime Garcia-Anoveros, an associate professor at Northwestern University and the senior author of a new study on “auditory nociception” or, in lay terms, “noise-induced pain.”

Another unexplained symptom — the feeling of aural fullness or pressure in the ear canal, not unlike the pressure felt during an airplane descent — may be caused by these same pain fibers, Garcia-Anoveros said.

“What they’re detecting is not necessarily sound. They could be detecting spilled contents of damaged cells — a sensation from your ear that is not a hearing sensation.”

Noise sensitivity

Noise doesn’t even have to be all that loud to be damaging. A long exposure to less-intense noise, such as a job in a noisy restaurant, can be especially pernicious. Bryan Pollard, president of the nonprofit Hyperacusis Research, says people report ear problems caused by all sorts of commonplace hazards, from lawn mowers to smoke alarms to power tools.

Once noise-caused sensitivity has set in, hyperacusis patients report crippling ear pain, sometimes from things as simple as a shopping trip filled with “noises they were not aware could be dangerous or surprise noise they did not anticipate,” Pollard said.

Even if people are aware that exposure to excessive noise can be bad, “I don’t think they have a sense of what it means should they acquire a hearing impairment,” said Gregory Flamme, an associate professor of audiology at Western Michigan University. “I don’t think they know how or when to protect themselves.”

People face more day-to-day noise than they realize, he said, from vacuum cleaners, blenders, hair dryers, movies and other things. Flamme uses noise dosimeters, which people wear to measure the total noise dosage during a day or other time period. One rousing basketball game could give a person what would normally be a month’s worth of exposure.

The ensuing damage depends in large part on individual susceptibility. In mouse studies, a gene governing susceptibility to noise-induced hearing loss has just been discovered, but it remains impossible to predict whose ears will prove to be “tough” or “tender,” as researchers put it.

Christine Reiners, 49, never thought twice about the loud tunes she listened to as a teenager. A few years ago, she started taking exercise classes. They ran just twice a week for an hour, but the music blared.

Last year, she woke one night with “the sound of an alarm” in her head. It never stopped. “It’s horrible — a high-pitched screech,” she said, sometimes joined by a chirp. She has trouble sleeping and concentrating.

Reiners has visited many doctors, receiving such misdiagnoses as an ear infection, intracranial hypertension and sinusitis. She even had sinus surgery, which didn’t help.

“It’s hard knowing that it’s not going to get any better,” said Reiners, a mother of two from North East, Maryland. “I’m praying it doesn’t get worse.”

According to hearing specialists, limiting the volume and duration of noise exposure goes a long way toward safety, as does the proper use of hearing protection such as earplugs or protective earmuffs.

A rule of thumb: Earplugs are needed when the noise is so loud that people sitting next to each other must raise their voices to be heard.

Because there are no ways to fix noise-induced hearing problems, “the only solution is prevention,” said Larry E. Roberts, a professor emeritus and auditory neuroscientist at McMaster University in Canada. He views loud noise as a public-health hazard akin to smoking, and he would like to see aggressive public-awareness campaigns.

Research is starting on ways to reverse hearing impairments, but “the challenge of restoring functional hearing with molecular engineering is great and is likely decades away,” Roberts said. “Think of smoking. We can do lung transplants, but this is not the solution for lung cancer.”

If you love going to live music events, but you’re feeling protective of your hearing, we can take an impression of your ear canal and provide you with custom-made ear plugs for such occasions. They come in a variety of types with a variety of moderate prices.

Loving music means being able to love it for the long term! Be sure to get tested annually.

Need to have a hearing test, get custom ear plugs or think you need a hearing aid, and live in the NYC area? We would be happy to help you!

Audiological Diagnostics • We’re All Ears™
Offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens

(718) 745-2826

 

Source:
https://www.dailyherald.com/