Frequently Asked Questions
As with many medical conditions, hearing loss can be confusing. Read through these FAQs to find answers to your questions.
You’ve probably experienced “ringing in your ears” or muffled hearing after a concert, sports event or maybe even on the job. At the time, you most likely didn’t realize that the ringing was a temporary injury to your ear called spontaneous tinnitus. It occurs after excessive noise exposure, and typically lasts a few minutes.
Find out what causes tinnitus.
We’ve all taken prescription medication at one time or another. And if you are like most people, you probably didn’t think too much about the side effects at the time. But did you know that some medications can damage the ear? Some drugs may result in hearing loss, ringing in the ear or balance disorders.
Hearing loss is the fourth leading cause of disability in the U.S. and the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing seniors. Nearly half of people age 75 and older and approximately one-third of people ages 65 to 74 have hearing loss. In the next forty years, as the population ages, hearing loss is expected to nearly double.
Recent research links high blood pressure to hearing loss. Some researchers have even called the ear “a window to the heart.”
Read more on how high blood pressure is linked to hearing loss.
The Campaign for Better Hearing is pleased to be part of an international association of hearing care centers with the goal of educating the public on hearing loss. Here in the United States we have a network of hearing care providers from coast to coast.
Read more on our participating providers and where you can find a hearing center near you.
Hearing loss is linked to dementia. Addressing hearing loss has also been shown to improve an individual’s ability to communicate with others, preventing social isolation, which is a serious concern for people with dementia.
Is hearing loss a sign of dementia? The Campaign for Better Hearing explains.
The louder the sound, the more damage it can cause to your hearing, and the quicker this damage will occur. Sound is measured in units called decibels. Any sound at or above 85 decibels can damage your hearing.
Researchers have found that people who are exposed over long periods of time to noise levels at 85 decibels or higher are at a much greater risk for hearing loss. That’s why some workers are required to wear hearing protectors, such as earplugs or earmuffs, while they are on the job.
Although the nature of hearing loss can change over time, deafness is generally not the ultimate result.
There are some important differences between deafness and hearing loss. Deafness is defined as having little to no hearing whereas hearing loss is a broad term encompassing all degrees of hearing impairment. Those who are deaf often rely heavily on lip-reading and/or sign language to communicate and those who have hearing loss often experience difficulty understanding conversations, especially in places with loud background noise. Hearing sound isn’t necessarily the issue in this instance.
Hearing loss, especially sensorineural types such as age-related hearing loss, can get progressively worse over time, but it usually plateaus after a certain hearing threshold. Other forms of hearing loss, such as those that involve permanent damage to a crucial part of the auditory system, can result in deafness. In summary, the type of hearing loss you have can determine whether your hearing loss will result in deafness or not. Most hearing loss cases do not result in deafness and can be treated with the right hearing solutions.
The only way to know the status of your hearing health is to book a hearing appointment with a hearing professional. A hearing professional will sit down with you, answer all your hearing health questions, and evaluate the type of hearing loss you may have. They will also prescribe a treatment tailored to your hearing health needs. Request an appointment through the Campaign for Better Hearing today to begin your hearing health journey!
You hear with your brain, not with your ears.
Of course, we need our ears to capture sounds, but we only understand these sounds once they arrive in our brains. So hearing – and especially speech understanding – is a cognitive process, not a mechanical one.
In other words: hearing is thinking.
Our ears deliver all sounds to our brains. They do not choose what to send; in fact, they never rest. Even when we are asleep, our ears are sending sound information to our brains.
Our brain then does all the hard work. The brain filters out irrelevant sounds, like other people talking in a restaurant, and like traffic in the background. Without us realizing it, our brains are constantly at work selecting what we hear, and deciding how much attention to give each sound.
But before any decisions can be made, our brains must first extract meaning from the mass of overlapping sound waves that fill the air. By taking the sound signals from both of our ears and comparing them, our brains locate the source of different sounds.
We use location information to determine which parts of this mass of sound are coming from certain objects or people. Or animals – these skills evolved during our primitive past, when effectively locating threats and food were critical to our survival.
The brain transforms sounds into meaning
Once our brains have singled out a sound source, it compares these sounds to our memory. By doing this, it can determine if the sound is something we have heard before, and therefore something we know already. Equally, our brains sometimes find no reference in their memory bank. Then, it can add a new one, ready for comparison next time. In the meantime, we are alerted to danger by a sound of the unknown.
Once your brain has taken raw sound data from your ears and transformed it into meaning, it can extract more information about your surroundings. From the length of time it takes a sound to echo, and the amount of echo it creates, our brains give us a feeling for how big a space is. We also infer the type of surfaces there are in a room from the way they change the sound, as it bounces off them on its way to our ears.
All of these calculations happen simultaneously, in the brain. Since it is the brain that transforms sounds into meaning, good hearing isn’t simply a question of making sounds loud enough. Good hearing requires that we ensure the brain gets all the sound information it needs. It must not miss out on some frequencies, or some sounds from particular directions.
If your brain is not getting the right sounds to work with, it takes intense effort to extract meaning from the partial sound. Whenever there are missing sounds, the brain tries to fill the gap – an often difficult and exhausting process.
Hearing aids can support the brain
Instead of turning up the volume and overloading your brain, we need to support your brain by giving it the conditions it needs. To properly extract meaning, the brain needs access to the full soundscape, so it can naturally focus on the most relevant sound sources.
Modern hearing aids can provide this. With more powerful processors than ever before, they no longer need to narrow down the soundfield when you are in noisy environments. And when a skilled hearing care expert fits hearing aids, they can compensate for the missing parts of the soundfield, to restore the conditions in which your brain is designed to work.
Hearing loss is a condition that affects people of all ages, though it’s commonly associated with old age. Hereditary factors, as well as environmental factors can also increase ones risk of developing hearing loss. So, who is at the highest risk of hearing loss? Here are some high-risk groups to pay attention to.
Those with Hearing Loss Genes
Hereditary hearing loss is much more common than you may think. It is estimated that 35-55% of age-related hearing loss is linked to ones genes. If you suspect you may have hereditary hearing loss, ask your doctor about genetic testing.
Those with Certain Illnesses
Some illnesses, such as meningitis, can damage the ear and/or systems within the ear. These damages can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss.
City Dwellers and Those Who Work in Noisy Environments
Construction, streetcars, subways, car horns – noise pollution is everywhere in the city! Also, Noisy work environments, such as those that involve working with big machinery, can put you at risk for hearing loss. Be sure to wear ear plugs and/or other protective gear to reduce your daily exposure to dangerously loud noises.
People Over 60
47% of Canadians over 60 suffer from some level of hearing loss. This is often due to age-related hearing loss. Early detection can help to reduce the symptoms associated with hearing loss such as social isolation and dementia. The Campaign for Better Hearing encourages everyone over 60 to get their hearing tested. To book a free hearing appoint, click the “Request an Appointment” tab at the top of the page.
For many people, getting a loved one to take a hearing test is an incredible feat. What do you do when brochures and pamphlets about hearing health are tossed aside by those who need the information the most?
One way around this is to make hearing testing a group event. Those with hearing loss are less likely to feel singled out if they are accompanied by others who are also going to take the test. Also, having someone by your side during a hearing test can provide some much needed support!
Also, try not to get mad, or pester your loved one: trying to force them will only make them dig in their heels. Remember, hearing loss can be an embarrassing reality for some who associate hearing loss with “growing old.” Try to remind your loved one of the things he or she is missing out on and would love to hear again. Gentle encouragement could one day get your loved ones to seek the hearing care that they need.
Finally, take advantage of hearing aid testing. Some hearing health clinics let you test out hearing aid devices, allowing the wearer to compare his or her hearing before and after.
Think about it. It’s easy to notice when you need glasses: your vision gets blurry and text becomes harder to read. But when we lose our hearing, the most obvious indicator is often the one that comes too late: someone else telling you to get your hearing checked! By then, your hearing loss could have progressed far enough to severely affect your quality of life. When someone with hearing loss tests out a hearing aid, he or she has the opportunity to acknowledge their hearing loss and hear what they’re missing.
If you would like to book an appointment for you and/or your loved one, “Request an Appointment” in our header. Be patient with your loved one, but never give up on them. Healthy hearing is an important part of a fulfilling life.
For some people, ear infections are a common occurrence and chronic ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss. Some illnesses may increase the likelihood of an ear infection, but there are some simple ways to prevent one.
One of the best ways to prevent infections in general is to practice proper hygiene. Some viruses that can cause ear infections are transmitted through bodily fluids that we’re exposed to through coughs sneezes, and germs on surfaces. Wash your hands often and avoid getting too close to people experiencing flu-like symptoms.
In addition to practicing proper hygiene, vaccines can make one’s body immune to certain viruses that cause ear infections, but be sure to consult your doctor before taking any; your doctor may advise against a vaccine depending on your health history.
Another way to prevent ear infections is to stop smoking and/or avoid secondhand smoke. Cigarette smoke releases nicotine and other toxins that restrict the blood flow in our ears and damage auditory nerves that send signals from the ear to the brain.
Finally, anything that causes a break in the skin of the ear canal can also lead to an infection. Cotton swabs are commonly used to clean the wax out of ones ears, but they may do more harm than good. Avoid sticking cotton swabs inside your ears to prevent inner ear damage that increases your risk of infection.
Keep these tips in mind to help prevent ear infections and visit your doctor if your ear infections persist.
Do you know the difference between a Hearing Instrument Specialist and a Hearing Aid Practitioner? How about the difference between an Audiologist and an Otolaryngologist? They’re all hearing professionals, but they have different specialties and academic backgrounds. If you’ve ever been confused by these titles, read below and find out what your hearing professional’s credentials really mean!
Every audiologist in Canada has, at minimum, a master’s degree in Audiology. Their high level of education allows them to qualify, assess and treat a wide range of hearing disorders including tinnitus, balance disorders associated with hearing, and auditory processing disorders with the brain. Audiologists can assist with hearing aids and other assistive listening devices as well.
2. Hearing Instrument Specialist
Hearing Instrument Specialists, (or Hearing Aid Specialists) have a more narrow field of expertise than an Audiologist does. These hearing professionals are trained in a two-year program to conduct hearing tests, select and fit hearing aids, recommend additional assistive listening devices and counsel hearing aid patients.
3. Hearing Aid Practitioner
A Hearing Aid Practitioner has the same qualifications as a Hearing Instrument Specialist. In Ontario, a Hearing Aid Practitioner is referred to as a Hearing Instrument Specialist.
4. Otolaryngologists or ENTs
Otolaryngologists, or ear, nose, throat specialists (ENTs). These physicians diagnose diseases of the ears, nose, sinuses, larynx, mouth, and throat. ENTs also manage diseases within the structures of the neck and face. Otolaryngologists typically deal with ear, nose and throat diseases that require surgery such as hearing loss caused by trauma, severe infection and tumors.
Each practitioner plays an important role in our hearing health, whether the hearing loss is minimal or severe. If you think you may have hearing loss, speak to your doctor or visit a hearing professional.
You may have already come across some online or mobile hearing tests and taken them out of concern or curiosity, but you probably don’t want to replace your hearing specialist with a test off the Internet or an app…even if it claims to be “clinically proven.” Here’s why:
The Test Does Not Adjust to the Quality of Your Speakers and Your Computer Processing
Before your hearing test, your hearing specialist will ensure that his or her testing instruments are adjusted to a medical standard. There is no hearing specialist in a mobile or online test to calibrate the test each time it is taken, which can affect your results.
These Tests Can Inaccurately Diagnose You
In a 2008 study conducted by Suzanne H. Kimball, an Assistant Professor of Audiology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, found inconsistencies between online test results and in-clinic test results. Online test results tended to underestimate the levels of hearing loss in test takers.
You may also be solicited to purchase hearing devices after the test is taken. Hearing health varies from person to person and aids must be adjusted accordingly. An inaccurate test result could lead you to spend a lot on a device that is not properly adjusted to your hearing needs. Although online and mobile tests are a great way to raise awareness about hearing health, they should not be used to replace a hearing expert. Make an appointment with a hearing specialist to get the most accurate test results and the most effective solutions.
Although hearing loss can occur at any age and for many reasons including extended exposure to loud noises and hereditary factors, people commonly lose their hearing gradually as they age. According to Statistics Canada, 47% of adults age 60 to 79 experience hearing loss compared to 16% of adults aged 40 to 59 and 7% of 19-39 year olds.
Age-related hearing loss normally affects both ears and occurs due to changes in the structure of your inner ear, but structural changes can also occur in the middle ear, in nerve pathways from your ear to your brain, or even due to certain medical conditions and/or medications.
The National Campaign for Better Hearing encourages everyone to get a baseline hearing test at 60 years of age, but even if you aren’t 60 years or older or suffering from hearing loss, this initial test can serve as a useful reference for your hearing health in the future. Your first hearing test will compare your hearing to average hearing levels from people your age to determine your hearing loss. Once you’ve taken your first test, your audiologist can reference your previous results to give you a more specific and personalized assessment of your hearing health.
After this test, if you are 60 years of age or older, you should get your hearing tested annually. Age-related hearing loss is so gradual that it is easy to overlook as it gets progressively worse. The earlier hearing loss is detected, the sooner you can begin to improve your quality of life.
Hearing testing is provided at birth, and some grade schools also provide hearing tests for their students, but if you suspect that you may have hearing loss, you should arrange to have your hearing tested no matter your age. Hearing loss among young people has increased significantly since the use of earphones, which send music, (that is often too loud!) directly into the ear.
In summary, an initial test and a follow up every year can help you stay on top of your hearing health. Remember, the Campaign for Better Hearing recommends you at least test your ears at 60 years, whether you notice you have a hearing problem or not! Happy hearing!
Many of us take for granted the important role that hearing plays while we drive. Coupled with our vision, our hearing alerts us to the activity all around us, such as urgent oncoming of emergency vehicles or the sudden movement in traffic. In fact, in many driving situations, we hear important things before we even see them like the startling honk from another driver, a car travelling in our blind spots or the powerful engine of a motorcycle maneuvering through lanes.
Hearing impairment can significantly impact your ability to drive. It is a scary realization for those who do not want to give up their driving privileges and those with jobs heavily dependent on the ability to drive. This is one of the reasons why caring for our hearing health is so important.
In a 2010 study conducted by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 107 adults ranging from 62 to 88 years of age and with varying statuses of hearing health were instructed to drive on a closed-road circuit while reporting on the various road signs and avoiding the road hazards they encountered. The track was driven without distraction, then with auditory distractions and then again with visual distractions. The study found that those with a hearing impairment had a significantly poorer performance in the presence of distractions; they were less likely to avoid road hazards and took longer to complete the course.
What does this mean for drivers with hearing loss? It does not mean you are a bad driver! Aside from visiting a hearing health professional, there are a few tips that can help ensure your safety and the safety of others on the road:
- Lower your speed when traffic situations become more difficult/complex/challenging
- Look in your rear-view mirror and to each side more often
- Keep your car stereo volume low
- Always wear your hearing aids if you have them
- Keep a safe distance from other vehicles,
- Pay attention to traffic signals, pedestrians and your blind spots
Drive safe and take care of your hearing health!
The short answer is yes, hearing loss can be hereditary. You can develop hearing loss from unsafe exposure to noise and as a result of aging, but there are genetic factors that make some more prone to hearing loss than others. In fact, there are over 400 genetic causes for hearing loss! These 400 genetic causes can be inherited in one of four different ways:
This type of hearing loss occurs when you’ve inherited a gene mutation from one parent.
This type of hearing loss occurs when you’ve inherited two gene mutations, one from the mother and one from the father.
This hearing-loss gene occurs specifically on the X chromosome, and males are more likely to have this type of hereditary hearing loss.
This type of hereditary gene can only be inherited from the mother.
If you suspect that your family has a hearing-loss gene, consult your family doctor who may refer to a genetic counselor. They may recommend molecular testing to analyze your DNA and an audiometry screening to determine how you process auditory information. Early detection of hearing loss in children is essential to their cognitive development.
May is Speech and Hearing Awareness Month and it’s an important time to be aware of hearing loss, which strikes 1 in 5 Canadians, 47% of which are over 60.
Hearing loss happens gradually over time. So how do you know if you have a hearing loss?
Ask yourself the following questions.
1. Do people seem to mumble or speak in a softer voice than they used to?
2. Do you feel tired or irritable after a long conversations?
3. Do you sometimes miss key words in a sentence, or frequently need to ask people to repeat themselves?
4. When you are in a group or crowded restaurant, is it difficult for you to follow the conversation?
5. When you are together with other people does background noise bother you?
6. Do you often need to turn up the volume on your TV set or radio?
7. Do you find it difficult to hear the doorbell, telephone, cellphone or alarms ringing?
8. Has someone close to you mentioned that you might have a problem with hearing?
9. Is carrying on a conversation on a telephone or cellphone difficult?
10. Does difficulty hearing cause you anxiety or embarrassment in a new situation?
How did you do?
If you answered “YES” to any of these questions, we recommend you visit a hearing clinic to have your hearing checked by a hearing professional.
Tinnitus can be commonly described as “ringing in the ears” as it refers to a sensation of sound in or both the ears, or in the head when no external sound is present. Other descriptions of the sensation include a roaring, whistling, chirping or hissing. The perceived loudness of tinnitus varies from person to person, ranging from subtle to very intense.
Tinnitus affects males and females equally, as well as those with normal hearing.
It is unknown what the exact physiological causes are. However, research has identified a number of sources associated with tinnitus. The most common contributor has been cited as exposure to loud noise, which may only lead to temporary effects of tinnitus. Long-term exposure to noise most often leads to permanent sensation of tinnitus. In fact, over 90% of tinnitus sufferers also have some level of noise-induced hearing loss.
Some of the significant causes of tinnitus can be as follows:
- A certain amount of wax build-up in the ear canal leading to sensation or increase the perceived intensity of tinnitus.
- Certain medications that are oto-toxic, which means that they can produce damage to hearing organ itself. For example, Aspirin is a medication that can cause temporary tinnitus, when taken in large doses.
- Ear and sinus infections can also be accompanied by tinnitus. However, it normally disappears once the infection has cleared.
- Jaw misalignment and other facial abnormalities can induce tinnitus as well as any trauma to the head and neck region.
There is no cure for tinnitus, nor is there one approved medication that has been successful in permanently eliminating the presence of tinnitus for those who suffer from the condition. However, there are several factors that can intensify the perceived loudness if tinnitus.
- Exposure to loud noise
- Foods with high salt or sugar content
- Stress and fatigue
If you suffer from tinnitus, try reducing or eliminating one or more of the above mentioned factors to determine whether or not you perceive any change in the level or tone of your tinnitus.
Although there is no “cure” for tinnitus, several techniques have been developed to help individuals cope with the condition.
Additionally, there are two major non-medical treatments currently available for tinnitus sufferers: Masking and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.
These treatments are designed to provide immediate relief from the effects of tinnitus and can be combined with a hearing aid for those who also have hearing loss. The therapy also aims to give you the skills to successfully manage your tinnitus permanently.
Also, a notable factor can be use of hearing aids. Tinnitus becomes much less noticeable for hearing aid wearers.
It is always advisable to visit a professional and reputed hearing clinic to gain more information and check for any signs of hearing loss.
We often come across these gizmos in TV commercials– a smiling husband enjoying TV in bed while his wife sleeps in total peace.
Worth noting: these devices (that sell for as little as $14.95) are actually dangerous to your health.
Yes, you’ll do more damage to your ears using these cheap electronic ear amps. The reason is simple. These over-the-counter devices are not programmed for your hearing loss. In fact you control the volume on these toys. That means you can turn up the volume to levels loud enough to hear clearly – and to volumes that potentially could further damage an already-damaged natural hearing mechanism. It’s inevitable.
Skip these low-ball devices and visit a hearing professional to get a customized pair of hearing aids. The operable word is customized. The hearing professional customizes your hearing aids to suit your specific needs and type of hearing loss.
Need a boost in the high frequencies? Your hearing professional will set your hearing aids to boost the high end while leaving the rest of the sound frequency spectrum on “normal.”
Visit a registered hearing professional to find out what suitable options are available to you.
You’ve booked your appointment, now what?
Now that you have decided to take the first step in having your hearing checked by a certified hearing professional and booked a complimentary appointment at a hearing healthcare center, you may be wondering what exactly you can expect from your upcoming appointment.
It starts with the basics
First of all, when you enter a hearing healthcare center, you will be asked some questions about your hearing difficulties and health history in general. This allows them to understand your specific lifestyle needs and motivation better. A certified hearing healthcare professional will then take you in to a testing room. Here he/she will use an otoscope to look in your ears. The health and function of both the middle and inner ear will be assessed through a series of tests that are not invasive or painful at all.
The hearing booth
There is usually a sound-proof booth to assess hearing levels. Once inside the booth, a complete audiological assessment will be performed, which will indicate the type and degree of hearing loss. The ability to recognize and understand spoken words is also evaluated at this stage.
Results explained to you
When your assessment is complete, the hearing healthcare professional will share the results with you and make appropriate recommendations for treatment, if necessary. If hearing aids are recommended, your hearing healthcare professional will discuss various options and explain the advantages of specific hearing aids that are appropriate for your needs.
Each hearing aid is uniquely fitted to match an individual’s hearing loss and hearing needs. The fitting process usually takes place about two weeks after the initial assessment. During this fitting appointment your hearing aid will be programmed using computer software and customized to fit your exact hearing levels. Highly sophisticated equipment is used to verify that your new hearing aid is providing the necessary level of amplification and is comfortable to the wearer.
Achieving solutions that meet your needs
The hearing professional will also go through how to care for your hearing aid and any maintenance that may be required to ensure you are getting the most out of your instrument. Follow-up appointments are an important and necessary part of the rehabilitation process that allow the wearer an opportunity to provide their own feedback, which gives the hearing professional valuable information that will be used to adjust the hearing aids to better suit individual preferences.
We hear with our ears, but we understand with our brain. Our brain makes sense of the noises we hear every day. So if you’re hearing people speak, but you’re not understanding what their saying, your brain, rather than your hearing, may be the culprit.
In a study published by the Journal of Neurophysiology titled “Effect of informational content of noise on speech representation in the aging midbrain and cortex,” researchers discovered that as we age, our brain’s ability to process and understand speech declines, even for those who have no hearing loss.
However, your hearing difficulties could also be caused by damaged hair cells inside your inner ear (cochlea). When damage occurs in the high-frequency areas of the cochlea, speech may sound garbled and comprehension may become difficult.
Luckily, a comprehensive hearing assessment can identify which challenge you face and what can be done to help improve both your hearing and your comprehension. It usually only takes 60 minutes, and you don’t need a referral from your doctor. Request an appointment with a hearing professional today.