Why is Hearing in Noise So Difficult?

One of the most commonly reported challenges people face with their hearing is understanding speech in background noise. Noise can vary depending on the environment. Sometimes it might be multiple people talking at once, like at a party. It may also be ambient noise such as music from a speaker or dishes clanking at a restaurant. Regardless of the type of sound, extra background noise makes it more difficult to understand conversations with others.

Many people don’t realize that a lot of our hearing ability comes not just from what the ears pick up, but how our brain processes the sound information from our ears. Hearing in noisy places is more challenging for a couple of reasons:

  • Audibility – we have to be able to hear all the sounds of speech in order to easily understand it. Extra noise can overpower soft speech sounds.
  • Focus – noisy environments tend to be busier. If there are distractions present, it decreases our ability to concentrate as effectively as we can in quiet.
  • Memory – in order to understand speech, our brain has to process sound and remember the information. Busier environments compete for the brain’s attention in focusing and remembering speech.

The good news is that hearing devices can address the concerns listed above and make it easier to understand in noisy places. Although in most cases it is not possible to completely eliminate all background noise, hearing devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants can make a big improvement in speech understanding, both in quiet and in noise.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can optimize your hearing in noisy environments, contact our office at 904-399-0350 to schedule a hearing evaluation.

What to Expect When You are New to Hearing Aids

1. During an appointment with your audiologist, expect a thorough assessment to determine the severity of your hearing loss and a detailed discussion about your lifestyle, hearing priorities, and budget to help determine what hearing aids are best for you.

2. Expect an adjustment period when you first begin to wear hearing aids. Hearing loss typically occurs over time, and it can take time for your brain to become accustomed to all the sounds you are now hearing again. The world is a very noisy place and you may notice sounds you didn’t realize you were missing such as your footsteps when walking, running water from the faucet & the quiet hum of the refrigerator. After wearing the hearing aids for a week or two, all of those ambient sounds will become less prominent to you. The more you wear hearing aids, the quicker you will adjust!

3. Expect them to “whistle” as you put them in your ears. Once they are in your ears, the whistling should stop.

4. Expect to take care of your hearing aids! The better care that is taken of them, the longer they will last. It is as simple as routine nightly cleaning. Wiping them down with a tissue every night will go a long way!

5. Expect a new technology to be developed every couple of years. You can speak with your audiologist to determine if new technology would be beneficial for you. Just as any other electronic device, they do not last forever and will eventually wear out.

Purchasing hearing aids is a big adjustment to your life but with these few pointers to get you started, you are on your way to better hearing!

Hearing with Two Ears

Our bodies are designed with two ears for many important reasons. Listening with two ears:

  • Leads to better understanding in background noise
  • Allows for improved ability to detect where sound is coming from and
  • Gives speech a “boost” in volume

In addition, listening with two ears lessens the amount of work it takes the brain to understand speech and can lead to an improved quality of life. 

For people whose hearing loss is severe, two hearing aids may not be very helpful. However, research, anecdotal evidence and experience tells us that using a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other ear can improve clarity of speech, even more so than using just one cochlear implant. 

This has been demonstrated over and over to the point where two cochlear implant companies have partnered with hearing aid companies to create compatibility between the cochlear implant and hearing aid. This not only leads to the great benefits discussed above but also allows streaming of phone calls and other media to both ears at the same and easier access to program or volume changes.

To learn more about your hearing aid and/or cochlear implant options, give our office a call at 904-399-0350 for a hearing evaluation.

Hearing Aids Make an Appearance on Team USA

Although COVID took a larger than expected spotlight during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, pushing the games back a full year into 2021, for audiologists, there was a special player on Team USA that caught our attention.

That player is David Smith, the 36 year old middle blocker of Team USA Men’s Volleyball. Including Tokyo, David has seen three Olympic games. With his 6-foot-7 stature, you may not be able to see, but David Smith wears hearing aids.  David was born with a severe to profound hearing loss and worn hearing aids since the age of 3. He currently wears a set of Oticon Dynamo hearing aids.  David’s hearing aids are powerful enough that he can hear many things, including the softer voices of his children, but he also relies heavily on lip reading, especially on the noisy volleyball court.

In a recent interview, David thanks his parents for keeping him involved in sports. He states that his hearing loss was less of a barrier in areas where he could watch and learn from others. He says “it was definitely a confidence booster”. Even as he plays overseas, he has become a role model for children with hearing loss, referencing a few children who wore his jersey at every game they attended. David hopes others with hearing loss see that they can achieve anything they want, even making it to the world’s biggest sporting event.

David Smith (Source: https://www.teamusa.org/usa-volleyball/athletes/David-Smith.org)

More information about David can be found at the links below:

How Does Sound Therapy Help My Tinnitus?

Key Concepts of Sound Therapy:

  1. The sound must be relaxing and pleasing to the listener
  2. The sound should be non-significant (nature sounds or white noise)—music with or without vocals has a pattern that tends to draw the brain’s attention which prevents habituation
  3. The sound must be played a volume level softer than the tinnitus—the brain cannot habituate to something it cannot hear

Sound therapy is used in all tinnitus management strategies to help habituate our brains to the presence of tinnitus. When tinnitus becomes noticeable and annoying, our brains tend to perseverate on the sound and pushes us into fight or flight mode, which ultimately makes our tinnitus more bothersome and heightens the fight or flight response further. This cycle often continues into a downward spiral. One of the best ways to stop the cycle is to teach our brain the tinnitus is non-threatening. For example, if you moved into a new house that backs up to the railroad tracks, your first few nights of sleep are going to be interrupted whenever the train passes. With more exposure, eventually your brain learns to habituate to or tune-out the train and your able to get a full night’s worth of sleep. Sound therapy works in a similar way. By providing a relaxing sound at a volume softer than the tinnitus, the brain learns to focus less on the tinnitus and begins to relax. Eventually, your brain no longer relies on the sound therapy to relax away from the tinnitus and is able to do it on its own. This process takes time, patience, and dedication but provides relief to many tinnitus patients.

If you have questions about sound therapy and other tinnitus management strategies, contact our office to schedule an evaluation.

Sporting events and Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

With August comes the start of a new school year, and also the beginning of football season. While many people enjoy the atmosphere of game day, they don’t always recognize that sounds could be loud enough to damage their hearing. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 40 million U.S. adults may have noise-induced hearing loss. The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented. The chart below shows the average decibel levels for many common sounds.

Source: The American Academy of Audiology

As the chart shows, sporting events such as football games can reach levels of 110 decibels or more! Exposure to this level of noise over several hours can be damaging to your hearing. The Guinness world record for the loudest NFL crowd noise was set by the Kansas City Chiefs fans in 2014. The roar of the crowd was measured at an ear-shattering 142.2 decibels!

Even smaller scale sporting events can have noises loud enough to damage hearing. It’s a good idea to bring a pair of earplugs with you, just in case sounds reach loud levels. If you are concerned you may have noise-induced hearing loss, you should schedule a hearing evaluation with an audiologist to learn more about your hearing. We only get one pair of ears, so it is important to protect your hearing as much as possible.  

Simone Biles and “The Twisties”

If you have been following the Tokyo Olympics this Summer, you have likely heard about American gymnast Simone Biles suffering from a case of what she calls “the twisties,” causing her to withdraw from several Olympic events. But what exactly are “the twisties” and what does that have to do with ears? Gymnasts describe it as losing control of their body mid-trick and losing sense of where they are in the air. The sensation is not only disorienting, it’s dangerous and can lead to serious injury.

The human brain uses three sensory systems to stay upright: the vestibular (or inner ear) system, the visual system, and the somatosensory (or proprioception) system. While in motion, like when a gymnast is performing a skill, the brain receives input from these three systems and compares them to an “internal model” of what the move should feel like based on past experiences. Essentially, gymnasts and other athletes tirelessly train so that they can perform complicated movements easily and with “muscle memory”. However, in certain situations, such as the Olympics, athletes may try to compensate for increased psychological stress by trying to consciously control movements that were previously automatic. The brain then loses the ability to initiate learned motor sequencies, resulting in what we now know as “the twisties.” 

As it turns out. “the twisties” is fairly common in the sport of gymnastics, as more and more current and former athletes are speaking out about their experiences with this condition. More information on the science behind “the twisties” and Simone Biles performance at the Olympics can be found online in the coming weeks. 

Welcome to Our New Audiology Extern

My name is Isabella Hillerby and I am the JHBI Audiology Extern for the 2021-2022 year. I completed my undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Nevada, Reno in my hometown.  I attended the University of Oklahoma for my Doctorate of Audiology Program and will be graduating in May 2022.  

JHBI has been an incredible placement for me in my first few months here–I have learned so much more than I thought possible and love coming to work each day. The team here at JHBI is full of wonderful mentors, patient advocates, and kind individuals. I am grateful for the opportunity to be working with our patients over the next year through their hearing and balance healthcare journey. 

Though I miss the mountains and snowy weather from back home, Jacksonville and northeast Florida has quickly become my favorite place to live.  My free time is spent exploring Jacksonville–paddle boarding along the coastline, hiking through Hanna Park, finding new favorite local brunch places–and spending time with my new kitten! I love all activities ocean related and am looking forward to becoming scuba certified by the end of the summer. I can’t wait to see what this next year has in store for me.

Disposable vs. Rechargeable Hearing Aid Batteries

All hearing aids require a power source, but many modern hearing aids have the option of either a disposable or rechargeable battery. Which option is the best for you?

Benefits of Rechargeable Batteries:
1. Convenient – Instead of having to frequently repurchase batteries over the lifespan of the hearing aid, you simply charge the hearing aid at night while you sleep. The hearing aid then has battery power for up to 30 hours on a single charge. The internal battery can be charged thousands of times before needing replacement. 
2. Easy to Use – Disposable hearing aid batteries are very small and can be difficult to change for some people. Rechargeable hearing aids easily pop into a charger, so there is no fumbling with small pieces.
3. Environmentally Friendly – Given that most disposable hearing aid batteries last about 5-7 days, you will ultimately throw away hundreds of batteries over the lifespan of hearing aids if you use that option. Although hearing aid batteries can be recycled, disposable batteries create much more waste over the lifespan of a hearing aid compared to 2 rechargeable batteries. 

Benefits of Disposable Batteries:
1. More portable – Disposable batteries are much easier to take on the go, since you don’t have to pack the charger with a power cord. A pack of disposable batteries is small enough to easily fit in a pocket or wallet.  
2. Little downtime – When disposable batteries die, it’s as simple as changing to a new battery in a matter of seconds to power your hearing aids again. When the charge dies on rechargeable hearing aids, it typically takes a couple of hours for the hearing aids to fully recharge, which is especially inconvenient if you don’t have your charger with you. 
3. Different hearing aid style options – Certain styles of hearing aids, such as tiny invisible in the ear hearing aids, are only able to be powered by disposable batteries. Other types of hearing aids, such as behind the ear styles, typically have the option of either rechargeable or disposable batteries. 

The best hearing aid battery option for you is a matter of lifestyle and personal preference. An audiologist can help you decide what the best choice is to fit your needs. 

Types of Hearing Protection

One of the prominent causes of hearing loss is excessive noise exposure. For many patients, they have grown up hunting and target shooting, or have worked many years in a very noisy job. Unfortunately, one the damage from noise has been done, there is no way to reverse it. Instead, we ask all of our patients to use hearing protection when they are going to be around excessive noise.

There are different types of hearing protection. The one that works the best is the one that you will wear consistently and properly.

Styles:

  • Over the ear: These devices look like headphones, or are sometimes referred to as “Mickey Mouse ears” due to their bulk.  These cover the external part of the ear and block out many external sounds.
  • In the ear (non-custom): These devices are generally available at drug stores and are made of foam or plastic.  Non-custom devices fit into the ear with a tight fit and come in an array of sizes.
  • In the ear (custom): For a more secure fit, custom molded hearing protection can be made. This requires a silicone-like mold of your ear to be made, then sent to an outside company for crafting. These are typically a rubber-like material.

Types of Sound reduction: Hearing protection can be divided into two categories of sound reduction; active and passive.

  • Passive: Passive hearing protection uses the physical piece as the method of blocking the sound. These are less expensive than active hearing protection as there is no electronics within the devices. The foam hearing protection that is seen at drugs stores is a form of “passive” hearing protection. Passive hearing protection can be custom and non-custom.
  • Active: Active hearing protection uses not only the physical properties of the device, but also electronics to reduce sound.  Active hearing protection uses external microphones to analyze sounds in the surrounding area, then shut off when a loud sound is identified. Many hunters utilize active hearing protection to hear their environment, but the sound of the firearm is reduced. Active hearing protection can be custom or non-custom.

Here are some situations where Hearing protection should be utilized:

  • Hunting/shooting
  • Power tools, including lawn mowers
  • Noisy work environments – factories, mills, military, aircraft

If you are interested in custom hearing protection, JHBI can help. We are able to take custom molds and order both active and passive hearing protection.