Life gets better with improved hearing - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

Life gets better with improved hearing

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Posted: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 11:00 pm

Starting this month, The Explorer will be providing space monthly about different areas of healthcare available in the Northwest/Oro Valley area. Our focus is to help educate you about the different levels of care within each area. To kick off this series, we are covering the different availabilities and areas of hearing health.

According to statistics, 30 percent of people over age 65 have some form of hearing loss. Hearing loss related to aging is called presbycusis. Other reasons for hearing loss could be long-term exposure to loud noise, meningitis, heredity, medications and ear infections.

Preventative measures such as ear protection, treatment of ear infections in children, and avoiding exposure to loud noises can help prevent hearing loss.

"The world has gotten louder than ever," said Beltone owner Mike Rigg. "Traffic, music and phones have increased the amount of noise we are exposed to on a daily basis."

Most people come for a hearing test after noticing changes in sounds or an inability to distinguish sounds. Because looking at the speaker's lips can help distinguish what is being said, the listener may have the first clues of hearing loss when talking on the phone. Many times a spouse or friend will also comment that the person needs repetition, plays the TV too loud or doesn't hear them talking while in the car. These can be indications that the ear is not distinguishing between background noise, such as a soft-spoken person or music, and the main noise, such as a person speaking directly.

Changes in technology have rapidly advanced both the quality and size of hearing aids. Ten years ago, hearing aids were large, chunky and visible behind the ear. The old analog hearing aids amplified everything, which worked if the wearer was in a situation when only one sound was being amplified. But in a situation with background noise and multiple tones it became more confusing. Since the hearing aid industry has gone digital, the size of the hearing aid has decreased dramatically —m any times unable to even be detected, perching just behind the ear with a small microphone inside the ear canal. The new, digital hearing aids provide the ability to decrease background noise and fine-tune hearing needs to the patient. The difference in quality is dramatic.

If you have a sudden increase or prolonged period of dizziness, this could indicate a medical problem. Other indications that the problem could be something other than a normal hearing loss would be a history of active drainage from the ear within the last 90 days, a history of having recent or sudden onset of hearing loss, ear pain or increase wax building, or a foreign object in the ear canal. Other medical conditions such as tinnitus, or ringing in the ear, should be investigated if accompanied by prolonged hearing loss.

If you suspect that your hearing loss may be a medical condition, see your family doctor, who may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist. Once the medical problem is resolved, the next step in hearing loss treatment is to go to a hearing professional to determine if hearing assistance is needed.

Don't wait to get your hearing checked if you suspect hearing loss, Most local hearing aid providers give free hearing tests. Some, including Beltone, use a video otoscope, which takes a picture of the inner ear to detect problems such as wax build-up or other blockages that may cause hearing loss. They also have a sound booth which blocks out all other noises and provides an accurate reading of your hearing.

When shopping for a hearing specialist, make sure to use a well-established company. Checking with the Better Business Bureau can also help weed out specialists who don't have a good track record. Audiology offices also have to be licensed in the state in which they are practicing.

The cost of hearing aids can be anywhere from $995 to $3,500 per ear, according to Beltone's Rigg, and some insurances will help with the cost of the aids. For those who receive the gift of restored hearing through hearing aids, quality of life is greatly increased.

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