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The Mental Distress of Tinnitus

Chances are you’ve heard of tinnitus. You may have even been diagnosed with tinnitus yourself or have a sneaking suspicion that you could be thanks to that constant buzzing, ringing or whooshing in the ears you’ve started to notice.
Tinnitus is so much more complicated than it may at first seem, though. It’s not just the ringing in the ears. It’s the emotional and mental distress that this diagnosis can have.
What is tinnitus?
One of the most common health conditions in the United States, tinnitus, is believed to affect roughly 15% of people. In other words, tens of millions of people just like you and me. Tinnitus is often related to or a symptom of other health conditions. It can be caused by:

  • Noise exposure
  • Hearing loss
  • Associated medical conditions like high blood pressure
  • Head injuries

There is no known cure for tinnitus. Hearing health professionals and researchers have made finding solutions for managing and curing it a top priority as we learn more about the startling mental and emotional effects of tinnitus.
The reality of tinnitus
For those living with tinnitus, the constant sensation of noise can have significant effects on health. It has been linked to anxiety and depression, and a recent article highlighted that it could even be linked to thoughts of self-harm. With this in mind, many experts are stressing the importance of a more thorough and human approach to treating those with tinnitus. One that considers not just the diagnosis but also the person living with that diagnosis.
“Audiologists should be aware that patients with tinnitus are potentially fragile emotionally, especially during the early months following onset of tinnitus,” advised Caroline J. Schmidt, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Yale Medicine in New Haven, CT. “The impact of tinnitus differs among people. Some people have no emotional response to it at all. Other people find it to be very distressing.”
It’s this understanding that has led many hearing health professionals to use a treatment approach that includes not only strategies for managing and minimizing the sound of tinnitus but also mental health strategies that help them cope with the diagnosis.
Managing tinnitus and its effects
While there is no cure, there are options for treating tinnitus such as:

  • Hearing aids
  • Mindfulness
  • Sound therapy
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Acupuncture and Alternative Therapies
  • Medication (in some cases this may be effective)

To support these treatment strategies, many experts now also coach individuals on mental health strategies such as these:

  • Acceptance – Education and understanding that the tinnitus is really just a sound that happens to tap into our emotions can be an essential first step to managing the diagnosis.
  • Shifting to the positive – It’s easy to fall into negative thoughts. Still, experts have found that changing the negative to more neutral (reality-based) or even positive thoughts can give patients power over their situation.
  • Focus on sleep hygiene – Most people these days could benefit from sleep hygiene, but especially those with tinnitus. Avoiding electronics, alcohol, and caffeine before bed, following a relaxing bedtime routine including relaxation exercises or meditation, and even using white noise machines can all help with better sleep for a better next day.
  • Keep doing what you love – Whether it’s music with friends, a favorite hobby, or volunteering in the community, don’t let tinnitus keep you from what you love. As with hearing loss, it’s common for those with tinnitus to seek solace in social isolation, but this can lead to anxiety and depression. Experts recommend staying in the game for mental and emotional benefits.

If you believe you have tinnitus, contact us to schedule a hearing evaluation. Strategies like these can help you manage your condition without sacrificing your emotional or mental health.

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How Untreated Hearing Loss Could Lead to Higher Health Care Costs

It’s that time of year again. You’ve renewed your health insurance and maybe getting ready to take it out for a spin. We all know that things like age and existing conditions can affect our insurance and medical costs, but did you know that untreated hearing loss can also lead to higher health care costs?
If you believe you have hearing loss and have been waiting for just the right time to seek treatment, this may be just the sign you’ve been looking for.
Untreated hearing loss hits harder than you think
While it’s easy to think of hearing loss as a minor annoyance, research has begun to show that it can have significant and long-term effects on our lives, especially when it is left untreated.
Untreated hearing loss has been connected to:

  • A higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia
  • Increased risk of social isolation
  • Lower-income
  • Increased risk of anxiety and depression
  • Increased risk of falls

Many believe that they don’t have hearing loss or that it’s not significant enough to seek treatment, but any level of hearing impairment can pose a risk to your health, and according to recent findings, your healthcare costs.
The findings
According to results from a study out of Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, older adults with untreated hearing loss can pay “substantially higher total health care costs compared to those who don’t have hearing loss.” The study found that increased expenses averaged approximately 46 percent or $22,434 per person over a decade.
At the start of the study, the research team analyzed health care data to identify approximately 77,000 people believed to have untreated age-related hearing loss. This group was compared to those with similar demographics and healthcare use but without the hearing loss.
After ten years, the same data and markers were revisited. The link was undeniable. Those with untreated hearing loss had experienced more hospital stays and readmissions, were more likely to seek treatment in the emergency room, and even had more outpatient visits than those in the group without hearing loss.
What changes?
The question is, how can untreated hearing loss have such a significant effect? Experts have several theories as to why this may be the case:

  • Several connections have been uncovered between hearing loss and other serious health issues such as cardiovascular diseases and cognitive decline. This connection may result in additional health care costs.
  • Hearing loss can impact a person’s ability to communicate with healthcare professionals leading to incomplete information and additional health care costs.

Experts continue to research the connection between untreated hearing loss and higher health care costs, but the link is undeniable.
“Knowing that untreated hearing loss dramatically drives up health care utilization and costs will hopefully be a call to action among health systems and insurers to find ways to better serve these patients,” says Nicholas S. Reed, AuD, study lead and a member of the core faculty of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at the Bloomberg School.
If you believe you have hearing loss, take action now to protect your health and your wallet. Contact our office to schedule a hearing evaluation today.

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Protect Your Hearing Aids This Winter

Temperatures are dropping, and storms are becoming more frequent in many parts of the country as we dig deeper into fall on the way to Winter’s freeze. For many, these changes bring to mind snow tires and scarves, hot chocolate and cozy socks to combat the cold days. If you use hearing aids, you’ll also want to take steps to protect them from the colder temperatures and changes in weather.
Protect your hearing health investment
If you have hearing aids, you’ve made a smart investment in your hearing health. Chances are you got started with a hearing evaluation then worked with your hearing healthcare provider to select the best hearing aids for your needs.
From there, you probably went through fittings and one or more adjustments to get them working just right for your unique hearing loss. Finally, you learned how to clean and maintain them. You have probably spent time each day removing and drying them, replacing batteries and cleaning them to prevent wear and tear and lengthen their life, even taking them in for professional cleanings once or twice a year. All of this to protect your investment.
During the year, however, you’ll want to take extra steps to keep your hearing aids humming along in top shape. That includes during these colder winter months when the elements can take a toll.
Winter considerations for hearing aids
During colder fall and winter months, keep these things in mind when it comes to your hearing aids:

  • Keep the stormy weather out – Moisture from the elements is a big concern this time of year. It can damage the inner workings of the hearing aid reducing its effectiveness. Moisture from rain and snow can also affect the battery and reduce its life. Carry umbrellas, wear rain and snow jackets with hoods or a protective hat and use similar protection from the elements.
  • Be aware of condensation – Going from the cold of the outdoors to the warmth of inside can create condensation inside your hearing aids that leads to damaged connections and hearing aid batteries. This is especially true when you are moving between the temperature extremes repeatedly during the day.
  • Protect against sweat – shoveling snow, covering ears with a hat or earmuffs, and even winter sports can leave you a little sweaty even in sub-freezing temperatures. When this sweat seeps into hearing aids, it can be just as damaging as the snow and rain. Consider wearing a hearing aid “sweatband” or even removing hearing aids during strenuous activity.

Winter hearing aid worries often revolve around moisture and its damaging effects on the devices and their batteries. To help minimize damage and protect hearing aids, remove and open them whenever they’re not in use to allow extra moisture to escape. When you are away from home, do carry a small cleaning toolkit and extra hearing aid batteries if your batteries do become a victim of the elements.
Are you looking for more information on how to protect hearing aids during the winter months? Contact our office for tips and advice.

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Should You Really Get Your Hearing Tested Annually?

As our day to day lives get busier and busier, it’s understandable that your health can sometimes take a back seat. Annual checkups are often last on our very long to-do lists but are more important than you may think. Incorporating annual checkups in your health regimen not only gives you control over your healthcare but can give you peace of mind when you receive a clean bill of health. Annual hearing tests are no different, and in fact, are equally as important to get checked on an annual basis. As studies show untreated hearing loss can result in irreversible damage to your hearing or health, getting an annual check-up is a perfect way to ensure you have done everything to prevent or spot indicators of hearing loss.

You’re Never Too Young to Start

There is a high chance that you have a person in their life affected by hearing loss, whether it is a loved one or even yourself. In fact, hearing loss is the most common chronic health condition in the United States, affecting people of all ages and walks of life. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), One in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from hearing loss, while a 2005 National Health Survey found that 5 out of every 1000 children are impacted.
As hearing loss is found in widely ranging age groups, it’s clear that annual hearing tests can be a proactive tool regardless of age, but is not the only reason you should include them in your healthcare regimen. Noise-induced hearing loss is increasing among younger generations as excessive exposure to loud volumes is becoming more common. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 50% of people between the ages of 12 and 35 are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to prolonged sound. Environments that younger populations are often exposed to such as nightclubs or concerts, and listening to music through a personal device, are all contributors to this risk, making it vital that even younger populations get an annual hearing test before irreversible damage has taken place. As Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General warns “They must understand that once they lose their hearing, it won’t come back.”

There Are Links Between Untreated Hearing Loss and Dementia

Without an annual hearing test, hearing loss can go undetected until it becomes a serious problem. As many do not seek treatment for an average of 10 years after experiencing signs of hearing loss, irreversible damage and accompanying health problems are common, such as dementia and depression. Due to a lack of auditory stimulation, cognitive decline can increase the likelihood of dementia as we age, compounding the importance of early detection before hearing loss has gone untreated for longer than it should.
Despite your age or condition, don’t skip your doctor’s appointment just yet. Including an annual hearing test in your healthcare regimen can help you detect hearing loss before it becomes a serious health issue.