We’ve been told that it’s important to get an annual physical, our teeth cleaned every six months and to have our eyes checked once a year. But what about our ears? How often should we get our hearing checked?
That’s the question we asked the audiologists at Porter Physician Group’s Ear, Nose, Throat & Sinus Center, whose goal it is to evaluate and educate patients about potential hearing loss.
Deborah Novak, AuD, CCC-A, recommends a hearing test as part of a person’s scheduled health maintenance. “It’s important to get a hearing test regularly, just like we do with an eye test or teeth cleaning,” she says. “People forget about our ears and don’t even realize they have hearing loss until it’s really noticeable to loved ones.”
Signs of hearing loss can be difficult to detect, Novak says. Symptoms include often asking others to repeat themselves during conversation, ringing in the ears, always turning up the volume on the radio or television, having trouble hearing on the phone or if it sounds like everyone is mumbling.
Michele Watts, AuD, CCC-A, says a baseline hearing test can be done at any time. If that test detects a hearing loss, an annual test may be scheduled. If there are no problems, a follow-up test is recommended every 2 to 3 years.
“We live in a very noisy world,” Watts explains. “Everyone thinks it’s better if it’s louder, which often results in damage to our hearing.”
According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 26 million Americans have some degree of Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), or permanent hearing damage due to excessive noise exposure either at work or play.
Even more troubling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate approximately 5.2 million children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 have suffered damage to their hearing from excessive noise exposure.
“Technology we have nowadays is meant to help keep you connected and with that comes having more things in your ears,” shares Jillian Smith, AuD, CCC-A. “People just don’t realize the damage it can do. A good rule of thumb is that if someone next to you can hear what you are listening to then it’s too loud.”
Extreme noise exposure causes damage to the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear with thousands of tiny hairs, which translate sound and vibrations into the brain. When these tiny hairs are damaged, the signals to the brain are not properly transmitted and hearing loss occurs.
While there is no cure for hearing loss from prolonged noise exposure, there are preventive measures. May is Better Hearing Month and to raise awareness, the audiologists offer the following recommendations to help you protect your hearing health:
- Wear Protection. Ear plugs block noise from coming into the canal, protecting the cochlea. Always wear ear protection if you are around loud noises such as fireworks, power tools, lawn mowers or motorcycles. The Ear, Nose, Throat & Sinus Center offers custom-made ear molds and hearing protection for various activities, including playing music or hunting.
- Avoid loud noise whenever possible. A single exposure to a noise greater than 80 decibels can cause permanent hearing damage. A single gun fire or one car at an auto racing event can exceed this limit. Exposure to loud noises can also cause ear pain or constant ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus.
- Turn down the volume. The growing popularity of mobile devices and in-ear headphones puts millions at risk for NIHL. Turning down the volume is the easiest way to reduce your noise.
- Avoid occupational risks. If your job involves being around industrial noise, take proper precaution with earplugs or banded earmuffs. All hearing protectors are labeled with a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) in decibels. Workers with very high noise exposure need an NRR between 24 and 33 decibels.
If you feel you many have trouble hearing, talk with your doctor. The audiologists work collaboratively with the physicians at the Ear, Nose, Throat & Sinus Center and perform detailed exams to determine the cause and extent of hearing problems.
The Ear, Nose, Throat & Sinus Center has two Valparaiso locations – 2802 Leonard Drive and at Porter Regional Hospital in the Porter Medical Plaza, 85 E. US Highway 6 – as well as an office at Portage Hospital, 3630 Willowcreek Road.
For more information, please call (219) 531-0355.
Porter Health Care System has two hospital campuses and seven outpatient facilities serving Porter, Lake, LaPorte, Starke and Jasper counties. With more than 350 physicians representing 50 medical specialties, Porter Health Care System is committed to medical excellence and personalized, patient-centered care. Porter is directly or indirectly owned by a partnership that proudly includes physician owners, including certain members of the hospital’s medical staff.