Pioneer Hearing Aid Center News

October 12, 2018

The connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline

Does hearing loss cause cognitive impairment and dementia? And can you prevent or delay cognitive loss with hearing aids? These are tough questions to answer.

couple playing with block game
The link between hearing loss and cognitive
decline is still a puzzle for researchers.

Multiple studies have tackled the issue. One meta-analysis from February analyzed 11 studies dating back to 2016 to find that older people with moderate to severe hearing impairment had a 29 to 57 percent greater risk of cognitive impairment than those with normal hearing. It did not find that wearing hearing aids reduced the risk.

A 2016 study analyzing health insurance claims of 154,783 seniors concluded that hearing impairment increases the risk of dementia and that to some extent this happens regardless of medical treatment. Though the authors said hearing aids might delay or prevent dementia, they didn’t have details on whether patients were prescribed hearing aids or were using them regularly.

However, a 2017 article in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience cited two studies that found people wearing hearing aids improved their performance on cognitive tests. The article said hearing aids, when prescribed at the beginning of age-related hearing loss, can postpone cognitive side effects.   

Dementia causes damage before symptoms emerge

There aren’t definitive answers because the field is still new, according to Dr. Jennifer Deal of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. She noted that studies of dementia have traditionally focused on pathology or vascular disease and that Dr. Frank Lin, the director of the Cochlear Center, has been doing much of the work of bringing hearing into the discussion.

By the time someone shows symptoms of dementia, “the damage has already been done to the brain. We can’t actually reverse that, so the idea is we want to try to prevent it from happening in the first place.” As the population ages, this will increasingly be a public health concern, she said.

Deal said hearing is one of the only later-life risk factors that could potentially delay cognitive decline. A 2017 article by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care estimated up to 35 percent of dementia could be prevented due to modifiable risk factors, and the biggest of those is hearing loss, at 9 percent. The potential proportion of dementia that could be prevented if hearing loss was prevented or treated is about 90 percent. “And the reason why it’s so high is that so many people have it,” Deal said, adding that two-thirds of people over age 70 have clinically meaningful hearing loss.

Hearing loss impacts much of the brain

Why is hearing loss associated with dementia? Deal said one possibility is that something else, such as vascular disease, causes both conditions. 

Another is the strain on people with hearing loss in trying to interpret sounds. That can impact memory, Deal said. “We call that effortful listening, and that’s why people with hearing loss say it sounds like you’re mumbling.”

MRI studies have shown that people with hearing loss use parts of the brain beyond the auditory cortex to decode sounds, so hearing loss affects much of the brain. Deal said Lin has published a study showing a faster decline in brain volume in people with hearing loss than in people with normal hearing.

Social isolation is also likely a factor because it’s associated with health issues, Deal said. “If we have difficulty with hearing in noisy environments, maybe we don’t go out to dinner as often, or attend church functions or other kinds of social engagements, and in that way can become more isolated.”

But these are hypotheses, and researchers don’t know whether medical care has an impact. There are many factors in who uses a hearing aid, including its affordability, Deal said. “It’s hard for us to make a full judgment in terms of whether or not there’s actually a difference being made by the hearing aid, or whether we’re just comparing two groups we really shouldn’t be comparing.”

Don't wait, get help

The Cochlear Center is trying to get answers. They’re recruiting 850 people around the country, older adults with mild to moderate hearing loss and normal cognitive skills who don’t use hearing aids. Some participants will receive hearing aids and some won’t, and the researchers will track their cognitive levels. Deal said they’ll have the results in 2022. “This is the type of study, with the randomization component, that really should help give us a definitive answer about whether or not hearing aid treatment can help delay cognitive decline.”

What should people do in the meantime? “If you have any concerns about your hearing or any other kind of health issues, I always encourage people to talk to their doctors,” Deal said. It may not be clear whether hearing aid use impacts cognition, “but we do know that hearing loss can be impactful in other ways.”

September 07, 2018

Pulses of light restored hearing in gerbils

Using light to target hearing issues may sound farfetched, but it’s not. Scientists say the new field of optogenetics could create cochlear implants that give people more natural hearing abilities.

Red laser beam
A new field called "optogenetics" 
studies how light-sensitive proteins
can be used to improve cochlear
implant technology. 

These cochlear implants skip past malfunctioning hair cells in the cochlea, the organ in the inner ear that translates sound, and connect with nearby auditory nerve cells to get signals to the brain. But it’s difficult to target the right nerve cells, which is why sound through these implants is frequently distorted. Optogenetics, which uses light-sensitive proteins to control living cells, could address that problem by offering more precise results through an optical cochlear implant. 

In a recent study, German bioengineers implanted a protein containing optical fibers in the ears of deaf gerbils. When they sent a pulse of laser light into the gerbils’ ears, the gerbils reacted, showing similar behaviors to gerbils with full hearing. 

Tobias Moser, the lead author of the study, said, “I had been working on hearing and deafness as a neuroscientist and otolaryngologist for a few years before optogenetics came up. It was clear to me that the cochlear implant is great but suffers from poor spatial control of neural excitation in the cochlea. In fact, most of us would agree that this is the most important bottleneck, resulting in poor frequency resolution in coding and consequently poor speech recognition in background noise.

“When optogenetics came up, I considered this the way to go for fundamentally advancing today’s cochlear implant,” he said.

Previous studies of optical cochlear implants in mice and rats have shown some promise, but this study’s authors wanted to use a species with a hearing system closer to that of humans. Adult Mongolian gerbils have comparatively large cochleas and can hear low frequencies just like human ears can.  

The gerbils were first trained through a loudspeaker to jump across a barrier inside a shuttlebox. After they were deafened, they didn’t respond to the loudspeaker. After “hearing” the laser light, the gerbils took an average of two days to relearn the task. 

According to the study, the gerbils’ neural response to the light looked similar to their original response to sound, and their neurons performed more like normal neurons.

The study team had been expecting they’d be able to restore some hearing physiology and behavior in the gerbils. But, said Moser, director of the Institute for Auditory Neuroscience at the University Medical Center Göttingen, “We were surprised that the temporal fidelity of the neural response was quite high and that animals readily transferred the behavior from acoustic to optical stimulation and vice versa.”

The study found that results over several weeks were close to normal hearing behavior, with no long-term damage to the gerbils.

These findings are unlikely to bring results for human users anytime soon, however. The scientists used gene therapy to inject the protein in the gerbils’ ears, a procedure that is mostly unavailable for everyday use. And this usage of light requires a lot of energy, more than could be safely stored in a battery, according to the study.

But, Moser said, the study shows that cochlear optogenetics could be a good alternative for those with hearing loss, once more in-depth research has been conducted on it.

The study’s authors plan to further develop these methods for practical use and Moser said they hope to finish the preclinical work to begin that process in about two years. He added that they’re pleased that colleagues in the field have joined the effort.

Lockheed Martin Aculight, for instance, is already working on an infrared laser-based cochlear implant, containing a small strip of lasers rather than electrode pads. The device is still in the testing stages, though.

There’s been interest in this topic for years. An earlier study found that infrared laser pulses sent through water increase temperature and energy in cells, suggesting that the laser light could be used to help treat problems with the nervous system and other organs as well as with hearing.

In the meantime, Moser recommends those with hearing loss continue to use traditional hearing aids or electrical cochlear implants, “as hearing rehabilitation is so critical,” and switching to an optical cochlear implant down the road should still be an option.

August 17, 2018

The basics of waterproof hearing aids

Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing

If you enjoy water sports, boating or you just forget to take your hearing aids out before showering, you might wonder if you need waterproof hearing aids. Actually, that’s a trick question. Currently, there aren’t any hearing aids on the market which are completely waterproof. Most of them, however, are definitely water resistant, and for most hearing aid wearers, that’s probably good enough.

IP ratings and what they mean

waterproof hearing aids
Always take hearing aids out before 
enjoying water sports.

You may not be familiar with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), but they’ve probably tested the hearing aids you wear to determine how resistant they are to elements such as dust and water.

Each hearing aid receives a two-digit IP, or Ingress Protection, rating from the IEC. The first digit rates the degree of protection against debris, such as dust or sand, and is rated on a scale of 1-7. The second digit, rated on a scale from 1-9, indicates how resistant the electrical device is to moisture. A hearing aid with an IP 67 rating means it is highly protected against solid objects such as sand or dust and has been tested to work for at least 30 minutes in water less than three feet deep.

Regardless of their IP rating, most hearing aid manufacturers do not recommend submerging any of their devices in water. In fact, some of the counseling you’ll receive from your hearing healthcare professional includes information about how to keep moisture away from your hearing aids. Moisture is no friend to the delicate electronic parts of these expensive devices. These components work best when they are kept clean and dry.

Water resistant hearing aids 

Of course, despite our best attempts to be careful, accidents happen. Is owning a hearing aid with a high IP rating for moisture in your best interests? It might be worth considering if:

  • You perspire heavily. If you’re constantly wiping perspiration from your face during work or play, your hearing aids are probably exposed to more moisture than most.
  • You live in humid/wet climates or enjoy water-related hobbies such as boating or fishing.
  • You are forgetful or absent-minded. Some hearing aid wearers say their devices are so comfortable, they completely forget to take them out before they step into the shower.

Dry hearing aids work best

Even if you don’t fit into one of those categories, it’s always a good idea to keep your hearing aids as clean and dry as possible. The following nighttime regimen will help extend their life and keep them working efficiently.

  • Wipe them down. Before you go to bed each night, remove the batteries and wipe the entire device with a dry, dust-free cloth.
  • Keep the battery compartment door open until the following morning. This allows any moisture they may have collected during the day to evaporate overnight.
  • Invest in a dehumidifier. This inexpensive piece of equipment is a good place to store your hearing aids overnight. Ask your hearing healthcare professional for their recommendation or search for one at your local drugstore.

If you’re still confused about what type of hearing aids are best for you, discuss it with your hearing healthcare professional. Be sure to share as much about your lifestyle as possible, so they can help you choose the best devices for your hearing loss, budget and listening environments. Today’s hearing devices are technological marvels. Chances are, even though completely waterproof devices are not available, water resistant models are capable of enduring most of what life has to offer.

August 10, 2018

Swedish study finds improved hearing in older adults

Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing

Older adults in Sweden are hearing better than they were more than four decades ago, according to a May 2018 study published in Age and Ageing. The H70 study, part of a large-scale investigation initiated in the 1970s designed to study the medical and social effects of aging, found that hearing among 70-year-old residents of Gothenburg, Sweden had improved significantly in the last 45 years -- especially among its men.

A Swedish hearing loss study provides 
hope and insight.

The comparison study tested hearing acuity in approximately 1,135 residents of Gothenburg born in 1944 and compared the results to three previous studies of residents born in 1901, 1906 and 1922. In the most recent study, the prevalence of hearing loss declined from 53 to 28% for men and 37 to 23% for women.

Hearing conservation

While Swedish researchers don’t know why hearing has improved in this population, they speculate the decrease among the male participants may be due to a reduction in occupational noise exposure. Most age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is thought to be due to a lifetime exposure to a noisy environment. Men, especially those in this age group, have traditionally worked in occupations where noise levels exceeded current acceptable limits, such as in the mechanical and engineering industries. Hearing conservation programs were introduced in Sweden in the 1970s; however, the study’s authors caution further research is needed to determine possible reasons for this improvement.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common form of sensorineural hearing loss -- and also the most preventable. Permanent damage to your hearing can occur when you’re exposed to noise levels over 85 decibels (dB) for an extended period of time or from a one-time exposure to a loud noise such as an explosion or gunshot. Hearing conservation can begin at any age, so follow these tips to reduce your risk from developing additional hearing loss due to NIHL:

  • If you’re still in the workplace and noise is a constant in your environment, talk to your supervisor about ways to decrease noise levels.
  • Keep the volume turned down on personal electronic devices, especially those you listen to through a headset or earphones. That goes for the volume on the television or car radio, too.
  • If you enjoy a hobby, such as car racing, music, or hunting, purchase the appropriate hearing protection and wear it. Insist that others in your family who enjoy similar noisy pastimes do the same.
  • If you know you’ll be attending an event where there will be lots of noise -- such as a sporting event, parade, or fireworks celebration -- invest in noise-canceling headphones or purchase inexpensive foam earplugs from the local drugstore.

First steps

While the results of this study provide a glimmer of hope, bear in mind that unlike the study population in Sweden, the prevalence of hearing loss in the United States is on the rise. Hearing loss doesn't discriminate based on age as it affects more younger Americans than ever before. What this study does offer is even more evidence that hearing loss is not inevitable. The best treatment for many is prevention. 

Keeping your hearing as healthy as possible begins by scheduling an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional for a baseline hearing evaluation. Results from this exam will be used to monitor your hearing health annually so that you can address any issues which may arise sooner rather than later.

July 13, 2018

What is a decibel?

The soft whisper of a grandchild sharing a secret, the loud blare of a fire truck's siren as it enters the intersection, the soothing melody of your favorite song on the radio. How do we measure the intensity of the sounds they make? Behold the humble decibel, a logarithmic way of describing a ratio between things like power, sound pressure and voltage.

Decibels measure sound intensity

Decibels express sound levels and 
represent a ratio.

Sound is energy that travels in waves and is measured in frequency and amplitude. Frequency, reported in Hertz (Hz), measures the number of sound vibrations in one second. Amplitude, reported on the decibel (dB) scale, measures its pressure or forcefulness. The more amplitude a sound has, the louder it is.

The logarithmic decibel scale measures differently than a linear scale. For example, every increase of 10 dB on the decibel scale is equal to a 10-fold increase in sound pressure level (SPL). Near silence is expressed as 0 dB but a sound measured at 10 dB is actually 10 times louder. If a sound is 20 dB, that's 100 times louder than near silence.

Decibels and hearing loss

Decibels might be just another measuring stick if it weren’t for the damaging effects loud noise inflicts on our hearing. Whether it’s a one-time exposure to a loud explosion or daily exposure to an excessively noisy workplace or hobby, our hearing suffers the consequences. This type of hearing loss is known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) says everyone is susceptible to hearing damage as a result of noise exposure. They estimate approximately 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to loud noise at work or through leisure activities. Results from a 2010 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal as many as 16 percent of teens (age 12-19) report some hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to loud noise.

Scientists have studied the effects of NIHL and, based on the levels of sounds in our environment, established recommendations for safe listening. How loud is too loud? The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes to damage hearing. Repeated or prolonged (more than 8 hours a day) exposure to noise louder than 85 dB can permanently damage hearing. And, in case you’re wondering what types of sound measures 85 dB, here is a short list of common sounds and how they measure up:

  • Normal conversation – 60 dB
  • Heavy city traffic – 85 dB
  • Lawn mower – 90 dB
  • MP3 player at maximum volume – 105 dB
  • Sirens – 120 dB
  • Concerts – 120 dB
  • Sporting events – 105 to 130 dB (depending upon the stadium)
  • Firearms – 150 dB

Here’s some good news. Hearing health professionals say noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can be prevented if we pay attention to — and protect our ears from — the sounds around us. If you’re planning to attend a concert or sporting event or spend a lot of time woodworking, riding motorcycles or operating outdoor lawn equipment, you’ll be exposed to noise levels in excess of 85 dB. That’s when it’s a good idea to invest in some hearing protection.

  • Ear plugs are inexpensive and can be found at most drug stores, but may not be suitable for extremely noisy situations. Foam ear plugs are disposable and conform to the shape of your ear; rubber or silicone ear plugs are washable and reusable.
  • Custom ear molds may be desirable for musicians and other hobbyists. These can be ordered through a hearing healthcare professional.
  • Earmuffs fit over the entire outer ear and muffle or block noise completely. Most are adjustable and can be found in sporting goods stores on online.
  • Noise-cancelling headsets also muffle or block noise completely and are best for people who need to communicate (pilots, military personnel) while blocking outside noise.

If you’re unsure about what type of hearing protection is right for you, consult a hearing healthcare professional.

What do decibels mean to those with hearing loss?

Those who’ve already been diagnosed with hearing loss also need to be mindful of decibel levels in their environment. It’s all about protecting the hearing you have left.

  • Untreated hearing loss: if you’ve been diagnosed with mild hearing loss, conserve the hearing you have left by wearing appropriate hearing protection. Untreated hearing loss in individuals who’ve had normal hearing can lead to a variety of other health conditions, such as an increased risk for dementia and depression as well as communication problems at work and home. Be proactive in conserving your remaining sense of hearing and resolve to seek treatment if your condition worsens.
  • Hearing aid users: those who wear hearing aids should be mindful of dB levels in their environment, too. Hearing aids and other devices amplify sounds in the environment, so your remaining hearing is susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss just like everyone else’s. While it might be tempting to turn your devices off thinking that they will serve as protection, guess again. Most don’t fit snugly enough in the ear canal to block harmful sound and, when they are turned off, can prevent you from hearing desirable sounds — such as emergency vehicles, concert music, or the sporting announcer. Your best bet is to work with your hearing healthcare professional to identify the appropriate hearing protection for the type of activity you’ll be participating in or attending. Wearing the proper hearing protection will allow you to wear your hearing devices safely and still hear activity around you.
July 06, 2018

The link between hearing loss and high healthcare costs

People who wear hearing aids might be improving more than their hearing. They might also be in better health overall, according to a recent study.

hearing loss hospital
Hearing loss can increase your spending
on healthcare.

The study, published in April, used 2013-2014 data from a national survey to evaluate the use of hearing aids among 1,336 adults age 65 or older with self-reported hearing loss. Of those, 602 used hearing aids and 734 didn’t. The goal was to measure overall health care spending as well as the number of emergency department or office visits.

Hearing loss and hospitalization

According to the study, the use of hearing aids was associated with a 2 percent drop in visits to the emergency room and in hospitalizations. There was a 1.40-day increase in office visits, and nights in the hospital were reduced by 0.46 nights. Hearing aids increased total health care spending by $1,125 and out-of-pocket costs by $325, but decreased Medicare spending by $71.

The total annual out-of-pocket spending among older adults who used hearing aids was $534 higher than that of adults who didn’t use them. Of those with hearing aids, 98 percent had at least one office visit over a year, compared with 93 percent of those without hearing aids, and those adults with hearing aids had two additional office visits.

Elham Mahmoudi, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, the corresponding author on the study, said their main finding was that while using hearing aids reduces the likelihood of emergency room visits and hospitalization, it also increases overall health care costs for users.

Because they relied on survey data, they didn’t have details on the types of emergency room visits or hospitalizations reported, Mahmoudi said, calling the study “a snapshot” of the use of health care services.

Unexpected findings

She said part of the results were unexpected. “I was actually hypothesizing lower health care costs, so that was surprising to see that their health care cost was higher.”

Using just one year’s worth of data is limiting, she said. “Hearing aids in general are expensive. The average cost of hearing aids is between $2,000 to $7,000. And using that data, we couldn’t identify the type of hearing aids that these people used. So it is possible that … the higher total health care costs were due to the higher costs of hearing aids.”

She suggested that if they followed the hearing aid wearers in the survey for a longer time, their health care costs would drop, since they’d be less likely to go to the emergency room or hospital.

Medicare and many private insurers don’t cover hearing aids, hearing exams or fittings. In the U.S., only 14 percent of adults age 50 or older with hearing issues use hearing aids, according to the study.

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition among older adults and is linked to a number of other medical and social problems, including hypertension and diabetes. The study found lower numbers of both conditions among those wearing hearing aids, suggesting hearing aid wearers might be in better health overall. Mahmoudi noted that other studies have shown hearing loss is associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and she said using hearing aids might help prevent those as well.

Advocacy for greater hearing aid accessibility

Mahmoudi said the authors are advocating for Medicare and insurers to cover hearing aids, believing it will reduce hospitalizations or emergency room visits.

But there are multiple factors in why people don’t use hearing aids, and the reasons why aren’t always clear. In the study, a higher percentage of hearing aid users were white, as opposed to Hispanic or African-American. Those using hearing aids were more likely to be fluent in English, have a college degree, and have a high income level; those who didn’t use hearing aids were less likely to be fluent in English or to have a high school diploma, and generally had lower income levels.

A higher percentage of people who lived in the South didn’t use hearing aids, compared to other regions. Mahmoudi suggested this could have to do with the lower rate of social services in certain states, or cultural issues. This study is the first step toward more detailed studies, she said.

One of their other studies, underway now, is to see why people don’t use hearing aids. “Financial barriers are a huge issue,” she said, adding that many people decide they don’t need hearing aids because of the price. Another of their studies is using insurer claims data over a longer period of time to track people with hearing loss and their health care use and costs.

There are only a handful of companies that supply hearing aids, she said. “The hope is if they’re pressured to bring their costs down to large insurance companies, like Medicare and other private insurance companies, the price should drop.”

Despite the cost, she encourages people to get their hearing checked regularly. “If people cannot hear, they cannot communicate well with their physicians, with their family members, with society as a whole.”

June 22, 2018

Why do my ears feel clogged?

There are times when you purposely plug your ears -- think fingers or earplugs -- and then there are, well, other times when your ears feel clogged for no good reason. Why is sound muffled when there doesn’t appear to be anything inside your ear canal? Here are four of the most common reasons why your ears might feel clogged.

Impacted earwax 

ears feel clogged
Find out why your ears feel clogged and
get relief!

Normally, earwax is the body’s way of protecting the ear. Its sticky consistency traps dirt and other pollutants, act as a lubricant, and because it naturally falls out of the ear canal on its own, serves as a natural self-cleaning agent. On occasion, however, it can become impacted and affect your ability to hear.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, the following symptoms indicate earwax is causing a problem:

  • A feeling that the ear is clogged
  • An earache
  • Partial hearing loss
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ear
  • Itching, odor or discharge
  • Coughing

The only way to know for sure -- and to remove the earwax safely -- is to see a physician or your hearing healthcare professional. Please note that it is never appropriate to try and remove the earwax yourself. Not only could you accidentally puncture your eardrum or push the earwax deeper into the canal and cause impaction, removing this natural protective lubricant can lead to the development of dry, itchy ears. It’s best to let a professional determine whether or not your ears need a more thorough cleaning beyond what you can safely do with a warm, soapy washcloth.

Fluid in the ear

Avid swimmers are likely too familiar with this painful condition; however, even non-swimmers can suffer from fluid in the ear, too. Fluid can develop in the ear for a couple of different reasons:

Ear infection -- children and adults who develop middle ear infections may experience a plugged ear sensation due to fluid build-up behind the eardrum. Although this condition usually clears on its own, it can be painful. It’s time to call a doctor if the pain is severe, you notice a fluid discharge or symptoms persist for more than a day. Children younger than six months should be seen immediately.

Swimming or bathing -- here’s another reason to appreciate earwax. It acts as a deterrent for water to enter the ear when you swim or bathe. Even so, there are times water can become trapped inside the Eustachian tubes from swimming, bathing or moist environments. If it does, try these simple techniques to encourage it to drain.

  • Tilt your head sideways and pull the earlobe gently.  
  • Use a warm compress. This helps open up the Eustachian tubes so water can drain naturally.
  • Yawn, chew or hold your nose and blow gently.

Sinus pressure

You may be familiar with stuffed nasal passages and facial tenderness brought about by sinus pressure, but did you know it can also cause temporary hearing loss? The sinus cavities, hollow spaces located in your bones near the nose and between the eyes, are also located beside the ear canal. When you experience an inflammation in your sinus cavities, it can cause your Eustachian tubes to swell. When that happens, the connection between the middle ear and throat is closed which puts pressure on the eardrum causing that clogged ear feeling -- or worse -- pain and hearing loss.

Fortunately, most hearing loss caused by sinusitis is temporary and hearing returns to normal once the sinus congestion clears. Even so, if you experience pain or sudden hearing loss due to sinus congestion, see your family doctor. They can determine the cause of your discomfort and prescribe medication to alleviate the pain and swelling.

Noise damage

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most common types of sensorineural hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), as many as 40 million Americans have hearing loss in one or both ears which may have been caused by exposure to excessive noise over a long period of time or a one time exposure to an extremely loud noise, such as an explosion or blast.

If your ears feel clogged or you hear ringing in your ears (tinnitus) after an evening with friends at the club or an afternoon in a rowdy sports stadium, it’s likely due to excessive noise exposure. Although these symptoms typically clear within 48 hours, you can prevent permanent hearing loss by taking precautions the next time you know you’ll be in a noisy environment:

  • Wear earplugs or other hearing protective devices when you’re involved in an activity where sound measures more than 85 decibels (dB).
  • Turn down the volume on the television, car radio or any personal electronic device with which you use ear buds.
  • If you can’t protect your hearing from the noise or reduce the volume, move as far away from it as possible.

Before trouble starts...

Although we’ve covered four of the most common reasons you ears may feel clogged, it’s always wise to seek the advice of a hearing healthcare professional whenever you are having trouble hearing. Here’s a tip: find a clinic in your community and have your hearing evaluated before trouble starts. The baseline information the initial test provides will be a good benchmark for your medical team to use in an emergency situation and to monitor your hearing health.  

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