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Examiner
  • Lori Boyajian-O'Neill: Do for your ears what you do for your eyes

  • What did you say? What? I didn’t hear you. Could you speak louder? Turn up the TV.



    If this sounds familiar, you might be one of the 26 million Americans with age-related hearing loss, presbycusis. Just what happens to hearing as we age?

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  • What did you say? What? I didn’t hear you. Could you speak louder? Turn up the TV.
    If this sounds familiar, you might be one of the 26 million Americans with age-related hearing loss, presbycusis. Just what happens to hearing as we age? Hearing and aging, what do you know, T or F?
    1. Ear buds protect against age-related hearing loss.
    2. Half of those who need hearing aids use them.
    3. We lose hearing in the low frequency sound range as we age.
    Humans hear a spectrum of sound waves from low frequency (20 Hz), to high (20,000 Hz), detected on an audiogram. High frequency sounds are those between 2000-8000 Hz. Cats hear frequencies from 55 Hz to 79,000 Hz and dogs 40 Hz to 60,000 Hz.
    As humans age, there is a progressive loss of ability to hear high frequency sounds, usually the result of cumulative effects of lifelong exposure to loud sounds. About 30-35 percent of people between ages 65-75 have some hearing loss and over age 75, about 40-50 percent. Young folks can develop hearing loss from exposure to loud sounds, too, which is a growing concern.
    The Who’s lead guitarist Peter Townshend, 68, has severe hearing loss and tinnitus causing cancelation of concerts and tours. Earbuds increase sound by 6-9 decibels and, over time, may contribute to hearing loss even more than earmuff-style headphones. Mr. Townshend has repeatedly said he believes his hearing loss is primarily from the use of earphones/buds and not loud sound at concerts. In addition to loud sounds, risk factors for presbycusis include family history, certain medicines, smoking and diabetes.
    Presbycusis is characterized by the loss of ability to hear high frequency sounds, such as phone ringing or female voice. Difficulty distinguishing high frequency “s” “f” and “h” sounds from “th” is common. Ringing, roaring or hissing in ears (tinnitus) may be present. There may be difficulty hearing a particular conversation in a crowd. Presbycusis occurs gradually and the afflicted may not realize they have hearing loss. Rather, family and friends, condemned to repeating themselves or enduring nonsensical replies, are often the first to recognize the problem.
    There are three parts to the ear. The outer auricle and canal funnel sound to the ear drum which vibrates 3 tiny bones in the middle ear. Sound waves travel to the inner ear where specialized nerve receptors (hair cells) in the cochlea are stimulated. This activates the acoustic nerve which sends information to the brain for interpretation-hearing. Presbycusis usually occurs as a consequence of damage to the fragile hair cells which cannot be repaired.
    There is no cure for presbycusis. Treatment is targeted at amplifying sound and activating nerve cells. The first assistive hearing device, the human hand, can magnify sound transmitted to the canal by about 12 decibels when placed behind the outer ear. Ear trumpets fashioned from sea shells, animal horns and carved wood have been replaced by digital hearing aids and cochlear implants. The first electronic appliances were developed in the 1890s and the transistor, invented in the 1950s, provided for portable hearing aids. Only 20 percent of those who could benefit from hearing aids actually wear them.
    Page 2 of 2 - You get your eyes checked, what about your hearing?
    The cure is prevention. But tell that to a young Pete Townshend. Or your teenager. If you can pry the earbuds off her head.
    To learn more, access National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders at www.nidcd.nih.gov.
    Answers: 1. F; 2. F; 3. F.
    Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at lori.boyajian-oneill@hcahealthcare.com.
     
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