Exciting Advancements in Hearing Loss Technology
Hearing is something many of us take for granted… until we start to lose it. A degradation of hearing ability results in more than just having to say “what?” repeatedly—it can severely impact an individual’s quality of life.
“About 40 million Americans are affected by hearing loss,” states Dr. Deborah Touchette, Doctor of Audiology at Oroville Hospital. “It impacts a lot more people than you would imagine.”
The good news is, with the help of an audiologist like Dr. Touchette, hearing-related issues can be identified and many times treated in a way that restores full function.
Risk Factors for Hearing Loss
A number of factors can put your hearing at risk. One that is highly preventable is noise exposure, which has increased with the common use of headphones and earbuds.
“By noise, I don’t mean to berate music or say it has anything to do with the quality of what you’re listening to, but it has everything to do with the volume of what your ears are exposed to and the length of time you are exposed to it,” clarifies Dr. Touchette. “It could be beautiful music, but if it is loud and if you’re listening to it for an extended period of time, it can be just as harmful as many types of industrial noise.”
Additional factors include age, certain medical conditions, genetics, and exposure to medications that could put your hearing at risk. “There are over 1,000 medications used for a variety of medical conditions that could put your hearing or other ear-related functions at risk,” notes Dr. Touchette. “Ears are important, but they also are very, very sensitive.”
Identifying and Diagnosing the Loss
In Dr. Touchette’s experience, the individual suffering from hearing loss might not be the first to identify the problem. Rather, it is often a loved one, a friend or a family member, who begins to notice hearing is reduced. “Hearing loss can happen so very gradually over time that the individual who is experiencing it may not really fully realize there’s an issue until someone mentions it or until it is significant enough to affect quality of life.”
The first step in diagnosing hearing loss is to perform a hearing evaluation in order to create a baseline. The audiology team assesses all the different parts of the hearing mechanism. “We look at the mechanical part of hearing, the different neurologic systems, and then the acuity of how someone is able to hear and even how clearly they are able to hear and understand speech,” explains Dr. Touchette.
If the ears are found to be otherwise healthy, and if there’s nothing that can be done medically to help the patient hear better, hearing aids enter the conversation. Other devices such as specialized telephones or TV listening devices may also be considered.
Not Your Grandmother’s Hearing Aids
While hearing aids have suffered an unfair stigma over the years, thanks to clunky design and other technological challenges, Dr. Touchette describes just how far the technology has come. “It is a very exciting time for audiology and hearing aid technology in general,” she notes. “Hearing aids today are actually little computers. Those tiny things you see in someone’s ears have the processing capability similar to most laptops or other computer systems.”
Modern-day hearing aids are able to fit a patient’s hearing prescription very precisely and can even distinguish between speech patterns and certain types of noise. For example, settings can be changed based on varying environments (e.g. in the living room watching television versus a baseball game or noisy restaurant).
Another benefit is that they’re rechargeable, offering convenience and ease for individuals who encounter dexterity challenges. Some of the newest hearing aids can connect to smartphones and other devices via Bluetooth wireless technology. “You can now talk on your phone through your hearing aids or even listen to your TV,” reveals Dr. Touchette.
Advancements in Implantable Technology
Just as capabilities have improved for hearing aids, implantable technology has also seen advancements. The transducers that transmit sounds for cochlear implants and bone anchored hearing aids is also now fully digital, with all of the similar noise reduction capabilities and Bluetooth capabilities of modern hearing aids.
“With all of these advancements, we are able to treat much more severe hearing loss and get a much better response in hearing,” assures Dr. Touchette. “And, the surgical techniques are becoming less invasive, shortening recovery time and allowing a wider range of patients to benefit from implantable technology.”
Team Approach Ensures Best Outcomes
The cooperative effort at Oroville Hospital ensures patients receive the best treatment available. “We have a pretty amazing team here, and we’re able to see all ages of patients—from very young infants to the elderly,” states Dr. Touchette. “The benefit of coming here is that we work as a team. If anything can be addressed medically, we have those providers right here in-house and issues can be tended to efficiently and effectively. And, we can refer out for hearing aids if that is an appropriate treatment for our patients.”
**To listen to an interview with Dr. Deborah Touchette, Doctor of Audiology at Oroville Hospital, follow this link: https://radiomd.com/oroville/item/39336