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Can Protecting Your Hearing Protect Your Brain?

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, a time to “go purple” and show support for the millions of people worldwide struggling with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. With that in mind, we’re asking: “Can protecting your hearing help protect your brain?”

How Your Hearing And Brain Are Connected

Before we explore how protecting your hearing can protect your brain, we need to understand how your hearing and your brain are connected. It may surprise you to learn that we hear with our brains, not with our ears.

We have an extremely complex hearing system, that can essentially be split into two parts: the peripheral hearing system and the central hearing system.

The three main parts that make up your ear are part of the peripheral hearing system:

  1. Outer Ear – Sound waves are first captured here. Your outer ear is comprised of the pinna (sometimes referenced as the auricle), eardrum and ear canal.
  2. Middle Ear – This is a small, air-filled space containing three tiny bones known collectively as the ossicles: the malleus, incus and stapes.
  3. Inner Ear – Your inner ear has organs designed for balance and hearing. It also contains your cochlea, which is the part of your inner ear responsible for hearing. The cochlea has thousands of tiny hair cells, and is a distinctive snail-like shape. It connects via the auditory nerve to your central hearing system, and is filled with fluid that plays an important role in hearing.

The auditory nerve is part of the central hearing system. Your central hearing system is a complex pathway to your brain stem, and then on to the auditory cortex of your brain.

When you’re hearing sounds in your environment, what you’re actually ‘hearing’ are sound waves, invisible vibrations that travel through the air. Most sounds have unique sound waves that are sent in every direction.

When a sound wave hits your ear, the pinna in both of your ears direct the sounds into your ear canals. The vibrations made by the sound wave cause your eardrum to vibrate. This vibration then causes the tiny bones, or ossicles, in your middle ear to move. This movement helps to transmit the sound waves into your cochlea. The thousands of hair cells in your cochlea convert the vibrations into electrical signals. These signals are transmitted to your brain through the auditory nerve. At this point, your brain will interpret the sound. You’ll identify what it is that you’re hearing, as well as the direction that the sound originated from. It’s truly a remarkable process.

Can Hearing Loss Affect Your Brain?

Hearing loss can have an impact on your brain, particularly if left untreated. Some of the ways that hearing loss impacts your brain are:

  • Social isolation. Many with an untreated hearing loss withdraw from social environments or situations where they may struggle to hear. The resulting social isolation is linked to higher rates changes of cognitive decline due to a reduction in the amount and quality of brain stimulation.
  • A study of MRI scans showed that individuals with hearing loss can experience a faster decline of brain volume. The findings outlined that individuals with hearing loss utilise their brain differently to those with normal hearing. This result in the brain cells that aren’t being used shrinking.
  • Hearing loss can require repeated, at times intense, concentration to hear. This can put excess strain and stress on cognitive function. When this occurs over a prolonged period, it can be fatiguing may result in memory issues.

Protecting your hearing can help to protect your brain. At Sutton Hearing & Balance, we hope you will learn to value and protect your hearing, get started with our hearing loss prevention guide. If you believe that your hearing may have changed or you’re overdue for a hearing assessment, please come in and meet our hearing specialists today. Call us on (212) 786-5741 or click here to request an appointment online.

Posted by Admin

New Year’s Resolution: Take Care Of Your Hearing

As we near the end of January, you may be thinking that it’s too late to make any New Year’s resolutions for 2019. But what about a resolution that’s easy to stick to, benefits your overall well-being, could protect your brain and lets you enjoy the world around you? We’re talking about your hearing.

Here are five easy ways to take care of your hearing in 2019:

  1. Use earplugs during exposure to loud noises

Estimates from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) indicate that approximately 10 million Americans have suffered irreversible Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). NIHL can affect individuals of all ages, and is preventable!

If you have to shout in order for the person next to you to hear you, there’s a good chance that you’re being exposed to noise that is considered above safe volume. Exposure can occur at home, in the workplace, or in recreational settings.

Protect your hearing by knowing which noises can cause damage. Any noise above 75 decibels can pose a threat. Wear earplugs or other protective hearing gear when exposed to such volumes. Earplugs and earmuffs are available at many pharmacies, sporting good stores and hardware stores. If you experience repeated exposure to dangerous noise volumes, you may want to consider a custom pair of earplugs.

Many smartphones have apps that can measure the sound levels in a noisy situation with very high levels of accuracy. Take a look around your app store and search for “sound level meter” and see what types of free options are available for download.

  1. Don’t stick anything in your ear

This is such an important tip, we’re going to repeat it. Don’t stick anything in your ear, ever! Many of us will use cotton swabs to clean wax out of our ear canals, and we simply advise against doing this. Not only is a little bit of wax in your ears normal, it’s almost important. Wax can stop dust and other harmful material getting into the your ear canal. There’s also a risk that you can damage your eardrum with a cotton swab, or cause an impaction by pushing wax further into your canal.

  1. Keep Your Ears Dry

Excess moisture in your ears can allow harmful bacteria to enter your ear canal. This can result in swimmer’s ear or other other ear infections. Infections can in some cases cause hearing loss. Reduce your risks by ensuring you gently towel dry your ears after exposure to moisture, either from swimming, bathing or being caught in the rain outside. If you feel like you have water inside your ear, tilt your head slightly to the side and gentle pull on your earlobe. If you’re ears are regularly exposed to moisture, you may want to consider using custom-fit swimmers’ earplugs that block water from entering the canal entirely.

  1. Stay On Top Of Your Hearing Assessments

The most effective way to take care of your hearing is to book in a yearly hearing assessment. As hearing loss often develops over time, annual assessments can identify any changes in your baseline hearing. Early treatment of hearing loss can help mitigate any impact on your day-to-day life. Studies are also increasingly showing links between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults.

  1. If you need hearing aids, then get yourself some hearing aids

There are hundreds of reasons why you should treat any known loss of hearing with hearing aids if you have been told that you are a candidate for this kind of treatment. Hearing technology works better than ever before and you would be surprised at how much fun it is to hear as well as you can.

If you’re ready to commit to 2019’s New Year’s Resolution: Take Care Of Your Hearing, these tips will help you get started today! If you’d like to discuss further, or are ready to book in your yearly hearing assessment, come in and see the professionals at Sutton Hearing & Balance. Call us today on (212) 786-5741 or click here to request an appointment.

Posted by Admin

How Can Cold Weather Affect Your Hearing?

Long nights followed by cold mornings, winter is definitely here. Inevitably, the colder weather brings with it some common companions; sniffles, coughs and colds. Maintaining your health in the winter is all about knowing how to take care of your entire well-being, which includes your hearing health.

Infections and Seasonal Colds  

Breathing in cold air can cause a narrowing of blood vessels, known as vasoconstriction. A lowered core body temperature reduces blood flow around the body, including to the ears. It also limits the immune system’s ability to do its job, which can lead to moisture and bacteria being trapped within the ear.

This increases the chances of colds and infections such as otitis media, which can lead to blocked eustachian tubes. This tube is vital; it helps protect your inner ear and eardrum from damage by regulating pressure and draining away excess fluid.

Typical side effects of the common cold can be stuffy nose and sinus congestion, both of which can cause you to experience some fullness in your ears. This fullness is caused by swelling in your Eustachian tube which can create a feeling of pressure on your ear drum. This pressure can sometime be accompanied by dizziness, pain, ringing in your ears and in some cases, hearing loss. We’ve put together a guide on symptoms to look out for and how to protect your ears this winter season.

Blocked eustachian tubes can present with the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Tinnitus symptoms
  • Hearing Loss
  • Pain
  • “Aural fullness”

There are still a few months of winter ahead. Bundle up, and don’t forget your hat! If you’re concerned that the cold weather has affected your hearing, call us on (212) 786-5741 or click here to request an appointment today.

Posted by Admin

Protecting Yourself from Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear, or “otitis externa”, is a painful type of ear infection that involves the ear canal and typically occurs when water gets trapped inside the ear. Because the ear canal is dark and warm, normally present bacteria (or fungi) can easily multiply and cause an infection.

Anyone is susceptible, but children are particularly prone to this type of infection since their ear canals are narrower. We hope that by explaining the causes and symptoms you can avoid the discomfort of swimmer’s ear, or seek prompt treatment when needed.

What causes swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear has a few primary causes:

  • Trapped moisture from bathing/showering, trips to the pond/lake/beach/swimming pool or from moist or humid environments.
  • Contact with excessive bacteria present in hot tubs or polluted water.
  • Scratches or cuts within the ear i.e. from aggressive cleaning.
  • Damage to the skin of the ear canal i.e from skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or seborrhea.
  • Contact with certain chemicals such as hairspray or hair dye.

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear

Initial symptoms of swimmer’s ear are usually mild. However, if an infection goes untreated, symptoms may progressively worsen. Symptoms will often first appear as itching and redness, resulting in the ear then becoming inflamed and painful. Pain can become severe, and is often worsened when the ear is touched or moved, i.e. when chewing or lying on a pillow. It is common to have jaw pain, as there are lots of nerves linking the base of the brain through the ear canal, the jaw, and down to the diaphragm. Other symptoms include:

  • A stuffy or plugged-up feeling in the affected ear.
  • Fluid draining from the affected ear.
  • Decreased or muffled hearing.
  • Fever and swollen lymph nodes can occur in severe cases.

How to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

The aim is to keep your ears as dry as possible. Consider wearing ear plugs and a bathing cap/wetsuit hood when you are in the water. After swimming or washing, turn your head side to side and pull the earlobes in different directions to help any excess water drain out. After draining, gently dry your ears with a towel. Do not try to clean your ears by inserting a foreign object like a cotton swab.

Treating Swimmer’s Ear

See a doctor as soon as you can if you suspect swimmer’s ear. A fluid sample may be taken when you are seen. You will likely be given antibiotic ear drops, as these reduce inflammation and inhibit bacterial/fungal growth.

If after a few days symptoms do not improve, return to your doctor. There could be a blockage preventing the medication working or oral antibiotics may be needed.

Please note, without treatment, infection can continue. This can cause recurring ear infections (chronic otitis externa). Diabetics and older adults are also at higher risk of dangerous complications. Infection can spread to the base of your skull, brain, or cranial nerves, causing bone and cartilage damage (malignant otitis externa).

Swimmer’s ear is a very common but preventable infection. Following treatment, hearing should return to normal. To further protect yourself make sure you have regular check ups and evaluations with your hearing specialist. Contact us today if you suspect that you may have swimmer’s ear, or to learn more information.

Posted by Admin

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