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5 Tips for driving with hearing loss

Hearing loss is a common condition in South Africa, especially among older people – but with proper care and treatment, it does not hinder one’s active lifestyle. Most hearing specialists recommend an annual hearing test, as you would take an annual eye exam or have a physical with your doctor. Annual hearing tests are encouraged, as they monitor your hearing abilities. We’ll be able to identify if there have been changes in your hearing – which means we’ll be able to catch and treat hearing loss early.

Treating hearing loss with the use of hearing aids comes with many benefits – from improving the quality of your interpersonal relationships to ensuring your safety. Personal safety is often compromised with hearing loss, as a diminished sense of hearing could put you in harm’s way.

This is especially apparent when it comes to driving, when all of your senses must be alert in order to keep you connected to your environment. Here are a few driving tips for those with hearing loss.

1. Get your hearing checked

Your hearing keeps you safe in many ways – from connecting you to the world around you to improving your balance.

Your sense of hearing is an invisible one, which means you may not immediately notice if there are changes. Many people spend an average of seven years living with untreated hearing loss – before they decide to seek treatment. If you’ve noticed that people are mumbling, or that you’ve been turning the volume up frequently on the TV or radio, you may be experiencing a hearing loss.

Here at Advanced Hearing, we provided comprehensive hearing tests and hearing aid fittings with a certified audiologist. Our hearing tests are simple and painless – and quick! If you take a hearing test annually, then we’ll be able to keep an eye on your hearing abilities and recommend treatment as soon as a hearing loss is detected.

That being said, while you’re driving with hearing loss, it is important to eliminate any sounds that may be distracting. Turn down the volume on your car speakers, and try to limit the conversations you have.

2. Get your eyesight checked

Vision is obviously one of the most important elements of driving. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, it is important to get your eyes checked every year. Your optometrist will also be able to identify if other problems, such as cataracts, arise.

The use of polarized sunglasses or anti-reflective lenses could be very useful if you are driving in the daytime. If you have poor vision, you may want to limit your driving during the evening. While driving, adjust your car seat so that you can see comfortably at least 10 feet in front of you on the road.

3. Check your medications

If you are taking medication for different medical conditions, be sure to check the side effects. In some cases, medications could make you drowsy or light-headed, which would interfere with your ability to drive safely.

Additionally, some medications could affect your vision or hearing. If you’ve noticed changes in these senses, talk to your physician.

4. Pay attention to your reaction times

As we get older, our reaction time and attention span may change. As you drive, pay attention to your reaction times; avoid slamming on the brakes and leave space between you and the vehicle in front of you.

Sometimes, traffic can be overwhelming. If you’re driving in familiar areas, try to avoid certain routes that are high in traffic and find quieter roads. Be sure to scan the road regularly so that you can anticipate any adjustments you need to make.

5. Make adjustments for your physical comfort

If you’re driving long distances, consider that stiffness could make driving uncomfortable. Adjust your seats and mirrors accordingly to accommodate any physical challenges that may arise. You may also replace mirrors in your car with larger ones. Talk to your car dealership about power steering and equipment to help with braking and operating your car’s pedals. These could help make your driving experience more comfortable.

Visit us at advanced hearing

There are many devices and accessories available to make your hearing experience easier as you drive. Visit us at Advanced Hearing for your annual hearing exam and contact us if you need to make adjustments to your hearing aids. We’re here to help!

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Diseases associated with hearing loss

We tend to associate hearing loss with ageing or something caused by genetic predisposition. Disease can however also lead to hearing loss. In fact, anything that leads to damage of the complicated structure of the ear can lead to deafness.

1. Otosclerosis

What it is: Otosclerosis refers to abnormal bone growth in the ears. It is often genetic and can cause a gradual onset of hearing loss. This is a relatively common cause of hearing loss. 

Symptoms: Symptoms can include dizziness, a ringing in one or both ears and gradual hearing loss. 

How it leads to hearing loss: The abnormal growth of bone within the inner ear interferes with the movement of the bones and makes it difficult for sound waves to be transmitted.

Treatment: There are a couple of methods doctors use for otosclerosis. A surgical procedure called stapedectomy, as well as a cochlear implant may help reverse hearing loss. 

2. Ménière’s disease

What it is: Ménière’s disease is an illness that interferes with the flow of fluid in the inner ear.

Symptoms: A loss of balance, a feeling of fullness in one or both ears, dizziness, nausea and ringing in the ear.

How it leads to hearing loss: Hearing loss is caused by an extreme buildup of fluid in the ear. The buildup occurs in the part of the ear that is called the labyrinth – leading to disturbed balance and distorted sound waves.

Treatment: Doctors may prescribe medication such as prochlorperazine and antihistamines to help control symptoms.

3. Usher’s syndrome  

What it is: Usher’s syndrome is a genetic disease that can cause both hearing and vision loss. 

Symptoms: Usher’s syndrome is divided into three types – children with type 1 are born deaf; children with type 2 are born with moderate hearing loss; and children with type 3 are born with normal hearing, which however decreases gradually over a period of time.

How it leads to hearing loss: Usher’s disease causes abnormalities in the ears, which leads to hearing loss.

Treatment: Unfortunately there is currently no treatment for Usher’s syndrome. Treatment for hearing loss includes hearing aids and cochlear implants.

4. Acoustic neuroma

What it is: Acoustic neuroma is a rare disease that involves a non-cancerous tumour, growing directly on the nerve responsible for hearing and balance. It is caused by regular exposure to loud noise or radiation in the facial area.

Symptoms: Symptoms usually include hearing loss and a feeling of fullness in one ear, dizziness, a loss of balance, headaches and facial numbness or tingling.

How it leads to hearing loss: The tumour grows right on the eighth cranial nerve.

Treatment: In severe cases brain surgery is required to remove the tumour.

5. Mumps

What it is: Mumps is a viral infection, especially common in children. This disease causes the salivary glands to become inflamed, leading to swollen cheeks.

Symptoms: Besides the swollen glands and cheeks, other symptoms include a fever, headaches and a general feeling of discomfort.  

How it leads to hearing loss: Hearing loss is one of the side-effects caused by mumps. The mumps virus damages the cochlea in the inner ear. This part of the ear contains the hair cells which turn sound vibrations into nerve impulses that the brain reads as sound. Hearing loss because of mumps is fortunately rare. 

Treatment: There are no drugs available to treat the mumps virus itself, but mumps can be prevented by vaccination. Treatment is symptomatic. Hearing aids or cochlear implants can help mild hearing loss.

6. German measles

What it is: German measles, caused by the rubella virus, is a common childhood illness can also occur in adults.

Symptoms: Although it is possible to have German measles without showing any symptoms, a pinkish raised rash is often present. Other symptoms include a fever, aching joints, swollen lymph nodes and conjunctivitis.

How it leads to hearing loss: German measles in early pregnancy can cause the baby to be born with abnormalities, especially deafness as a result of nerve damage.

Treatment: There is no specific cure for German measles and treatment is symptomatic. If you’re pregnant, you should be extra careful of German measles and should take note of any outbreak in your area for the sake of your unborn baby. You can be vaccinated against German measles and there is a booster shot available if you wish to fall pregnant. 

7. Paget’s disease 

What it is: According to a previous Health24 article, Paget’s disease is a localised disease where there is an increase in bone resorption followed by abundant new bone formation. This new bone has a weak structure. 

Symptoms: The weakened bone structure causes problems such as bone deformities and easy fractures. In some cases there are no symptoms, but symptoms can include bone pain and stiff joints.

How it leads to hearing loss: While the prognosis for Paget’s disease is good and it can be kept under control, hearing loss can be a side-effect. There are several reasons for hearing loss; examples are destruction of the hair cells that transmit sound, and the stretching of the auditory nerve. 

Treatment: Paget’s disease is treated with anti-inflammatories. 

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3 Ways hearing aids can help improve your life

Getting hearing aids might not be something that you’re particularly excited about. In fact, you might be reluctant to wear them, even though you know that they can improve your hearing. Maybe you feel like you’re too young to wear hearing aids or you don’t like the thought of admitting that you need to use an assistive device. But hearing aids can improve your life exponentially. If you have been having difficulty hearing, wearing hearing aids will immediately boost your quality of life in several ways.

If you’re uncertain, take a look at these three ways hearing aids can benefit you:

1. They make it easier to socialise

Talking to other people can be tough when you have hearing difficulties. You might struggle to hear others talking or even strain to hear yourself. This isn’t just an annoyance; it can also affect your ability to socialize and your relationships in different areas of your life. It can make it harder to get along at work and to speak to your family and friends. Getting hearing aids can help you with this issue so that you can talk to people more easily. Your hearing aids can automatically adjust to filter out background noise and focus on speech. You can also sometimes choose from different preset programs and select the best one for noisy environments.

2. They keep you safe

Wearing hearing aids can also keep you safe. When you can’t hear everything, you can miss warning sounds and indications of danger. For example, you might not hear someone saying your name or perhaps you might miss the beeping of a faulty smoke alarm. Or you might misunderstand an instruction someone gives you, leading to a dangerous mistake. If you wear hearing aids, you should be more aware of the world around you. There’s less chance of you missing something important. Your hearing is also linked to your balance, and being able to hear better can help to prevent falls, especially for older people.

3. Stay healthy and alert

Did you know that hearing loss has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s? When you can’t hear properly, your brain has to put in a lot of effort to try and hear things, which can be exhausting. The loss of everyday noises may also have an effect on your brain, although it’s not exactly clear why. Using hearing aids helps to make you happier and healthier. You can be more alert and get more enjoyment from the everyday noises around you. Your brain will be more active and engaged, and not wasting so much energy on trying to hear. You can also stay healthy by being more active. If you can’t hear well, you might feel less confident when it comes to being active or even leaving the house. Improved hearing can help you to get your confidence back.

Make sure you see an audiologist for a hearing test if you think you might need hearing aids. They can test your hearing and help you choose the right hearing aids if you need them.

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Don’t let an outer ear infection spoil your holiday entertainment

As many people set out for holiday in coastal towns during the hot South African summer days, more attention should be paid to ear health. With people taking a dip at every opportunity, the risk of an outer ear infection can increase significantly. An early diagnosis of external otitis can prevent any serious infection. Here are the causes and treatments of outer ear infections.

Don’t neglect your ear care

Outer ear infection is common in the summer, when more people cool off in the sea or in a pool. The outer ear remaining wet, contact with dirty pool water, seawater or foreign bodies, allergy, other skin conditions and chronic diseases like diabetes are the main factors that increase the risk of an outer ear infection.

This is why patients who have previously had an outer ear infection suffer from the same disease again if attention is not paid. Outer ear infection is often caused by bacteria and fungi, while viruses and parasites can rarely be a factor. The chronic condition of the outer ear infection, which often occurs in the form of acute infections, is called “swimmer’s ear,” which is very difficult to treat.

Ways to avoid outer ear infection

The main principle for avoiding outer ear infection is to remove risk factors. The ways of avoiding can be listed as follows:

  • Treat and keep your chronic diseases under control.
  • Do not keep water in ear and do not use ear sticks during shower.
  • Do not swim in dirty and low chlorine pools and in dirty parts of the sea.
  • Use silicone stopper when swimming in order to prevent water from getting into outer ear.
  • Remove the water escaping to the ear after swimming with head movements.
  • You can use a few drops of vinegar to ensure the optimal PH level in the outer ear after swimming.

Outer ear infection includes clinical cases including serious life-threatening infections. For this reason, diagnosis should be made at the earliest stage of complaints and treatment should be started quickly.

Smelly earwax in your ear

The outer ear is a canal shaped, extending from earlap to eardrum, with one end opening outward and the other closed by eardrum. The outer ear is a structure that is susceptible to infections due to being a canal with one end open, poor ventilation and its humid environment. It is possible to list the three main symptoms of outer ear infection as pain, discharge and hearing loss. The pain can be severe and increase when you touch your ear. The discharge is yellow-green and usually smells bad. Hearing loss results from outer ear edema and discharges from outer ear due to infection. The disease can be easily diagnosed by a simple ear examination in the patient with the aforementioned complaints. In diagnosis, it is important to distinguish that the discharge is not from middle ear, but from outer ear. Therefore, a specialist examination is recommended.

After the examination, the specialist doctor will determine the best method of treatment. The outer ear should be thoroughly cleaned during treatment. Local antibiotic drops, cortisone drops and painkillers are used. Since ear drops cannot reach the canal in patients with highly edematous and closed outer ear canal, suppositories should be placed in outer ear for a few days to ensure that the drops reach the canal.

More severe in diabetic patients

Systemic antibiotic use and rarely hospitalization may be required for advanced outer ear infections in people with risk factors, such as diabetes. During treatment, ears should be protected from water and water sports should be suspended. Materials such as hearing aids, headphones and stoppers should not be used during this period as they make the treatment harder.

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The connection between hearing loss and diabetes

About 6% of the South African population – about 3.5million people – suffer from diabetes, and 5 million more are estimated to have pre-diabetes – when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered as diabetes.

If you’re one of them, take note. You may want to keep a close watch on your hearing, too. Research indicates diabetics are more than twice as likely to develop hearing loss than those without the disease.  

Firstly, what is diabetes?

Very simply, diabetes inhibits the body’s ability to produce and/or manage insulin appropriately, causing glucose to build up in the bloodstream instead of feeding hungry cells. The number of people diagnosed with this disease is on the rise, jumping more than 50 percent in the last decade, according to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation.

All types of diabetes can impact blood flow
to the cells in the inner ear. 

There are three types of diabetes:

  • Those diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes are unable to produce the insulin required to move glucose into cells due to an autoimmune situation in which the body attacks the beta cells which produce the hormone.
  • Those diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are able to produce their own insulin; however, the quantity may not be sufficient or effective enough to move glucose into the cells.
  • Some pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, a condition in which hormones make the body’s cells more resistant to insulin. Gestational diabetes typically disappears once the baby is delivered.  

In all three cases, the result is an elevation in blood sugar levels which must be managed. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart failure and stroke. Symptoms of the disease include frequent urination, increased thirst and/or hunger, sleepiness, weight loss, blurred vision, difficulty in concentrating and slow healing of infections.

What does diabetes have to do with hearing loss?

In recent years, two studies have examined the relationship between diabetes and hearing loss.

  • In a 2008 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), diabetic participants were found to be more than twice as likely to have mild to moderate hearing loss than those without the disease. The occurrence of high-frequency hearing loss was more prevalent in diabetics (54%) than in non-diabetics (32%).
  • An additional study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2012 supported NIH’s previous findings. This study analyzed results from 13 studies involving more than 20,000 participants. The study concluded that diabetics were more likely to have hearing loss than those without the disease, regardless of their age.

Scientists are not entirely sure why diabetes negatively impacts the sense of hearing; however, they suspect high blood glucose levels cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear.

Like other parts of the body, the hair cells of the inner ear rely on good circulation to maintain health. These hair cells are responsible for translating the noise our ears collect into electrical impulses, which they send along the auditory nerve to the brain to interpret as recognizable sound. These sensory hair cells, known as stereocilia, do not regenerate. Once they are damaged or die, hearing is permanently affected. The resulting sensorineural hearing loss can often be treated with hearing devices such as hearing aids or cochlear devices. A hearing evaluation will determine the amount of hearing loss; an Advanced Hearing healthcare professional can interpret those results to recommend appropriate treatment options.

How to protect your hearing if you have diabetes

Although sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it is possible to protect your remaining hearing. Here are a few tips:

  • Turn down the volume on personal electronic devices, the television and car radio. Protect your ears from excessive noise with headphones or disposable earplugs if you engage in noisy hobbies or know you’ll be attending an event where noise levels will excessive.
  • Incorporate an appropriate amount of exercise into your daily routine. Even a moderate amount improves circulation and blood flow. Talk to your doctor about what type of exercise is best for you.
  • Maintain an appropriate weight. Excessive weight makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood effectively to all parts of your body, including your ears.  

Most importantly, schedule a hearing evaluation with a hearing healthcare professional as soon as possible and share your diabetes diagnosis as part of your medical history. This information, along with the results of your hearing evaluation, will help the two of you determine the best course of treatment going forward.

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