I hate the feeling of fullness in my ears when flying. For me it’s just annoying, but I’ve heard some people experience tremendous pain! . . . ‘Airplane ear,” is what it’s called and as you probably guessed, it has to do with air pressure on your eardrum caused by the change in altitude when a plane takes off and lands.
On recent travel, after landing with a bad case of ‘airplane ear’ I went to dinner with a friend and found it hard to follow conversation. Even though I could hear my friend speak, It seemed I could not think clearly without hearing well?
I thought it was odd until I spoke to Vivian Muccio, a board certified, licensed Audiologist in Fairfax County. Her practice ‘Hearing Solutions’ offers free hearing test to anyone who wants one! (I will post her information at the end of this post)
Vivian Muccio: “I said it before, hearing is more about the brain than the ear, and just this past year there’s a lot more research saying that even if you have a mild to moderate hearing loss it affects your memory, it affects your fatigue level, it affects your accuracy doing simple tasks – if there’s any speech involved because my brain – if you’re talking to me and I’m trying to do something, my brain is overtasked and has to do two things at the same time.”
An estimated 10 million Americans between the ages 45 to 64 have some hearing loss. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins showed that hearing-impaired people between 75 and 84 were more likely to have cognitive and memory issues than hearing adults the same age.
Vivian Muccio: “For me, that’s a big issue for education because dementia testing is mostly verbal, and most people don’t have hearing tests first, and that really might affect the results the physician looks at”
Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons is an organization whose mission is to empower hard of hearing persons and their families through advocacy, education and community involvement.
Bonnie O’Leary lost her hearing later in life and now works for NVRC as an outreach coordinator; she explains some of the misconceptions about hearing loss and aging.
Bonnie O’Leary: “Well, one in particular that we see is that sometimes people who are in that environment with seniors misinterpret some of the symptoms of hearing loss as being symptoms of dementia. I was in a retirement community some years back doing a training only to find out that they had admitted a 90 yr. old and put her on the dementia floor and it was only a couple of months that she was there that they discovered she was stone-cold-deaf! She didn’t have dementia at all…but some of the responses are very, very similar. That blank stare, looking confused, looking like you have no idea where you are or what you’re doing. That having been said – there are new studies that have come out in the last couple of years that are showing that there is a greater risk of onset dementia in people who don’t treat their hearing loss because we hear in our brain, we don’t hear in our ears, it’s in our brain – and when our brain isn’t getting that stimulation that is not a good thing long-term for older people. So it’s good to identify the hearing loss and see what you can do to have it treated.”
Every person’s hearing loss and lifestyle is different. While there is no hearing aid that can be a one size fits all, the right hearing aid, in addition to assistive devices and training in how to use it can help people with hearing loss not be so isolated.
Vivian Muccio explains the process of a hearing test by a licensed Audiologist:
“Well first we’re gonna do intake on you to kind of see how you think you’re hearing, what’s your family history, do you have any medical problems that need to be addressed….we’re also gonna ask you ‘what’s your lifestyle?’ Cause everybody has a different lifestyle – are you in a noisy environment, are you in quiet environments, are you traveling, you know – are you active physically, do you go jogging everyday? We’re going to ask you those kinds of questions about your lifestyle so we can determine what you are as an individual – what your hearing aid needs might be.”
“After the interview where I’m gonna check your ears for wax and the health of your ear.
“I’m looking at the eardrum to see if it’s nice and clear – it should look transparent. I’m looking to see if there’s any wax blocking the ear – I’m looking to see if maybe there’s some fungus in the ear medically that needs to be treated, and then would refer you to a doctor for treatment like that. Is the eardrum intact? Is there a hole in the eardrum? Is there any malformation of the eardrum itself?”
Then we’re going to take you back and actually find your thresholds are, or your actual hearing acuity by actually testing you in the booth – we’re gonna give you some little beeps and whistles to listen to in both ears, and we’re also gonna do some speech testing to see the clarity of your ear – not just the loudness that you need or how your hearing is.”
“It’s going to tell me the range – and that might determine somewhat the hearing aid, but now hearing aids have gotten more powerful and smaller, so you can get a really tiny hearing aid and still get a lot of power out of that. So you can keep changing as the technology changes. Everything is about the computer chip now, so we’re actually programming your data from the hearing test into the hearing aid computer chip and making as close of a match as we can. Hearing aids come in different styles – they can go over the ear, they can go in the ear and be very tiny, practically invisible nowadays – and some hearing aids can actually be fit that we put it in every three months, and every three months we take it out and put a new one in. You can swim with it, shower with it, sleep with it, and that’s something new that’s just come around probably w/in the past 5 years.”
Because the cost of hearing aids can be expensive, many people avoid scheduled hearing test or purchase less expensive options, such as amplifiers that can be purchased on the Internet.
Vivian Muccio: In terms of the hearing aids itself, most insurances do not cover it ! In 2000 BlueCross Blue Shield Federal Government started offering $2000 per hearing aid every three years – now it’s up to $2500. Since then, other insurances – I think to be more competitive – have offered some coverage so you always want to call your insurance company and see if you do have coverage because you may not have had coverage in 2009, and you checked and you were gonna get hearing aids…and now it’s 2013 and you may have some coverage.
Vivian: “I say to most of my clients that every 3 to 5 years…it’s not that it’s not gonna work in 3-5 years, but the technology might have changed so much that you might wanna see what’s going to work for you. I used to make a joke that if they made something that you could lick and stick and put behind your ear to make you hear like you were 18, you might wanna get that. Doesn’t mean you have to – the hearing aids now can be reprogrammed, but the technology is doing more for noise than it ever has before. So if that’s an issue for you, if you’re very active – going to noisy places, noisy restaurants, you might wanna look into the technology cause we want to maximize your usable hearing because again – it’s all about your brain. The better the brain gets the signal, it’s clearer – the brain has to do less work.”
There are many different types of Hearing Health Professionals that do hearing test, experts suggest before you purchase hearing aids or assistive devices, do your homework to be sure they are on the up and up.
Bonnie O’Leary: “A very good friend of mine did an elder hostile study years ago. He went across the country with a colleague and they interviewed many seniors who were late-deafened, and the grief is absolutely astounding. It’s like losing a part of yourself, when you’re been hearing for most of your life you can juggle many, many balls at once…you can go here, there and catch the side at the end of the table, and catch the gossip at the water cooler, and that’s gone – you’re disconnected. You can be at a dining room table with all of your loved ones, your family, your friends, all the people in the world that you care about the most and it’s like watching a foreign language film w/o subtitles…so you’re there but you’re not really there. You’re separate – you begin to feel kind of marginalized, like you’re not the same person (even though you are) but you can’t do the same things, you can’t engage in the same way…the logical result of that is you stop going. You turn down invitations because you don’t want to put yourself through that, and you become lonely – you become very isolated and it’s a very bad thing for mental health overall. Especially when you’re older! You’ve got all these other issues on your plate – now you don’t hear so you just sit at home by yourself.”
Excerpt from NVRC Educational Material
- Get the best possible advice. Don’t let advertising claims and the opinions of others influence your decisions
- In Virginia you are legally entitled to a 30 day trial period for any hearing aid. Digital and programmable hearing aids sometimes come with a 60 day trial period.
- For some behind the ear models, you will pay about $50 for an ear mold made to fit snugly in your ear. There may be a special modification charge for in the ear or in the canal hearing aids.
- Ask about getting a Telecoil. Often called a T-Switch or telephone switch, the electromagnetic coil makes it much easier to hear on the telephone and use assistive listening devices systems now installed in many theatres, movie houses, places of worship, libraries and public meeting rooms.
- Batteries last usually 5-14 days, depending on size.
A hearing aid will make sounds louder and in many instances it will make them clearer. It has taken years to reach your current level of hearing loss, so don’t expect things to sound the way they use to. However, you should not experience any actual pain or physical discomfort. Feeback is often the result of improper fitting, loose ear molds, cracked tubing or other problems that can be fixed. Do not accept feedback.
The Northern Virginia Resource Center maintains a database of more than 2,000 resources and referral listings for anyone who is deaf or has hearing loss – 703-352-9055, (TTY) 9056 – 3951 Pender Drive, suite 130.
Vivian Muccio – Hearing Solutions of Fairfax PC 3930 Pender Dr #140 Fairfax, VA 22030 – (571) 432-0640