October is National Audiology Awareness Month! Almost everyone knows that audiologists treat hearing loss, but did you know that we also can diagnose and treat balance disorders too?

According to the American Academy of Audiology, audiologists are the primary healthcare professionals who evaluate, diagnose, treat, and manage hearing loss and balance disorders in individuals of all ages. This is because balance is integrally linked to your hearing ability.

There are three basic “senses” that help your brain determine where you are and how you are moving throughout your environment: vision, proprioception (awareness of your joints, skin, and muscles), and the vestibular system (your inner ear).

Multiple studies have shown a strong relationship between hearing loss and the risk of falls. There are three likely causes for this association:

  1. The hearing and vestibular receptors are part of the same organ, so, often, damage to one part of the inner ear causes damage to the other.
  2. Poor awareness of the auditory environment can cause poor spatial awareness.
  3. The cognitive load of the hearing loss pulls attention away from the part of the brain that would typically be used for balance.

A recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins found that for every 10 dB decrease in hearing, the odds of falling increased by 140%. This means if someone’s hearing dropped from normal to a mild hearing loss there is almost a 3 times higher risk of falls. This is particularly concerning as mild hearing losses often go unnoticed.

Are there medical conditions that could affect my hearing or balance?

Many different medical conditions may affect your hearing and balance system. Diabetes is a perfect example of this. Just like high blood glucose can damage organs such as the eyes and kidneys, it can also damage the blood vessels in the inner ear. This makes it harder for signals related to hearing and balance to get to your brain. Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes than it is in those who do not have diabetes. Falls risk also increases with diabetes because of the damage it causes to the vestibular system and eyesight, as well as proprioception as it can affect the feeling in the extremities, such as the bottom of the feet.

What can I do right now for my balance and hearing health?

The easiest thing to do is to prevent the problem before it happens. For your balance, it’s recommended that you eat a healthy diet, continue regular check-ups with your primary care provider, engage in safe physical fitness (Tai Chi is particularly good for balance), and participate in local organizations that support balance health such as Steady for Life. If there is already a balance problem, or you’re concerned about falling, a fall risk assessment or vestibular rehabilitation with a physical therapist may be needed.

As for your hearing, it is best to always wear hearing protection in the presence of loud noise and decrease exposure to loud noise if at all possible; even things like switching from earbuds to headphones and lowering the volume of the music you listen to can make a difference. We also recommend that anyone 50 and older receive a baseline hearing evaluation, and hearing should be monitored regularly. If you have medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, thyroid problems, or are regularly around high noise (even with hearing protection), it’s recommended that you have your hearing evaluated annually.

What if I already have hearing loss? Can treating my hearing loss reduce my risk of balance issues or falls?

In a nutshell… more research is needed! Frank Lin (the researcher from Johns Hopkins) hopes to find out the answers to this in a new study he is planning. He says, “What we do know is that there’s no downside to using hearing aids. They help most people who try them. And for those people, they can make all the difference in the world—allowing people to reengage with friends and family and to be more involved again.”

Although nearly 27 million Americans age 50 and older have hearing loss, only one in seven uses a hearing aid. We need to bridge this gap to improve the quality of life for those who are hard of hearing and lower the likelihood of falls. That is why we have hearing aids for any budget, including for those who wouldn’t typically be able to afford hearing aids through our local non-profit:  Hearing the Call – Rocket City.

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Dr. Susan Sheehy

Dr. Sheehy earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in audiology at the University of Alabama before beginning her career as a clinical audiologist in Huntsville. In 2005, she received her doctorate in audiology from Salus University. Dr. Sheehy is one of a specialized subset of audiologists certified in tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). By appointment from the governor, she has served as a member and chairperson of the Alabama Board of Examiners in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.
    Real World Adjustments

    Your hearing loss didn't occur overnight, so it will take some time to adjust to the hearing aids. Your patience and persistence will be well worth it.

    AHA Continued Care & Coverage Plan

    $395 Per Year

    Hearing Aids are not a quick fix, and better hearing is truly a journey.

    Our "Continued Care & Coverage Plan" allows you to have the continued support of a hearing expert throughout the year.

    Includes:

    • Dedicated team of hearing care experts at your service
    • Comprehensive Annual Visit including hearing assessment, hearing device adjustment, and 19-Point preventative maintenance evaluation
    • 100% moisture removal by Redux and cleaning
    • Two tele-audiology appointments
    • Bi-annual hearing aid software update and reprogramming
    • Hearing aid supplies (stock receivers, batteries, domes, and filters)
    • Access to our "speed of light" repair specialists within 2 business days
    • $100 discount on any out-of-warranty factory repairs
    Assessing Outcomes

    To ensure the most success with your hearing devices, we measure the benefits of amplification at the end of your adjustment period—some of the surveys and tests included in the “Connect 365” Functional Hearing Assessment will be repeated to evaluate progress, quality of life, and patient satisfaction with the hearing aids. 

    Wireless Connections

    Most hearing aids automatically come with wireless streaming from smartphones and it has been a lifesaver for those that are working remotely and spending hours on teleconferences. As for other wireless accessories, the two most popular solutions are a small microphone used in less-than-ideal listening environments and a TV streamer that streams the TV’s sound directly into your ears—which can be a lifesaver when watching British TV shows or during football season. If your audiologist believes they would be beneficial for you, they will discuss your options and demonstrate the device in the office.

    Orientation, Counseling, and Follow-up

    Dr. Cliff (the creator of the Best Practice Pro Network) said it best:

    “Having a detailed orientation can dramatically improve how much success you have with hearing treatment.  Counseling & Follow-up care can also ensure that you have success for years to come.  Regular visits to a hearing care provider who spends the time to discuss treatment related information and who will maintain your devices is extremely important.”

    During the orientation, your provider will give you the tools you need to be a successful hearing aid user. Everyone has different learning styles and we want to make sure whatever works best for you is what’s used. After the 75 day adjustment period, routine checkups are necessary to maintain the hearing aids and to ensure optimal hearing healthcare. 

    What Is Real-Ear Measurement?

    Real-ear measurement (REM) is how an audiologist knows that hearing aids are working the way they should in each patient’s ears.

    Ears are as unique as a fingerprint. Because of this, every ear will collect sounds differently.

    Even if I had two patients with the exact same hearing loss and hearing aids, there’s almost no chance the hearing aids would be programmed the same way.

    How do I know my new hearing aids are working properly?

    Without verifying that the hearing aid is working correctly from the start, all of the other steps in the hearing aid fitting process are useless. The most sensitive quality control measure is something called Electroacoustic Analysis. We complete EAA on every new set of hearing aids, before delivery of repaired devices, and on an annual basis.

    Prescription Hearing Technology with a Methodical Plan

    Our community understands better than most what can be achieved when you combine technology with human intelligence and persistence. It is much the same with hearing technology.

    The latest prescription hearing aid technology is incredibly powerful, offering stellar sound quality and performance. Wireless connections allow phone calls, music and television to stream directly to your hearing aids for exceptional clarity.

    But hearing aids do not fit and program themselves! For best outcomes, you also need the human touch and expertise provided by our Doctors of Audiology.

    A Comprehensive12-Step Functional Hearing Assessment

    If you struggle to understand conversations in social situations, restaurants, or other noisy environments, you do not need to schedule a basic hearing test. You certainly don’t need to schedule a “free” hearing screening or online hearing test.

    You need to schedule a “Connect 365” Functional Hearing Assessment at Alabama Hearing Associates!

    Schedule Appointment

    ALL INCLUSIVE PLAN

    $7,280

    Comprehensive 5-Year treatment plan with premium prescription hearing aid technology

    If you want premium “out of this world” technology and the highest level of service and expert support, our All-Inclusive treatment plan is the right investment for you.

    The All-Inclusive treatment plan offers long-term value for your on-the-go lifestyle, providing everything you need to connect with family and friends for years to come.

    Includes:

    • Stellar  prescription hearing devices from top manufacturer (rechargeable option available)

    • Wireless accessory included at no charge

    • Comprehensive Annual Visit including hearing assessment, hearing device adjustment, and 19-Point preventative maintenance valutaion

    • Bi-annual hearing aid software update and reprogramming

    • Same day diagnosis and in-office repair during weekdays for devices dropped off before 3:00 p.m.

    • 5-Year full-service repair warranty

    • Unlimited remote hearing aid adjustments

    • 100% moisture removal by Redux and cleaning

    • Hearing aid supplies (stock receivers, batteries, domes and filters)

    • $1000 contribution towards purchase of upgraded technology within 48 months

    • 3-Year replacement warranty for loss or damage (no deductible)

    • Dedicated team of hearing care experts at your service

    • Unlimited teleaudiology appointments

    • Access to our “speed of light” repair specialists

    Basic Hearing Test

    A basic hearing test begins with an air conduction test. You will be seated in a soundproof booth and single-use, foam earphones will be inserted into your ear canals. The Audiologist will ask you to push a button or raise your hand when you barely hear a series of beeps (tones) presented at various frequencies (pitches) to obtain your air conduction thresholds.

    To determine whether your hearing loss is a conductive (mechanical) loss, sensorineural (permanent) loss or combination of the two, we perform a bone conduction test.  

    For this test, a head band is place on the bone behind one of the ears to obtain your bone conduction thresholds. This process provides a different form of sound transmission using vibration, which bypasses the eardrum and the middle ear bones and directly stimulates the auditory nerve. When you hear the beeps/tones, you will push a button or raise your hand.

    If bone conduction thresholds are better than air conduction thresholds (through the foam inserts), you have a conductive hearing loss. This suggests a problem with the mechanical structures (moving parts) of the ears.

    Conductive hearing loss is often a medically treatable condition for which we will provide you with a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician. However, if bone and air conduction thresholds match, it indicates a sensorineural hearing loss (permanent), and the treatment will likely involve hearing aids.