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OVER THE COUNTER HEARING AIDS….ARE THEY WORTH IT?

Hearing loss is detrimental, yet one of the most ignored medical symptom. Hearing loss can cause frustration in communicating with loved ones. Hearing loss can contribute to emotional problems, drop in self-esteem and confidence leading to social withdrawal. Hearing loss can also lead to fewer job opportunities and loss of income. Hearing loss can also be confused with other medical symptoms such as dementia. But perhaps the reason hearing loss is ignored by the sufferer is that pain is in most cases not a symptom associated with hearing loss. We typically go to a physician to find relief for pain. But if we don’t experience pain, we tend to believe “everything is okay”. Except with hearing loss, “everything is not okay”.

Since pain is not involved, a person who believes s/he is suffering from hearing loss may try to find the easy solution and avoid seeing a professional, such as an otolaryngologist or an audiologist. The simple, and least expensive solution, would to simply go to a retail store and by cheap over the counter hearing aids. They may cost somewhere between $50.00 to $250.00 – simply much cheaper than going to an otolaryngologist or an audiologist and investing much more on hearing aids. But research has shown that even though over the counter hearing aids are easily available, still only approximately 30% of estimated people with hearing loss seek hearing loss improvement. This is also the case in China, where hearing aids can be dispensed FOR FREE! Why is that? Perhaps, the fact that pain is not a symptom of hearing loss is a reason people don’t improve their hearing. And also, perhaps over the counter hearing aids just make surrounding noises louder and really don’t improve communication and hearing contributes to that statistic as well. Simply making everything louder doesn’t improve communication.

Hearing disorders are not always to same with each individual. Sometimes, hearing loss is just simply caused by ear wax. Hearing loss may also be due to middle ear infections. But most of the time, hearing loss that occurs gradually or without symptoms of pain is sensorineural, or “nerve loss” that may have occurred over a period of time due to noise exposure, aging, or simply “the outer hair cells and/or hearing nerve not working as well as it used to work”. In this case, the detriments of hearing loss that the sufferer may not be noticing – problems communicating with loved ones, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem, loss of income – are occurring. Sensorieneural hearing loss affects each individual differently. If that wasn’t the case, simply purchasing a cheap over the counter amplification would fix everything! But as most individuals suffering from hearing loss unfortunately find out, the over the counter aid just didn’t fix their problems. And an unnecessary $250.00 was wasted.

Because each case of hearing disorder is individual, an appointment with an audiologist and otolaryngologist for a hearing test would be a great first step. Even if you are suspecting hearing loss, and especially when your loved ones suspect you are suffering from hearing loss. An audiologist will be able to evaluate your hearing and communication needs, and what will be needed to improve your communication and self-esteem. An otolaryngologist would also be able to treat medical conditions such as ear wax and infections if that were to be the cause of the hearing loss. Thus it is important to FIRST find the cause of hearing loss…which a clerk selling an over the counter hearing aid CANNOT DO. The audiologist will be able to find the appropriate hearing instruments and hearing services that will improve your communication, self-esteem, and enjoyment of life…and maybe even increase your income.

Now, this may mean you need to invest more for appropriate hearing aid systems, whether they be custom fit hearing aids or miniature behind the ear hearing aids, called “Receiver In The Canal” hearing aids, that are discrete that are the most effective and comfortable style today. The technology today is designed for YOUR INDIVIDUAL HEARING LOSS, as simply making everything louder is not effective. The fine tuning of higher technology allows the brain to effectively process incoming sound information needed for communicating, especially in background noise situations such as restaurants. The microphones and computerized technology NOT FOUND in over the counter hearing aids are critical in allowing a person to focus in on speech in noisy environments, and be able to localize speech. Localization is critical in understanding speech in background noise, as well as being able to detect and hear environmental safety sounds. Advanced hearing aids will also provide natural listening so you can enjoy the sounds of nature, such as birds chirping, music, and the laughter of your grandchildren.

We hear with our brain, with the auditory cortex analyzing incoming sound, providing the rest of the brain with information allowing us to communicate and enjoy life activities. If the auditory cortex does not receive accurate sound information, the brain will lose its ability to communicate. Thus, it is CRITICAL that hearing aid systems provide the brain and auditory cortex with accurate sound information needed for hearing, understanding, localizing, and in some cases, overcome the negative effects of tinnitus, a symptoms often associated with hearing loss. These are all things that require highly advanced hearing aid processing. Over the counter hearing aids simply can’t accomplish this. So if you are suffering from hearing loss, don’t think that because there is no pain involved, you can simply save some money and just make everything louder. You are important! Make an investment in better hearing loss improvement and healthcare, and get back in touch with the ones you love!

Having Trouble with Tinnitus? Avoid silence…

One of the most common complaints we hear from our patients is regarding tinnitus. The most frequently asked question is how to make tinnitus go away. Unfortunately, there is no FDA approved medical treatment to cure tinnitus. The biggest reason for this is that the cause of tinnitus in each individual is unclear and no two cases are the same. But, in most cases, tinnitus is worse in quiet environments.

Most researchers agree that people experiencing tinnitus are also likely to be suffering from hearing loss. The damage to inner ear hair cells that are responsible for our hearing can be damaged over time by noise exposure, medications and aging. This hair cell damage can lead to hearing loss accompanied by high pitched ringing, buzzing or even “cricket-like” sounds. The auditory cortex, or the “brain of hearing”, needs input from the hearing mechanism in order for you to hear and understand speech clearly. Research has shown that the auditory cortex is in a “search mode”, looking for sounds to process. If there is no sound, or very little sound, to process the auditory cortex may actually be trying to process the hair cell damage. This leads to an enhanced perception of the ringing or buzzing and causes more stress and anxiety to the individual suffering from tinnitus. If there is environmental sound present the auditory cortex has sound to process and the tinnitus may not be as heavy perceived.

An example demonstrating this is a birthday cake with lit candles. When the candles are in a lighted room they still can be seen, but as soon as the lights in the room go out the candles are more noticeable. The light from the candles is always present, whether or not the room is lighted or not. The candles simply appear brighter in a dark room. Likewise, tinnitus from damaged hair cells will always be present, even when the person with tinnitus is in a noisier environment. As soon as you are removed from the noisy environment and enter a quiet environment the tinnitus becomes much more noticeable.

If you are suffering from hearing loss along with tinnitus, you are not receiving sufficient auditory stimulation. This causes a lack of speech and environmental input to the auditory cortex. Now, not only are you unable to understand and communicate, but the tinnitus is more distracting. A simple way to treat this problem is with the use of hearing aids. With hearing aids, the auditory cortex is receiving more natural stimulation from environmental sounds and conversations. Even in a quiet room hearing aids will pick up sounds from the air conditioner, a clock ticking or music from a radio or television that otherwise may not be heard. The ability to hear more natural environmental sounds provides a “masking” effect for the tinnitus, allowing the hearing aid wearer to hear what they are supposed to hear. The auditory cortex now is able to process the environmental and speech sounds, not the tinnitus.

Hearing aid technology today is much more effective in masking annoying tinnitus than ever before! In addition to the outstanding sound quality, hearing aids can also provide tinnitus

therapy and there are programs that further reduce stress caused from tinnitus. For example, Widex Zen therapy provides musical tones that sound similar to wind chimes. This provides a pleasant acoustic stimulation that reduces stress-related tinnitus. Another instrument from Resound provides a tinnitus sound generator that can be adjusted around the perceived pitch and volume of the tinnitus. Fortunately, in most cases simply wearing hearing aids can alleviate the stress caused by tinnitus.

While hearing aids may not cure your tinnitus, they can help you avoid silence and your tinnitus symptoms!

Steven W. Sick M.S., CCC-A

Director of Audiology

What could be causing problems with my swallowing?

There can be nothing more uncomfortable than to have issues swallowing or a have feeling like there is a “lump” in your throat.  This feeling is termed a “globus” sensation. There are multiple reasons why you could be experiencing this sensation and providing us with a detailed explanation of when and where can help us determine your treatment.

The medical term for “problem swallowing” is dysphagia.  If you feel like food is getting caught in your throat or chest, this can often be a symptom of a narrow esophagus.  Specialized radiological studies can help to determine if you have this and, if needed, our surgeons can perform a special procedure that can dilate the esophagus back to normal size.

Gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD) is another reason why someone can also have a globus sensation.  When gastric acids travel back up into the throat, it can cause inflammation which can contribute to having that irritating feeling.  This condition is normally treated with anti-reflux medications designed to reduce the amount of acids your stomach produces.

Allergies and chronic post nasal drip can also cause throat irritation. When nasal drainage is in excess, it frequently travels down the back of a person’s throat and can cause a burning feeling and discomfort.  Post nasal drip is treated with antihistamines and certain nasal sprays.  Allergy testing and immunotherapy treatment can also be useful to improve this condition long term.

Other problems like throat cancer and thyroid issues can also cause a globus sensation which is a reason why we take swallowing problems seriously at ENT Specialists.

All of our providers are capable of performing a relatively simple in office procedure called a “Flex Laryngoscopy” to help determine the cause of your swallowing problem and can also order specialized testing if needed.  Flex laryngoscopy also can determine the cause of chronic hoarseness and voice issues.

We hope that you better understand why you should have your swallowing problem checked out soon and that getting you feeling better is our primary focus at ENT Specialists.

Josh Snearly, NP-C

I just got hearing aids, now what do I do?

You, family members, or friends may have noticed that you had difficulty following conversation, especially at the dinner table, or when in a noisy environment. You may have also suffered from tinnitus or “ringing in the ears’. Whatever your difficulties were, you are now on the path to better hearing by wearing hearing aids.

Now that you are wearing hearing aids, there are several steps to take to ensure successful hearing aid use. The first step is being a ‘full time’ hearing aid wearer. Consistency is key when it comes to hearing. We hear with our brains so the more you wear your hearing aids, the quicker your brain will adjust to hearing sounds that you haven’t heard before or in a long time. If you only wear your hearing aids for an hour a day, the adjustment process will take longer. The more consistently you wear your hearing aids, the more natural they will sound.

The next step is understanding how to handle and use your hearing aids. As an audiologist, we will thoroughly review how to insert and remove your hearing aids along with the cleaning, care, and maintenance procedures. We want to make the transition from the office to home as easy and seamless as possible.

The final step in successful hearing aid use is proper follow up care. The typical follow up care schedule includes one appointment a week after your initial fitting. This allows the audiologist to ensure you are comfortable, satisfied, and receiving the benefit you need from your hearing aids. After that, a follow-up appointment every six months is recommended or if needed sooner. This follow up schedule is a general guideline, every individual and hearing loss is different and unique. In order to meet everyone’s needs you can be seen as frequently or infrequently as you prefer.

Overall, following these steps will allow the audiologist to ensure that you are successful with your hearing aids. After all, the goal is for you to be part of the conversation again. Hearing aids are meant to provide audibility, comfort, and effortless hearing.

Sarah Dryanski, Au.D

Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month

“Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month is a worldwide observance, sponsored and initiated by ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association. It began in 2000, as a week in September. In 2003, it expanded to the whole month of September.

Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month listed in directories and references, including the American Hospital Association’s Calendar of Health Observances & Recognition Days.

Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month promotes thyroid cancer awareness for early detection, as well as care based on expert standards, and increased research to achieve cures for all thyroid cancer.”

http://www.thyca.org/home/

This has been a busy year for our practice with respect to thyroid cancer.  We have managed many patients with newly diagnosed thyroid cancer.  Thyroid cancer is not very common (only about 60,000 new cases annually in the U.S), but is increasing in incidence.  Fortunately, most thyroid cancers fall under the category of well-differentiated thyroid cancers, meaning that they are not typically as aggressive as the poorly-differentiated thyroid cancers.

The most common factors for development of thyroid malignancy are family history, a history of ionizing radiation to the neck, and autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis).  Patients do not tend to have symptoms when they have a cancerous nodule, although they can often detect a mass or lump in the neck, difficulty swallowing, or hoarseness.  Occasionally, symptoms of underactive or overactive thyroid function may be present (including, but not limited to heat/cold intolerance, weight loss/gain, palpitations, anxiety, swelling in the extremities).

Thyroid cancers are typically diagnosed with fine needle aspiration biopsies or surgical removal of a gland that is causing symptoms.  After surgical removal, thyroid cancer can be further controlled by administration of radioactive iodine in order to ablate residual microscopic thyroid disease.  This is typically done in conjunction with an endocrinologist (physician specializing in disorders of the thyroid and other endocrine glands).

Surgery is performed in the hospital under general anesthesia via a small incision in the midline of the neck.  Most patients are discharged home the morning after surgery and return to their normal daily activities within a few days.  Thyroid surgery does not tend to be a painful operation, and many of my patients barely require much in the way of strong pain medication afterwards.  Healing is typically fairly quick and the incision tends to be completely healed over in about two weeks.

A recent patient of mine underwent surgery earlier this year and had just one major concern, in addition to cancer, of course: the patient wanted to be sure that there would be complete healing prior to the wedding.  The wedding was scheduled for 3 months after we initially met.  We were able to coordinate with the endocrinologist and get the patient cancer free in just a couple of months and in time for the nuptials!

If you would like to consult with our office concerning thyroid disease, including thyroid cancer, please contact us anytime at (770) 345-6600.  We look forward to meeting with you!

Lawrence L. Robinson, Jr., MD

 

Back to School

August is back to school month and an exciting time for kids to get new clothes and school supplies.  While crayons, paper, backpacks, and notebooks are all on the school supply list, going from the swimming pool to the back-to-school germ pool can be more messy than a leaky glue bottle.  By taking basic measures, you can help keep your child healthy which means less missed school days.

Hand hygiene:  If your child is old enough and the school allows it, pack their bag with hand sanitizer and teach them to wash their hands throughout the school day, especially before eating. This will help limit exposure to germs and help reduce the amount of colds.

Allergies:  In the late summer and fall, allergy season is still ongoing, with grass and weed pollens being predominant.  When your child breathes the pollen into their nose, it triggers a histamine reaction that can cause swelling and a runny nose.  This can lead to narrowing of the sinus openings contributing to sinusitis. By effectively controlling allergies, you can help reduce the number of sinus infections.   At ENT Specialists, we take allergies serious and can safely test and treat allergies so that your child is not the “runny nose kid” at school.

Hearing tests We frequently evaluate children who have had failed hearing screens at school.  Often, failed hearing screens are due to the child not testing well at the school or from active infections or fluid in the ear.  At ENT Specialists, we can help facilitate getting your child back on track.  Our offices all have an audiologist and audio booth for simple, accurate hearing testing and can make referral to speech therapists if needed.

Strep Throat and frequent tonsillitis:   Children with frequent tonsillitis and strep throat may be need to have their tonsils removed surgically. Other signs of enlarged tonsils are difficulty swallowing and snoring.  Should your child need to have their tonsils out, expect them to be out of school for two weeks so they can recover.  Most teachers and schools do a great job of providing school work and focused assignments so that your child does not get behind when they are recovering at home.

We hope that you and your family have the best healthy school year to date.  Should you need our services, our staff at ENT Specialists in Canton, Jasper, and Blue Ridge are all ready to evaluate and effectively treat your child, so you can get them back on the bus.

Josh Snearly, NP-C

Recurrent Ear Infections: How can tubes help?

By the age of 2 more than 80% of children will suffer from an ear infection. Ear infections are usually accompanied by an upper respiratory infection. The Eustachian tubes of children under the age of 3 are more horizontal than adults. This allows fluid to get trapped in the middle ear space which leads to infection. Acute ear infections are usually effectively treated with oral antibiotics. Tympanostomy tubes are a viable treatment option when infections become recurrent and/or unresponsive to conservative antibiotic treatment.

Myringotomy with tympanostomy tube placement is a common procedure for the management of chronic and recurrent ear infections. A small incision is made in the ear drum through which a small soft tube is placed. This tube provides drainage, ventilation and pressure equalization to the middle ear. This procedure can reduce occurrence infections and improve hearing.

Hearing is assessed before and after tube placement. A post-operative appointment is made a few weeks after surgery and periodically thereafter. During these follow up appointments we will check for any changes in hearing, the condition of the tubes and the eardrum. The tubes stay in place for an average of 12 months. The body then begins to reject the tube and it is pushed out of the ear drum. Usually by the time the tubes are extruded, the child has outgrown the need for tubes and a second set is not necessary.

Crystal Rice, NP

Hearing Aids and the Difference Between Hearing and Listening

Choosing the correct hearing aids can be confusing. There are so many brands of hearing aids, as well as many places you can buy hearing aids. Hearing aids can be purchased at retail stores such as Sams Club, private audiology practices, medical practices, and even online or over the counter. But where is the best place to purchase hearing aids that will best meet your communication needs? Can purchasing hearing aids online, over the counter or at retail stores be just as effective as being fit professionally at a medical practice?

Yes, you can save some money going to a retail store, or find hearing aids online at a reduced cost… .. initially. But will they really improve your communication and lifestyle? Perhaps knowing the difference between “hearing” and “listening” will help you make the correct decision. Finding a quality product, and most importantly, PROFESSIONAL CARE, is what should assist you in making a decision on purchasing hearing aids that will indeed improve your way of life. That is, finding appropriate hearing aids and a professional team that will allow you to “LISTEN” rather than just merely “HEARING”.

First, let’s differentiate “hearing” from “listening.

Hearing can be defined as “perceiving and being aware that a sound is present”. Sounds can be amplified so they can be heard more easily. The television can be turned to a higher volume so it can be heard. Hearing aids that just amplify sounds, especially those purchased on line or over the counter, can make everything around you louder and easier to hear. But just merely making everything louder doesn’t necessarily address the other concept…”LISTENING”.

Listening is a far more sophisticated process that is much more complex than just hearing and being aware of sounds. Listening means “being able to attribute meaning to sound”. In research by Dr. Douglas L. Beck, AUD, Beck stated that “Listening is Where Hearing Meets Brain”. In order to improve your communication with hearing aids, people need to be able to make sense of sound, not just hear it. Listening involves cognitive abilities, such as working memory, processing directionality of sounds, speed of sounds, and being able to compare and contrast auditory information. The brain must interperet interaural loudness differences and interaural timing differences to know where to listen. Listening involves the brain being able to orient, separate, focus, and recognize sounds to apply meaning to them. If we just made everything louder, which is what amplifiers and older hearing aid technology will do, the ability to actually “listen” is greatly diminished. This results in increased listening effort, which in turns cause people with hearing loss and inferior hearing aids to become exhausted and extremely frustrated at the end of the day, leading to social withdrawal and in many cases, depression.

Ultimately, the goal of our Professional Team of physicians and audiologists is to provide the brain, or the auditory cortex, with the best possible acoustic signals so the auditory cortex, or the brain can “LISTEN” rather than just merely hearing. Or to quote Dr. Douglas Beck, we want “hearing to meet brain”. To accomplish the goal of listening, we continually research the best products that will provide the brain with the best auditory cues, improving signal to noise ratios (enhancing speech in the presence of background noise), reducing background noise, enhancing the ability to locate speech, and the ability to tell where important sounds are coming from. And as important as the hearing instruments we provide to meet the objective of “listening”, it is just as important to provide you with our expertise and help along the way in achieving your goal of listening. From continual maintenance of your instruments, to evaluating the functioning of your hearing aids, and to medically monitor your hearing, we want to make sure you continue to achieve the goal of “listening” for as long as you wear your hearing instruments. Which of course leads to the ultimate goal of improving your communication and way of life, and to prevent you from becoming “exhausted at the end of the day”.

Steven Sick, M.S., CCC-A

Are you managing your allergies or are they managing you?

The birds are chirping, flowers are blooming and the sun is shining.  Spring should be a time of beautiful new beginnings and colorful new life all around.  Unfortunately, many of us associate spring with sneezing, itchy watery eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose and postnasal drip.  Seasonal allergy symptoms are most evident in the spring and fall and are caused by the inhalation of pollen that comes from trees, grasses and weeds.  Perennial allergy symptoms last year round and are often due to dust mites, mold, animal dander and cockroach debris.  There are a few ways to manage these allergy symptoms that make so many people miserable.

When practical, avoidance of allergy triggers is an effective way to eliminate symptoms.  Some ways to avoid these troublesome allergens include:

  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to reduce the amount of exposure to allergens while vacuuming
  • Wash all bedding with hot water at least weekly
  • Use dust mite proof pillow cases and mattress covers
  • Do not allow pets to sleep in the bedroom
  • Keep house and car windows closed during times of high pollen and mold
  • Use a HEPA filter in HVAC systems

Another way to manage allergy symptoms is the use of daily medications.  Oral and nasal antihistamines are an effective way to block the body’s response to allergens.  Nasal corticosteroids reduce intranasal inflammation and block the body’s response to allergens.  Leukotriene receptor antagonists block the action of other chemical messengers involved in allergic response.

The most effective and long lasting way to manage allergy symptoms is immunotherapy.  Immunotherapy is an effective way to modify the body’s immune response to allergens.  The first step in initiating immunotherapy is allergy testing.  Testing can be done in the office and tells us not only the presence of an allergy, but also the degree to which an individual responds to various allergens. These results are used to mix an allergy serum unique to each individual.  This serum can either be given in the form of weekly subcutaneous injections or daily sublingual drops.  Immunotherapy can be life changing by preventing or drastically reducing the body’s allergic response.

Are you are ready to positively change your life and start enjoying the outside again?  If the answer is yes call ENTAS today to schedule your allergy testing.

Crystal Rice, MSN, FNP-C

Chronic Sinusitis and Balloon Sinuplasty

Runny nose? Sinus pain and pressure? Sneezing? Is this a cold, allergies, or is something wrong with my sinuses? These are common symptoms and questions that many patients encounter and come to ENT Specialists looking for answers.

Chronic sinusitis is swelling and infection of the sinuses for at least 12 weeks. Often times, patients have tried several rounds of antibiotics without any relief. The openings to the inflamed sinuses get narrowed or blocked off resulting in the body unable to completely rid itself of the infection. This is why many patients experience an improvement of symptoms while they are taking an antibiotic but soon return to being sick soon after finishing the medicine.

Through the use of specialized endoscopes and utilizing specialized CT imaging, we can evaluate your sinuses and check for chronic sinusitis. If you indeed do have chronic sinusitis, you may need a procedure called Balloon Sinuplasty. This specialized procedure is performed by the ENT surgeon and uses a small wire that is guided into the opening of the closed sinus. A small balloon is inflated which helps to open up the sinus. The balloon is deflated then removed leaving a nicely opened sinus, which can now allow airflow and nasal sprays in, and the infection you have been fighting for so long out. By using special techniques, our surgeons keep you comfortable and pain free during your in office procedure.

It is important to realize that Balloon Sinuplasty does not cure allergies, however treating chronic sinusitis and controlling allergies is important. Often, patients struggle with allergies over a long period of time which can help lead to chronic sinusitis. Allergy testing with ENT Specialists is a great way to evaluate the severity of your allergies to help guide your treatment and keep sinusitis away. Balloon Sinuplasty and allergy testing are just some of the ways that ENT Specialists can help improve your wellness and keep you healthy!

Josh Snearly, NP-C