Read the transcript of Dr. Scherer’s talk about hearing loss on Health Matters radio or listen here.
Each week, we address health issues, talk about treatments, prevention, and ways to stay healthy. Brought to you by Integrated Rehabilitation Group Physical & Hand Therapy Clinics throughout the Puget Sound area, where you receive excellent care with exceptional results. Now, your hosts, Maury Eskenazi and Shannon O'Kelley.
Maury Eskenazi: Right now we are happy to have on Dr. Kimberly Scherer, audiologist from The Everett Clinic. Thanks for coming on with us.
Dr. Scherer: Thanks for having me.
Maury Eskenazi: You know, I deal with some hearing issues. When we went to The Evergreen Speedway and did that race, I was having trouble hearing for about a week or so afterwards. What causes hearing loss? Is it just loud noises and stuff?
Dr. Scherer: It can be. There are quite a few different possibilities as to what causes a hearing loss in adults. Oftentimes, it can be just from old age. We call it presbycusis. We have noise exposure. Certain medications can do it. Certain chemotherapies and antibiotics can do it. There are quite a variety of possibilities.
Shannon O'Kelley: What is the physiological cause of hearing loss? When you look into that inner ear and, for example, loud noises, where we talk about high decibels causing hearing loss. Is it damaging certain structures in your hearing system?
Dr. Scherer: Yes, in our inner ear, or what we call our cochlea, there are little hair cells, there are inner hair cells and outer hair cells. Those are the little structures that are getting damaged by noise and often different chemicals or different things that can damage these little guys, which causes the permanent hearing loss.
Shannon O'Kelley: And, my understanding, those little hairs, they sense sound waves…and in high-pitched noises long term, those hairs, they get knocked over, kind of.
Dr. Scherer: Yes, there's, on top of the actual hair cells, there are little things called stereocilia, and that's kind of what makes it look like little hair cells, that are getting damaged. There's too much motion, so to speak. There is fluid inside of our inner ear that moves around, and when it's too much, too loud, those little things can break off, they can bend, they can get swollen or damaged, and once they are damaged they stay that way. That's kind of the start. It kind of usually happens slowly and gradually over time, but it can happen suddenly if there is a very loud explosion, or something extremely loud, but usually it's a gradual process.
Shannon O'Kelley: So, I am guessing, like most rock stars have hearing issues, then, right? Well, when you talk about industrial hearing loss, folks that work around loud noises…
Dr. Scherer: It's how loud and how long. It depends on how many decibels the sound is. If it’s 80 decibels it is going to take a lot longer for the damage to happen versus if it is 120 decibels. The louder it is, the less time you have to be exposed to it before the damage will happen. You need to know for how long and how loud the sound is.
Shannon O'Kelley: And, Maury, you were talking about, I mean, before we came on the air, you were talking about being in the pits at a race. Then, after that event, you felt like you maybe had some numbness or hearing was desensitized.
Maury Eskenazi: Yeah, actually, I went to the doctor, and I didn't even think about it. And then, Tom Lafferty, who was also there with me, he was doing play by play, he goes, "You do realize you were in the pits for four hours during a race?"
Shannon O'Kelley: But, your hearing came back.
Maury Eskenazi: Yeah.
Shannon O'Kelley: So, what Maury experienced, is that normal to have that little temporary hearing loss?
Dr. Scherer: Yes, we call it a temporary threshold shift, and that can happen where those hair cells can get a little bit swollen, a little bit damaged, and then they kind of calm back down. But, if that happens repeatedly, then that is when it becomes more permanent.
Maury Eskenazi: We are talking with Dr. Kimberly Scherer, audiologist from The Everett Clinic.
Shannon O'Kelley: What kind of things will show you if you have hearing loss?
Dr. Scherer: It often happens really slowly. People don't realize what is happening. They don't notice the hearing loss. They just notice some signs. People will say, "You know, I can hear my wife talking, but she sounds like she is mumbling." Or, "I can hear, but not understand." Or, "I can hear this, I can hear fine here, but not here." People will blame it on someone else or the situation, but they don't realize that they are developing a hearing loss. A lot of times I have people coming to see me not because they wanted to come see me, but because their spouse wanted me to see them.
Maury Eskenazi: Right. That’s kind of how it works.
Shannon O'Kelley: But, the neat thing is, in today's world the technology and sophistication, I mean, a lot of people are very sensitive to wearing hearing aids...
Shannon O'Kelley: Back in the day, they were the big boxes attached on your glasses, I mean, they were huge. Now, you have these very subtle, almost implants you can put in your ear, and they are very sophisticated.
Shannon O'Kelley: Tell us about what is going on technology wise.
Dr. Scherer: It's changing fast. In the last 10 years it's just completely changed what they look like, what they do, what the capabilities are. It's fun to see. Nowadays, they are really discreet, for the most part. A lot of times, you won’t even notice if someone is wearing them. The technology has changed so much that there are other things in addition to hearing aids that can be used as well. You can have Blue Tooth capabilities with hearing aids…you can hear in both ears on your cell phone calls. They have little remote microphones. If you having a hard time hearing in a restaurant, your wife can have a little clip-on microphone that she wears that picks up her voice more directly.
Dr. Scherer: Hearing aids now have, a lot of them have different tinnitus programs, so although people say, "I have ringing or buzzing sounds in my ears and it's really bothersome," there is likely not a cure for that particular issue, but hearing aids can have programs so they can mask the sound a little an ocean noise or tones or melodies they hear, just softly, so it masks that noise so they do not perceive their tinnitus as much, they are just hearing kind of a low-level sound that makes it more pleasant.
Shannon O'Kelley: Speaking to someone who had a dad who had a hard time with hearing aids, because they would, "I could hear everybody in the far side of the room but I couldn't hear mom across the table." Have they improved that pretty much?
Dr. Scherer: They have. It's certainly not perfect and it's not going to replace normal hearing, but they have come a long way. They have what's called directional microphones so with the hearing aid, you can kind of press a button so they go into a, what we call a noise program, and the microphones will try and focus in on what you're looking at, so wherever your nose is pointed to the microphones are trying to pick up that sound more than the surrounding sounds, so that can be really helpful. Part of it depends on the person's hearing loss: how well they are going to hear with them, how much distortion and how much damage is in their inner ear will affect how well they are going to do with any hearing aid, regardless of how sophisticated it is.
Maury Eskenazi: How about hearing implants? There's big strides in that type of thing, right?
Dr. Scherer: There are different kinds of implants. One that is more impressive, I think, are cochlear implants.
Dr. Scherer: Before it was only designed for people who are severely profoundly deaf. Nowadays, the candidacy has changed where if you have hearing that’s pretty good hearing for the low frequency sounds, but not the high frequency sounds, if you meet the criteria, they can implant.
Shannon O'Kelley: As a parent, how do you pick up in your child that maybe there is a hearing problem?
Dr. Scherer: Well, hopefully they have their newborn hearing screening, which all babies do nowadays, but there still can be issues later on. Look for language and speech development. If they seem delayed, if a child doesn’t seem to be answering questions or learning properly, let your pediatrician know and they can refer to me and I can check them out and see what is going on.
Shannon O'Kelley: Alright. And, how do they get a hold of you?
Dr. Scherer: To schedule with me to call 360-454-1941 at The Everett Clinic.
Maury Eskenazi: Or, just go to EverettClinic.com.
Dr. Scherer: Absolutely.
Maury Eskenazi: Dr. Kimberly Scherer. Thanks so much for coming on with us.