All Hearing Aid and Audiology Services are provided by Dr. Jon Ashby, who is a fully licensed and Board Certified Audiologist (CCC SLP&A; Fellow, AAA.) Dr. Ashby holds both the Masters and Doctoral Degree from Louisiana State University. He has lived in Abilene 40 years and has been practicing audiology at the Abilene Speech and Hearing Center since 1987. He was recently awarded The ACE Award for excellence in continuing education, to recognize his efforts in maintaining current professional knowledge and skills. Dr. Ashby has been working with the Senior Partners Program (now Senior Circle) since it began.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is that annoying ringing in my ears?
Almost everyone has experienced an occasional ringing in the ears. These unwanted sounds or head noises usually only last a few minutes. If the ringing or noise persists it is called tinnitus.
Tinnitus is often caused by damage to the nerve endings in the inner ear. This damage is frequently a result of prolonged exposure to loud noise. Tinnitus can also be caused by excessive ear wax, by inner ear infection, by some neurological conditions, and by certain medications. Tinnitus has also been associated with drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, coffee, and even by smoking.
If you have continual ringing in your ears, start by trying to relax. Stress and fatigue only make the problem worse. Remove yourself from noisy situations, including loud music, power tools, firearms and machinery.
If the ringing becomes persistent or interferes with your concentration, hearing, or day to day activities, contact an otolaryngologist, your audiologist or primary care physician for consultation.
2. Am I right eared or left eared?
Most people are right-handed; others left-handed and a few are ambidextrous. Does the same thing hold true with ears? Hearing evaluations indicate that small differences may occur from one ear to the other, similar to how your hands or feet are not exactly the same size and shape. This does not impair your ability to focus on sounds you wish to hear or to tune out background noise.
Many people develop a preference for using one ear over the other in situations such as talking on the telephone. Some right-handed individuals will use their right ear because it is more convenient, while others will choose their left ear in order to keep their other hand free for taking notes. As hearing problems develop many people will begin to use the ear that has less hearing distortion or better clarity.
Want to know which ear you favor? Answer the following questions: Which ear would you put close to a door to listen to a conversation on the other side? To check to see if your watch is ticking, do you use your right or left ear? What ear would you place against someone’s chest to hear the heart beat? The ear you choose most is your preferred one.
3. What can I do about earwax?
Earwax is called cerumen and protects your ears from debris, bugs, dust and bacteria. Usually cerumen comes out of the ear in dry flakes. However, some people produce too much wax, or a wax of a different consistency.
Too much earwax can produce hearing loss by blocking sound vibrations from entering the ear. Hearing aid users must be especially aware of earwax buildup. A hearing instrument can act like a dam and prevents the cerumen from moving out of the ear canal.
Unless you had a perforated eardrum or a history of ear infections, you may be able to safely remove earwax yourself. Over a three-day period, place a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, or commercially prepared wax removal preparation in your ears. This will soften the wax. Then flush the ear with lukewarm water, allowing the liquid to drain. Repeat these steps until all wax is removed. Anyone with a history of ear problems should be seen by an otolaryngologist, audiologist or health care provider as soon as any earwax problems occur.
4. Does hearing loss affect me personally?
Ignoring a hearing loss may lead to social and psychological problems such as embarrassment, depression and low self-esteem. The hearing-impaired often find it difficult to participate in social activities, even within their own family or at work. Some individuals with a hearing loss also experience physical problems such as headaches, exhaustion, eating/sleeping difficulties or stress-related illnesses.
On the other hand, surveys indicate that one’s life greatly improves when a hearing loss is treated with appropriately fitted hearing aids. Individuals can go back to enjoying activities they had stopped because of their hearing issues. Going to church, get-to-gethers, family visits and restaurants once again become pleasurable. Relationships with family members, friends and co-workers return.
If you have a hearing problem, you should not wait until you are influenced by these secondary psychological and physical issues, make an appointment with your otolaryngologist or audiologist who is qualified to test and assess your hearing. You don’t need the withdrawal, stress and depression of hearing loss.
5. Should I use a hearing aid in both ears?
Research shows unequivocally that wearing two hearing aids, called binaural amplification, provide major benefits to patients. Hearing impaired individuals gain significantly more improvement from the natural sound-gathering ability of both ears. Binaural amplification will also improve the identification of the source, distance and location of a sound. Your safety can be significantly hindered if a person does not recognize the direction of a sound such as a beeping automobile horn, or a child running by. Two hearing aids may also enhance the hearing of softer sounds, such as someone knocking at the door.
Binaural hearing aids offer a more normal and balanced sound quality and improved consistency. In your next visit to your audiologist, ask about the many advantage of using two hearing aids instead of one, especially with the new digital programmable hearing aids. It will make all the difference in your level of comfort and clearity with all the sounds around you.
6. Are children at risk for hearing loss due to loud noise?
For holidays and birthdays, children of all ages are asking for video and computer games that have a lot of action and very loud sounds, particularly when they turn up the volume or wear headphones. Some battery-driven toy guns create noise as high as 120dB, about the levels generated by a heavy truck or of a rock concert. Electronic instruments, robots and battery-operated trucks can also be harmful to hearing.
If you give your child a toy that can be very loud, set some rules on when and how it should be used. Perhaps the toy can only be played with outdoors. If your child is old enough to understand the dangers of loud sounds, explain why the volume should be kept at a moderate level. This is especially true when those headsets are on. If a child is younger, you should regularly check on the sound level.
Place the children’s computer or video games in a special area where it does not have to compete with the TV or other activities. Keep the volume low. Finally, do not buy toys that warn you to keep them away from children’s ears. It is very difficult to know when the product is always played with safely. If you are unsure of a toy’s impact on the ears, talk with your audiologist for good professional advice on protecting your child’s precious hearing.
7. What are Central Auditory Processing disorders?
Some people have difficulty hearing due to problems with central auditory processing (CAP), or the way in which the brain manages sound. That is, individuals with CAP may have normal hearing but difficulty understanding auditory information. It is estimated that between 2 and 3 percent of children have CAP, with twice the prevalence in males. The condition often co-exists with other disabilities such as speech and language problems, dyslexia, attention deficit disorders and social and/or emotional disabilities.
Central auditory processing causes problems with understanding speech in noisy conditions, following multi-step directions and phonics or reading comprehension. Parents, educators, physicians and speech-language specialists recognize that proper auditory processing is essential for a child’s ability to learn. Customized programs can help strengthen auditory processing in diagnosed children and adults.
The hearing-impaired may have a greater risk of CAP, because the auditory pathways and centers in their brains develop as they are stimulated with sound. Specialized tests can determine the extent of the problem. Only specially trained audiologists can provide these services.
8. Are age and hearing loss related?
People can lose their hearing at different times in their lives. Some infants are born deaf or hard of hearing due to genetics or physical problems. Some youths lose their hearing from childhood illnesses such as the mumps. Others start becoming deaf in their late teens or young adulthood because of late-stage hereditary diseases. Individuals who are often found in very noisy environments, including listening to loud music, can get early hearing loss. Taking certain medications can also increase risks.
As people get older, cochlear hair cells and nerves can be damaged and decrease the ability to hear and understand. The largest numbers of hearing-impaired are individuals over the age of 65. About one-third of Americans between 65 and 74 have hearing problems. This number increases to 50 percent for those over the age of 85. If you are concerned about a hearing loss, or potential one, contact an audiologist as soon as possible.
9. Is anxiety a factor in hearing loss?
People of all ages and backgrounds suffer from anxiety, including the hearing impaired. Despite the use of hearing aids and assistive tools, hard-of-hearing individuals can become emotionally upset, frustrated and depressed. Unlike many other illnesses, hearing loss does not entirely go away and will usually get worse with age.
The hearing-impaired regularly face situations that cause anxiety. These can vary in intensity depending on personality, support and a person’s mental outlook. Even experiencing normal everyday issues can be distressing for people struggling with psychological or physical disabilities. For some, the result is complex emotional turmoil.
It is best to consult with your physician or audiologist with experience in disabilities of aging, especially hearing loss.
10. Can hearing loss lead to personal problems?
Ignoring a hearing loss may lead to social and psychological problems such as embarrassment, depression, and low self-esteem. The hearing-impaired often find it difficult to participate in social activities, even within their own family or at work. Some individuals with a hearing loss also experience physical problems such as headaches, exhaustion, eating/sleeping difficulties or stress-related illnesses.
On the other hand, surveys indicate that one’s life greatly improves when a loss is treated with hearing aids. Individuals can go back to enjoying the activities they stopped because of their hearing issues. Going to parties, concerts and restaurants once again become pleasurable. Relationships with family members, friends and co-workers return to usual.
If you have a hearing problem, you should not wait until you are influenced by these secondary psychological and physical issues. Make an appointment with your physician or audiologist who is qualified to test and assess your hearing.
11. How can I help a friend with a hearing loss?
If you have a friend or family member who is hard of hearing, you can take several steps to make his/her life more comfortable. These include:
Watch out for Noise: Loud background sounds make it hard to hear with or without an aid. Pay attention to competing sounds or stop talking when a loud noise occurs such as a plane flying overhead.
Look Up: Try to face a hard-of-hearing person when talking.
Speak Clearly: It is difficult for even non-hearing-impaired individuals to understand slurred of softly spoken words.
Do Not Shout: Yelling is always bad. Just enunciate clearly and speak at a mid-range level.
Rephrase: If a hearing-impaired person does not understand what you have said, repeat the same meaning, but put it into different words.
Check it Out: Make sure the individual understands what has been said so there are no misunderstandings.
12. What is Earwax Hygiene?
Earwax protects your ears from debris, dust and bacteria. Usually cerumen comes out of the ear in dry flakes. However, some older people produce too much wax. This may cause ringing in the ears. The condition of tinnitus can be very bothersome and lead to insomnia, lack of concentration and depression.
Too much earwax can also produce hearing loss by blocking sound vibrations from entering the ear. Hearing aid users must be especially aware of earwax buildup.
Unless you had a perforated eardrum or a history of ear infections, you can safely remove earwax yourself. Over a three-day period, place a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, or commercially prepared wax removal preparation in your ears. This will soften the wax. Then flush the ear with lukewarm water, allowing the liquid to drain. Repeat these steps until all wax is removed. Anyone with a history of ear problems should be seen by an audiologist or otolaryngologists as soon as any earwax problems occur.
13. What is involved in getting an ear mold?
In order to get a hearing aid, you may need ear impressions or casts made of your ears. This is a quick procedure that should only be carried out by an audiologist. The ear impression is required regardless of hearing aid style. The cast is used to make the mold for in-the-ear hearing instruments as well as to produce the hard or soft plastic ear mold for behind-the-ear instruments. The ear impressions can be made in the office in 10 to 15 minutes.
First the audiologist places a special cotton or foam dam in the ear canal to protect the eardrum. A silicone material is then pressed into the ear canal. When the material hardens, the silicone cast and dam are removed from the ear canal. Often, the ear will be “oily” after the audiologist removes the impression. The oil prevents the silicone from sticking to the skin.
Taking impressions of the human ear canal is painless. However, an audiologist needs to conduct the process so the ear can be examined and deemed healthy. Making an impression of an ear with an infection or too much earwax can produce incorrect measurements or lead to medical complications.
14. What about purchasing Mail Order or Online Hearing Aids?
If you are not pleased with your new hearing aid by Dr. Jon Ashby, Audiologist, you will be able to exchange or return it. Texas law requires that consumers receive at least a free 30-day trial period. There may be a service fee if you return the aid during that time. However, audiologists usually make free adjustments throughout the trial period and thereafter.
Buying a hearing aid through the mail or online is risky. Texas law does not permit hearing aids to be sold through the mail, since it is very difficult to get the proper fit or proper care. If you do try mail-order sales anyway, a federal law requires companies to give you the option to cancel the order for a refund. However, you may have trouble reaching the company or getting your money back without taking legal action.
In reviewing your purchase agreement, check to see if the warranty is honored by the manufacturer or by an audiologist. In some cases, a manufacturer may not fulfill a warranty unless the hearing aid is purchased from an authorized audiologist. Also ask what services, if any, will be provided free and for how long. Lastly, see if you can get a loaner when your hearing aid needs repair or cleaning.
15. Do I need a Cochlear Implant?
Probably not! Profound Deafness is probably the most severe communication disability a person can have. It is the most severe communication disorder in separating or isolating people from one another. A cochlear implant does not provide an equivalent to normal hearing, the best cochlear implant is not as good as a good hearing aid for hard of hearing people. Cochlear implants are used only for those people for whom a hearing aid will not work satisfactorily in returning the understanding of speech. Many people with losses so severe that current hearing aid technology cannot reach any limited hearing remaining can profit from a Cochlear Implant. In fact, the responses to speech by cochlear implant patients who have recently lost their hearing is truely remarkable. If you think you might be a candidate for a cochlear implant immediately contact an audiologist for an audiological assessment and referral for medical consultation. Timing is very important, do not delay.
Dr. Jon Ashby
Dr. Jon Ashby is a University professor & who frequently presents clinical instruction and research at numerous professional conferences and conventions.