May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, a time to raise awareness about communication disorders and available treatment options that can improve the quality of life for those who experience problems speaking or hearing. At least 46 million people in the United States have a hearing or other communication disorder. In addition, an estimated 17.9 million adults in the United States report having a voice problem. Problems with your voice can significantly affect your ability to perform your job. Information in this blog comes from The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), and The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
Taking Action on Hearing Loss: 5 Steps to Success
Hearing loss is a sudden or gradual decrease in how well you can hear. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults. Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor’s advice, to respond to warnings, and to hear doorbells and alarms. It can also make it hard to enjoy talking with friends and family. All of this can be frustrating, embarrassing, and even dangerous.
Do you think you could have hearing loss? By taking action today, you can start on a course to improved health and quality of life. Here’s what you can do:
Schedule a hearing evaluation. Contact a certified audiologist for a full hearing workup. An audiologist will perform various tests to find out more about your overall hearing health. This starts with ruling out other medical problems that may be affecting your hearing, ranging from wax buildup to fluid behind your eardrum. Then they will perform a hearing test to determine your exact hearing levels. Everyone’s hearing is different.
Listen to the audiologist’s recommendations. Keep an open mind when your audiologist explains your evaluation results and their recommendations. There are lots of different solutions for hearing loss.
These solutions may include:
• amplification technology, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants;
• aural rehabilitation, which is when an audiologist provides strategies to help you hear better in situations where you have more trouble; and
• external solutions, such as amplified telephones and/or assistive TV technology
Check with your insurance plan. Find out about your health care benefits for hearing aids. Medicare and Medicaid have their own requirements. If you have trouble paying, your audiologist may be able to recommend less expensive options. For example, the more expensive hearing aids offer many different features that you may not need. Loaner banks and financial assistance programs also may be available. Talk to your audiologist about local assistance programs.
Educate yourself. Read about the different types of hearing aids and make a list of which ones sound like the best fit for you. Check out trusted review sites and online forums. Hearing aids have many features to meet your needs and wants. Other hearing assistive technologies and strategies can help you, too. Talk to friends and loved ones about their experiences.
Understand the process. For many people who are fitted with hearing aids, it’s not like flipping a switch and then suddenly your hearing becomes perfect. Hearing aids are different than eyeglasses in this way. It may take a few visits with the audiologist to get your hearing aid settings just right. It also takes time for your brain to adjust to your hearing again; your brain processes information differently the longer you have lived with hearing loss. It’s worth the time investment of a few appointments up front.
Taking Care of Your Voice
The sound of your voice is produced by vibration of the vocal folds, which are two bands of smooth muscle tissue that are positioned opposite each other in the larynx. The larynx is located between the base of the tongue and the top of the trachea, which is the passageway to the lungs.
An estimated 17.9 million adults in the U.S. report problems with their voice. Some of these disorders can be avoided by taking care of your voice. You may have a voice problem if your voice has become hoarse or raspy, you’ve lost the ability to hit high notes when singing, your voice suddenly sounds deeper, your throat feels achy, raw, or strained, it’s become an effort to talk, or you find yourself repeatedly clearing your throat.
There are many possible causes for voice problems including upper respiratory infection, inflammation caused by gastroesophageal reflux (sometimes called acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD), vocal misuse and overuse, growths on the vocal folds, such as vocal nodules or laryngeal papillomatosis, cancer of the larynx, neurological diseases (such as spasmodic dysphonia or vocal fold paralysis), and/or psychological trauma. Most voice problems can be reversed by treating the underlying cause or through a range of behavioral and surgical treatments.
Healthy habits to take care of your voice include:
- Drink plenty of water, especially when exercising.
- If you drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol, balance your intake with plenty of water.
- Take vocal naps—rest your voice throughout the day.
- Use a humidifier in your home. This is especially important in winter or in dry climates. Thirty percent humidity is recommended.
- Avoid or limit use of medications that may dry out the vocal folds, including some common cold and allergy medications. If you have voice problems, ask your doctor which medications would be safest for you to use.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet:
- Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoke irritates the vocal folds. Also, cancer of the vocal folds is seen most often in individuals who smoke.
- Avoid eating spicy foods. Spicy foods can cause stomach acid to move into the throat or esophagus, causing heartburn or GERD.
- Include plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. These foods contain vitamins A, E, and C. They also help keep the mucus membranes that line the throat healthy.
- Wash your hands often to prevent getting a cold or the flu.
- Get enough rest. Physical fatigue has a negative effect on voice.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise increases stamina and muscle tone. This helps provide good posture and breathing, which are necessary for proper speaking.
- If you have persistent heartburn or GERD, talk to your doctor about diet changes or medications that can help reduce flare-ups.
- Avoid mouthwash or gargles that contain alcohol or irritating chemicals.
- Avoid using mouthwash to treat persistent bad breath. Halitosis (bad breath) may be the result of a problem that mouthwash can’t cure, such as low-grade infections in the nose, sinuses, tonsils, gums, or lungs, as well as from gastric acid reflux from the stomach.
Use your voice wisely:
- Try not to overuse your voice. Avoid speaking or singing when your voice is hoarse or tired.
- Rest your voice when you are sick. Illness puts extra stress on your voice.
- Avoid using the extremes of your vocal range, such as screaming or whispering. Talking too loudly and too softly can both stress your voice.
- Practice good breathing techniques when singing or talking. Support your voice with deep breaths from the chest, and don’t rely on your throat alone. Singers and speakers are often taught exercises that improve this kind of breath control. Talking from the throat, without supporting breath, puts a great strain on the voice.
- Avoid cradling the phone when talking. Cradling the phone between the head and shoulder for extended periods of time can cause muscle tension in the neck.
- Consider using a microphone when appropriate. In relatively static environments such as exhibit areas, classrooms, or exercise rooms, a lightweight microphone and an amplifier-speaker system can be of great help.
- Avoid talking in noisy places. Trying to talk above noise causes strain on the voice.
- Consider voice therapy. A speech-language pathologist who is experienced in treating voice problems can teach you how to use your voice in a healthy way.
Directory of Organizations
The NIDCD Directory lists selected national organizations that provide information on communication disorders. Each organization Is listed alphabetically and includes (when available) name, physical address, email address, and website. There is also an option to read the description for each listing as well by clicking on “view full description.” As an example of these listings, here is the overview for each site used to obtain information for this blog. This list encompasses over 150 different organizations.
1650 Diagonal Road
Alexandria VA 22314-2857
Internet: http://www.entnet.org(link is external)
2200 Research Boulevard
Rockville MD 20850
Internet: https://www.asha.org(link is external)
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda MD 20892-3456