Archive for the ‘Hearing Health’ Category

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Holiday Hearing TipsSome people find the holiday season to be one of the best times of the year, and other people just find the whole season stressful. But however you celebrate, most people end up attending some parties, and many people host or attend gatherings with extended family.

These can often be somewhat noisy affairs, making for challenging listening environments for those who have hearing loss.

If you suffer from hearing loss, or will be interacting with someone who does, here are some tips for a successful, stress-free holiday gathering.

For people who have hearing loss:

Avoid “hearing fatigue”. If you’ve had hearing loss for a number of years, you know that keeping up, especially when there are multiple conversations going on at the same time, can wear you down after a while. Here are some strategies to avoid it over the holidays:

  • Designate a quiet area for yourself;
  • Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself to take a break;
  • Offer to help out in the kitchen (or somewhere else where there are less people gathered).

Position yourself in a good spot. If one of your ears has stronger hearing than the other, decide on the optimal spot to sit during conversation in a room, or particularly, at the dinner table.

Consider purchasing products like a directional microphone. Many hearing aid manufacturers offer accessories that are designed to make life easier for those with hearing loss. Modern accessories like directional microphones send the sound wirelessly to the listener’s hearing aid, potentially improving comprehension.

Look at new hearing aids that are designed for noisy environments. Several manufacturers have introduced hearing aids with circuitry that’s specifically designed to improve understanding in noisy environments.

For people whose loved ones have hearing loss:

Friends and families of those who suffer from some level of hearing loss, from mild to profound, can keep a few things in mind to make it easier for their loved ones. Many of the tips are, in fact, the same things you should be doing in day-to-day life to accommodate and include people with hearing loss. Here are a few things to keep in mind over this busy holiday season.

Minimize extraneous background noise. A crowded environment is already a challenging listening environment for many people across all levels of hearing loss. Make it easier for them by keeping music, television, and any background noise you can to a minimum (or off completely.)

Get their attention before talking. This is a basic “rule” that applies in any setting — don’t launch into a conversation topic while the listener’s back is turned to you.

Make yourself visible when speaking. This includes removing any obstructions or distractions that make it more difficult to see your mouth – like chewing gum or food, or even facial hair that obstructs some part of the mouth.

DO speak clearly, but don’t yell and don’t overemphasize words. Not only is it more difficult to understand than regular, clear speech, it can potentially seem demeaning to the person with hearing loss.

Keep the room well-lit. A room with proper lighting makes it much easier for people with hearing loss to interpret subtle body language and non-verbal cues, so keep that in mind if you’re considering lighting some candles or ‘mood lighting.’

Keeping these pieces of advice in mind can make your holiday parties and gatherings more comfortable for everybody.

Happy holidays!

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Researchers have studied the relationship between hearing loss and mental capacity for quite a while, and recent studies shine further light on how the two may be linked.
While research has not yet been able to definitively pin down a connection between your ears and your brain’s level of function, there is increasing evidence to possibly suggest that cognitive ability may be impacted by hearing loss.

Dr. Frank Lin from the highly regarded Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has authored several studies on the topic. According to an article by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), one recent study suggested that hearing loss “seemed to speed up age-related cognitive decline”. The article states:

“In a 2013 study, he and his colleagues tracked the overall cognitive abilities (including concentration, memory and planning skills) of nearly 2,000 older adults whose average age was 77. After six years, those who began the study with hearing loss severe enough to interfere with conversation were 24 percent more likely than those with normal hearing to have seen their cognitive abilities diminish.”

While there’s no specifically identified reason that hearing loss can lead to dementia, some potential links identified in past studies have included:

  • The possible effects of increased “cognitive load” from constantly straining to hear and comprehend, potentially taking valuable resources away from the brain’s functions responsible for memory.
  • A commonality in physiological factors that may possibly cause both conditions.
  • Some parts of the brain shrinking from not getting used enough, like the area that process speech.
  • The social isolation that can be inherent with many people who suffer from hearing loss.

Looking on the Bright Side

While it may seem cruel that hearing loss doesn’t discriminate, if a firm link can be established between hearing loss and mental health, there are some reasons for optimism about that discovery:

  • With more awareness about a possible link, people could potentially become more proactive about addressing hearing loss at the first sign.
  • As a potential link between the two conditions is understood, it may potentially lead to more effective methods going forward;
  • And of course, it’s certainly not the case that everyone who develops hearing loss as they age. It’s simply suggested in some studies that those with hearing loss are at increased risk of developing a neurocognitive disorder such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

The important takeaway from this research, says Lin, is that people should take care of their hearing loss and hearing health as well as possible.

Monday, October 27th, 2014

If you had pain in your ear when you were a kid, that may leave you with a pain of a different sort later in life, according to a new study.

Childhood ear-infections have long been linked to hearing loss in adults. Now, a British-based study that has been ongoing for a period of almost 70 years has provided new insights that might provide clues to a possible link.

The Newcastle Thousand Families Study has been monitoring over 1,000 babies from their birth in 1947 to study a wide range of factors relating to their health and development as they age.

Our findings show that those who suffered from infections as a child were more likely to have a hearing loss in their 60’s,” said Dr. Mark Pearce of Newcastle University.

But it wasn’t only ear-related issues that the study has linked to hearing loss; childhood ailments such as bronchitis, tonsillitis, or respiratory infections during a child’s first year was linked to hearing loss over 60 years of age within the Newcastle Thousand Families Study.

The study provides another reminder that hearing loss is not just a matter of getting older; and that it’s possible that environmental exposures and childhood illness can have consequences much later on in life. It also demonstrates that it’s never too early in life to be proactive about your child’s hearing health.

The findings were recently published in Ear and Hearing journal.

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Admitting that your hearing is deteriorating is difficult for many people to accept. But acknowledgement of hearing loss, and addressing the issue with a professional is the first step towards improving your quality of life.

Because hearing loss can occur very gradually, it can be difficult to actually recognize some of the telltale signs of hearing loss. Here, in no particular order, are some preliminary signs that your hearing may be in decline:

Phone Conversations are Becoming Difficult.

When people start to lose their hearing, they often compensate, often without realizing, by using peoples lip movement and verbal cues to pick up the parts of conversations that they are missing. On the phone, those are, of course, not available. If you notice that you’re struggling more and more with understanding the person on the other end of the line, the problem could be more problematic than a bad connection.

Others mention that you turn the volume up too high on the TV.

This is not necessarily restricted to the television – it can apply to any media device. But if your family or friends have been gently poking fun that you always have the television volume cranked up, it could be that you’re compensating for a loss of hearing ability.

You’re starting to have difficulty in noisy environments.

Often, a telling sign of hearing loss is that it becomes difficult for you to hear the person sitting across from you in environments with lots of background noise, like restaurants.

You struggle to hear or understand women and children.

High frequency hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss, and those are the frequencies that the voices of women and children tend to fall into. Difficulty hearing them can be a telltale sign that you are experiencing hearing loss.

You are asking people to repeat themselves very frequently.

Regardless of our hearing ability, we all miss little parts of conversations in our day-to-day life. But if you find that you are increasingly missing words, or frequently asking people to repeat themselves, it is a possible sign that your hearing is deteriorating.

A few other possible signs of hearing loss:

  • You experience ringing in your ears.
  • Voices sound muffled to you, or people frequently seem as if they’re mumbling.
  • You find it challenging to get through a day of straining to hear, to the point where it’s fatiguing.
  • You are avoiding social situations due to your difficulties in following conversations.

Our team of audiology specialists have provided the most trusted hearing healthcare to the National Capital Region since 1958, and are ready to put you on the path to improved hearing today.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

hearing-loss-for-teensRemember when your parents yelled at you to “turn that racket down?”

It turns out that as it relates to hearing health, that was some sound advice.

A recent survey of teenagers commissioned by hearing aid manufacturer Siemens found that nearly half of the 500 American teens surveyed showed signs of potential hearing loss.

That’s a pretty alarming figure, but not altogether surprising. Consider the rise of portable digital media players, and the percentage of people — never mind just teens — that walk around with ear buds blasting music all day. It could possibly be the case that these, and other environmental noise exposure, are playing a role in increasing rates of noise-induced hearing loss.

Teens Know the Risks of Loud Music

Without generalizing the entire group, it’s probably fair to say that teens are generally not known for their cautious approach to life, or ability to consider the long-term implications of their behavior.

The authors of the study wanted to get a sense of whether teens have a sense of the fact that prolonged exposure to loud noise can be harmful. So the survey asked teens whether their teachers or parents would tell them to turn the volume down, wear protective gear or stop the activity if they knew how loud the music they were listening to was. 78% of teens responded with a “yes.”

This suggests that in the majority of cases, teens understand that listening to music too loudly can be a potentially harmful activity. But knowing that something can have negative effects and actually changing that behaviour are two different things… and the way the question is phrased suggests that teens are not worried enough about potentially damaging their hearing to actually change their behaviour.

Signs of Damaged Hearing

Some of the indicators or evidence of damaged hearing include:

  • Voices sounding muffled;
  • Pain after listening to loud sounds;
  • Ringing or roaring in the ears.

46% of teens that were surveyed reported experiencing some of these symptoms. Even more worrisome is the fact that 17% of teens reported experiencing these symptoms often, or all the time.

How to Mitigate the Risks

The study suggests several courses of action to help mitigate the risks of hearing loss in teens:

Education & Peer Pressure: Many teens will always be predisposed to be a bit reckless when it comes to their health, but constant messaging about the link between prolonged loud noise exposure and hearing loss can’t hurt. It doesn’t even need to be from an adult; the study suggests that teens can warn their friends when they are putting their hearing at risk.
Replacing Earbuds with Headphones: Standard over-ear headphones keep some of the direct sound out of the ears as music is pumped through them.
Wearing earplugs when carrying out loud activities like mowing the lawn, attending concerts or jamming at band practice.

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Hearing Safety & The Sounds of SummerSummer is in full swing around Ottawa and throughout the Capital Region. And while we all enjoy our summer activities, it’s important to remember that some of the things that people love most can be incredibly loud.

When taking part in the activities we’ll be mentioning, stay mindful of the noise that you’re exposing yourself, or your children to. It’s all about finding a balance between having fun and protecting your hearing. Here are a few specific activities where you should keep that in mind:


Between Canada Day, the Civic Holiday and Victoria Day, us Canadians like to take advantage of basically any excuse we can to shoot off fireworks. While they provide a visual treat for our eyes, unfortunately for our ears, they can be extremely loud at close range (in the region of 150 dB or more.) At big public events like Canada Day on Parliament Hill, the noise produced by fireworks isn’t quite as concerning to the average spectator, as they’re generally set far back from the action – so the sound loses intensity as it travels. However, if you’re putting on a show in your neighbourhood or at the cottage, use caution, especially with children around. You’re usually a lot closer to the explosion, and exposure to sounds at that volume can cause short-term or long-term damage.


Many people in the capital region will be venturing to a show this summer, such as Bluesfest, or elsewhere. But even if you’re at an outdoor show, the output levels of the speakers can be dangerously loud at close distances, and potentially damaging to your ears. To keep your hearing protected, stand further back from the stage, or ideally, bring some ear plugs with you to the event.

While on the subject of music: on a sunny summer day, it’s tempting for some people to roll down the windows and turn up their car stereo. But not only is that a bad decision from a safety perspective, some car sound systems are loud enough to cause damage, given prolonged exposure.


Many people will be looking forward to getting some construction projects done around the house or at the cabin this summer. Just remember that some of the common tools of the trade, like power saws, produce very loud volumes at close range — enough to cause pain in the ears. Health Canada states that power tools can reach up to 113 dB, which given sustained exposure, can be damaging. Wear ear protection when using these sorts of tools.


Boat engines, particularly of the outboard variety, can also be quite loud at close range. This can be especially troubling with children on board – some large outboard motors can reach noise levels in the 120 dB range. Take care to limit your prolonged exposure to loud boat engines.

How loud is too loud?

If you’re not sure how loud is too loud, here’s a good benchmark: if you are within a metre of the person you are speaking with and have to shout to be heard, then the environment is too loud. Use caution in those environments, or if possible, remove yourself from the situation.

Should you feel ringing or any sort of pain in your ears after after any of these activities, do not hesitate to contact your local hearing centre to discuss.

Have fun this summer, and protect your hearing along the way!

Thanks for reading,

The Robillard Hearing Centres Team

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Hardly a week goes by without another news story that discusses how hearing loss is a growing concern for the North American public. Some sources have gone so far as to call it an “epidemic.” An aging population of baby boomers is likely playing into these numbers in the Western world.

But another concern is just how loud and noisy our day-to-day environments have become. We’re constantly inundated with noises that to some extent, just come with the territory of living life in the modern, industrialized world. While you can’t escape it, you can reduce your exposure to it – more on that later on.

But first, to give you a sense of how harmful some fairly regular noises that we’re exposed to can be, here is a useful chart (adapted from here) that breaks down some everyday sounds and noises… and when those can start damaging your hearing:

Weakest sound heard


Whisper Quiet Library at 6′


Normal conversation at 3′


Telephone dial tone


MP3 Player at 3/4ths Volume


City Traffic (inside car)


Train whistle at 500′, Truck Traffic


Jackhammer at 50′


Subway train at 200′


Level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss

90 – 95dB

Hand Drill


Power mower at 3′


Snowmobile, Motorcycle


MP3 Player at Full Volume


Power saw at 3′


Amplified Rock Band Practice


Pain begins


Pneumatic riveter at 4′


World Record – Stadium Crowd Noise
(Seattle Seahawks)

138 dB

Even short term exposure can cause permanent damage – Loudest recommended exposure WITH hearing protection


Jet engine at 100′


Peak Rock Music Concert

150 dB

12 Gauge Shotgun Blast


Death of hearing tissue


Loudest sound possible




Protect Your Hearing!

As you can see, there are a lot of common activities that can be problematic. Here are some simple things you can do to try and avoid damage:

  • DO NOT crank your mp3 player to the maximum volume. Ever been sitting near a person and you can make out virtually every word of the song they’re listening to? That’s probably a good sign that they have their volume too loud.
  • DO wear ear plugs if working with power tools. Same goes for attending a concert, even if it’s not a rollicking rock band you’re seeing. We often underestimate the effect that the sustained loudness is having on us, until we leave the venue and realize our ears won’t stop ringing.
  • DO NOT use cotton swabs to clean your ears. This isn’t related to environmental noise, but it’s a common thing that people do. Often, you’ll just end up pushing wax further down into your ear canal.
  • DO ask people to turn the volume down in public. Don’t worry about what people might think. If you’re at a restaurant, or somewhere like a health club, politely ask a manager if it would be possible to reduce the volume slightly. If you have to yell to be heard from the person sitting across from you, it’s probably too loud.
Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

History of Hearing Aids

With a wide range of options available for the hard-of-hearing and hearing-impaired, and an ever-improving understanding of therapies and treatment options for common afflictions like tinnitus, the audiology profession has come a long, long way over the past few centuries. It hasn’t always been this way. In this blog, we thought we’d look back at the history of the hearing aid, and how we got to this point.

The invention of the telephone, in the 19th century, set into motion the technology that would eventually give us what we know as modern hearing aids. But the idea of devices to assist the hearing impaired stretches back much further, and makes for a bit of an interesting history lesson.


The predecessor to what we now refer to as hearing aids were called ear trumpets. The first of these instruments was described in writings around 1650, and by the late 1700s, they were increasingly put into practical use.  In 1800, Frederick C. Rein of London began manufacturing ear trumpets, and his company continued to do so long after his death, into the 1960s. The main issues with ear trumpets were that they could be cumbersome, and drew attention to the user’s disability. The development of new technologies would soon relegate ear trumpets to the scrap heap of history.


The invention of the telephone opened up a new world of possibilities for assistive hearing devices. Even still, the early models that took advantage of the new-found ability to electronically amplify sounds were not incredibly practical – they were large and often very heavy, requiring a headphone to be run from a large box that would be carried around the user’s neck. While it was a start, it was still somewhat impractical — and quite conspicuous.


From that point on, technology has enabled the miniaturization of hearing aids, as well as improved functionality. Transistor-based hearing aids replaced vacuum-tube-powered models in the 1950s, although the technology was still somewhat problematic for a time. The development of multi-channel hearing aids, offering the user the ability to choose the appropriate frequency for their listening environment, was a major breakthrough during the 1970s. And the development of microprocessors and the integration of digital technology has led us to today, where many hearing aids are virtually impossible to notice, and there’s a greater variety of helpful options than ever for the hearing-impaired.


Ever since inventors and companies started to manufacture devices to help the hard-of-hearing, they’ve been used by some pretty well-known people over the years…

  • Ludwig Van Beethoven made use of a hearing trumpet; he began to lose his hearing ability around 1800, and was almost completely deaf during the final years of his life.
  • Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has worn in-canal aids since 1997. But he’s not the only 20th century president affected by hearing loss: Ronald Reagan was also fitted for hearing aids while in power at the Oval Office.
  • Pete Townshend, the legendary guitarist and main songwriter for the band The Who, suffered significant as a result of his penchant for playing his electric guitar incredibly loud (his band once held the record for ‘loudest concert ever.’) Townshend, now 69, wears aids in both ears.
  • Sticking with the music theme, 80s rocker Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News wears hearing aids in both ears, suffering from significant hearing loss as well as tinnitus.
  • Former Oscar winner and famous Holywood actress Jodie Foster has been seen wearing hearing aids before.
Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

If you’ve watched any amount of television in the past five years, you’ve likely seen the commercials. Starting in the $10 to 20 price range, there are a number of products that promise to allow you to hear like never before: snoop on a conversation across the room, or watch TV comfortably while your partner’s asleep. But as Dr. Mark Ross notes in this informative piece , these consumer products should not be called hearing aids – and an authority no less than the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates medical products in the United States, agrees.


Easily Mistakable

In a posting from 2009 on its website, the FDA details some of the differences between hearing aids, and this somewhat-new type of consumer product, which they refer to as Personal Sound Amplification Products.

“While these personal sound amplifiers may help people hear things that are at low volume or at a distance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to ensure that consumers don’t mistake them—or use them as substitutes—for approved hearing aids,” the FDA posting reads.

This is a concern that many in the audiology profession share – that the new wave of sleekly-marketed PSAPs will potentially lead some people to purchase them instead of hearing aids. After all, they’re readily available, they’re relatively cheap (but still varied enough in price to give the perception of varying quality), and perhaps most appealingly, they’re marketed as a cool, ‘techy’ way for “normal hearing” people to enhance communication. Some PSAPs are even built to resemble the Bluetooth wireless headsets that have become ubiquitous in recent years.

Garnering Buzz

These devices are certainly well-marketed and are definitely garnering attention. Just a few months back, the New York Times reported on the rise of PSAPs in an article entitled “Just Don’t Call them Hearing Aids”:

They are not considered medical devices like the ones overseen by the Food and Drug Administration and dispensed by professionals to aid those with impaired hearing. Rather, they are over-the-counter systems cleared by the F.D.A. for occasional use in situations when speech and other sounds are hard to discern — say, in a noisy restaurant or while bird-watching.

“The market is proliferating with lots of devices not necessarily made for impaired hearing, but for someone who wants a boost in certain challenging conditions like lectures,” said Neil J. DiSarno, chief staff officer for audiology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Dr. DiSarno is among the many audiologists who strongly urge people to see a physician first, in order to rule out medical causes of hearing loss, which could vary from earwax to a tumor, rather than self-diagnosis.

Proper Assessment & Diagnosis is Crucial

Dr. DiSarno is not alone in his advice. The rise of PSAPs makes many in the profession worried that people will go out on their own without proper diagnosis for their hearing issues, and end up paying for it in the long run, as Dr. Ross notes in his article:

“The important question to ask is whether PSAPs can actually improve the hearing performance of people with hearing loss (ignoring the marketing deception that they are designed for normally hearing people,” he writes. “The answer is, to a certain extent, probably yes. And to be fair, many of the consumer comments posted on some PCAP internet sites are basically positive. But then, compared to no hearing device at all, it doesn’t take much sound amplification for someone to hear a bit better. A cupped hand behind the ear will do it for someone with a mild hearing loss.”

Dr. Ross goes on to cite two medical studies that looked at the performance of very low-range, ‘over the counter’ devices. These are often the devices that are the most well-marketed in the general public. The study Ross discusses found that with the devices on the low-end of the spectrum (purchase price $10 to $73) all had similar issues:

The results indicate some systematic problems with the low-range group: All of them tended to provide too much amplification (gain) in the lower frequencies and too little gain above about 1000-2000 Hz (the more important frequencies for understanding speech).   Listening to such a system could give users an illusion of hearing better, while in actual fact their comprehension of speech would still be rather limited (though perhaps superior to nothing at all).

So what’s the takeaway from all this? If you’re experiencing hearing problems, a professional diagnosis is recommended. Some types of products that would be defined as PSAPs can certainly be useful and recommended in certain instances, but its important to have a professional assess whether a PSAP will meet your needs.

Making an informed decision is important. For more information on the differences between hearing aids and PSAPs, check out this PDF from the FDA.


Thursday, April 10th, 2014

These days there are many advertisements for hearing aid solutions, you might see them on TV, on the internet and in newspapers.

You might be tempted to ask yourself: should I get my hearing aids online?

First, know that a lot of the devices sold on these sites may not technically fall under the hearing aid category. Many of these devices are often considered amplifiers, so they may not be what you’re looking for.

If you want to buy these types of hearing aids “on the cheap” you can go through one of these online resellers or for example, even go to Costco. But, in the end, how do you know you’re getting the right product to meet your needs?

Take a look at this woman’s experience as highlighted in an article from The New York Times:

Admittedly, my experience at Costco was mixed. The inexperienced hearing aid dispenser suggested a brand, Bernafon, that I was not familiar with. The sound was compressed and tinny; it never sounded or fit right and had to be remade several times. After seven or so visits, I was beginning to believe the adage “You get what you pay for” (in this case, $950).

A hearing aid is a medical device, it’s important that you get one from experienced professionals. In the long run not purchasing your hearing aid from a legitimate business — a certified hearing centre, may very well end up costing you more in the long run.

For starters, if you buy online, you won’t receive the high-quality personalized service a hearing centre provides. Audiologists and technicians that work closely with you will understand your hearing loss better than any website!

Furthermore, one of the biggest downsides to buying online is that hearing aids/amplifiers need to be mailed in for adjustments. And if this is your first time getting fitted for a hearing aid, you might not know how it ought to work properly; or you might need additional guidance. If you have questions or issues with your hearing aids, who are you going to call?

It’s important to have access to a trained audiologist that can look at the hearing aid for you and make sure it’s properly fitted to your ear and working in its optimal condition.

The price of a hearing aid is not just for the device itself, it’s for the service that comes along with knowing that you are walking out with the best hearing solution for you! To know that you will be able to feel confident that you’re not missing out on anything important! That’s priceless!