Using a Personal FM System to Hear More Clearly

June 6, 2016

Hearing aid technology keeps getting better, but hearing aids alone do not make listening easier in all situations. Many things can interfere with listening, such as: background noise, a far distance from the sound source, and sound reverberation. Most hearing aids perform best in quiet environments or when sitting close to your conversation partner. Using a Personal FM system (with or without hearing aids) makes it easier to hear in noisy environments or when conversing at a distance. They are also very helpful for watching TV or listening to other audio devices.

What are Personal FM Systems?
Personal FM Systems are devices that can help those with hearing loss function more normally in day-to-day conversation. An FM system is often an accessory to hearing aids bu can be used without hearing aids as well. FM systems work like small radio stations. There is a small radio transmitter attached to a microphone, and a small radio receiver worn by the listener. For hearing aid users, the most convenient receivers are at ear level. The microphone is placed on or near the person or device the listener wants to hear. The transmitter can also be connected directly to an audio device by using a stereo cord. This means the transmitter is plugged in to the TV’s audio output jack, or into an MP3 player or iPod for easy ear-level hearing, without removing the hearing aids. The transmitter sends the radio signal to the receiver and essentially decreases the listening distance to merely inches instead of several feet.

Where Would I Use an FM System?
Large distance between listener and sound source: The further away you are from a speaker, the harder it is to hear the conversation, because the loudness of a sound decreases rapidly as it travels over a long distance. So, while you may have no difficulty hearing someone close by, you may have considerable difficulty hearing the same person from across the room.

Noise in the environment: Most rooms have background noise that competes with the sound of interest. Background noise can make hearing very challenging. For optimal hearing, speech should be louder than the noise. This isn’t possible in some situations, such as at a large cocktail party or in a busy restaurant. Background noise can also make hearing in the car more difficult. Television program producers often include background noise to create a dramatic effect. For those with hearing loss, the noise often means a missed punch line or that the volume is so loud the conversation is drowned out.

Poor room acoustics and reverberation:
Sound waves bounce off hard surfaces such as windows, walls without coverings and hard floors. This creates a reverberation that the ear experiences as an echo. The result of excessive reverberation is a mixed message in the brain, followed by miscommunication.

Any one of these conditions can create communication problems. Add them together and the effects can be debilitating. Personal FM systems are a great way to overcome these issues.

What is the expected cost of a Personal FM system?
Buying an FM system for personal use is an additional expense beyond personal hearing aids. An FM package, including the transmitter/microphone and ear-level receivers may cost from $2,500 to $3500. For use without hearing aids, a Personal FM system can be as little as $200 up to $1000, depending on the complexity of the system. New hearing aid systems, such as the ReSound Alera allow for a “companion” microphone accessory that transmits sound from a microphone worn by the communication partner directly to the hearing aids. This accessory can be added to the hearing aid purchase for as little as $400.

The new technology in hearing aids is phenomenal. Advancements allow for better control of noise in the background and for better speech enhancement. Still, there will be times when an environment is too noisy or a hearing loss is too great to overcome the difficult listening environment. Personal FM systems are a great way to combat this issue and are a great companion accessory to a hearing system. If you think you might benefit from an FM System, call our office for a free demonstration and see what an FM system can do for you.

What Is Tinnitus?

May 30, 2016

When a ringing sound starts in your ear (or ears) for no apparent reason and no one else seems to hear it, it can be disconcerting. What’s wrong? Is it going to go away? What caused it? If you’re asking these sorts of questions, you’re not alone. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that nearly 50 million Americans experience some sort of head noise to some degree at least occasionally. 1 Of the 50 million sufferers of tinnitus, nearly 16 million experience it severely enough to seek medical attention.

Tinnitus, pronounced as either tinn-ITUS or tinn-i-tus is noise that originates within the ear rather than from the outside environment. The sound itself is different for each person and is often described as a buzzing, ringing, humming or hissing sound.

There are two different types of tinnitus. Subjective tinnitus is a sound only you can hear. This is the most common type of tinnitus. Objective tinnitus, on the other hand, is ear noise that is loud enough to be audible to other people. These sounds can be recorded using a sensitive microphone, but there have been cases where the sounds are loud enough that the tinnitus could be heard just standing close to the ear of the person whose ear is producing it. It is theorized that objective tinnitus is produced by the outer hair cells of the cochlea in the inner ear. In rare cases, vascular or neurological disorders can cause objective tinnitus as well.

Tinnitus can be described in many different ways. Tonal tinnitus produces a continuous, usually high-pitched sound, as if a single note on the piano continues to play without stopping. Pulsatile tinnitus is generally heard in an “on-off” pattern that often follows the heartbeat. Less commonly is a type of tinnitus that is described as a beeping sound that seems reminiscent of Morse code. Still others describe their tinnitus as having a musical quality. Imagine hearing the same music notes over and over again. It might be okay if it sounded like your favorite band or a rendition of La Boheme by Pavarotti, but generally, tinnitus with a musical quality is random and indistinguishable, which can itself be irritating. However it is experienced, tinnitus is aggravating for most sufferers. If you have ringing in the ears, schedule an appointment with your hearing healthcare provider to learn what you might be able to do to alleviate or reduce the annoying sounds of tinnitus.

1 Data from the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unitron Joins the Wireless Race

May 23, 2016

With a new digital chip called Era that out-performs all of its previous generations of hearing aids, Unitron joins three other leading manufacturers that offer true wireless technology to those with hearing loss. Wireless technology allows the hearing aid on one ear to communicate with the hearing aid on the other ear, improving sound quality and noise reduction capabilities. Wireless technology also allows the hearing aids to connect to personal listening systems such as MP3 players, stereo systems, cell phones or to a television. The new Era chip is a more advanced system that allows for better manipulation of sound to improve the listening experience as well as allowing for faster processing of sound coming into Unitron’s new families of hearing aids, Quantum and Moxi.

The Quantum and Moxi families of hearing aids incorporate the new Era chip and were developed to offer better understanding of speech, especially in background noise. They also promise a more natural sound quality. Both Moxi and Quantum are offered in three different levels of technology, allowing those with limited budgets to have access to the latest advancements in sound processing, noise reduction, feedback management and wireless connectivity. Quantum is available in the behind-the-ear (BTE) style as well as custom pieces that fit in the ear. Moxi is a canal-receiver technology (CRT) which places the speaker of the hearing aid in the ear canal while the body of the hearing aid, which holds the working parts of the hearing aid and the Era sound processing chip, is housed in a discreet case that sits directly behind the ear.

Quantum and Moxi both have four signature features that set them apart from other hearing aids available:

• SmartFocus is an automatic feature which provides optimal speech intelligibility when necessary and at other times, offers a comfortable listening environment when sounds might otherwise become too loud or distorted.

Pinna Effect provides natural sound quality. Historically, behind-the-ear hearing aids have had a difficult time correcting for the wearer’s poor ability to find where sounds are coming from, called localization. When the microphones of a hearing aid sit outside of the ear, the natural localizing effect that the shape of the outer ear allows, called the pinna effect, is lost. The Pinna Effect setting in Quantum BTEs and Moxi CRTs corrects for the fact that the hearing aid sits outside of the outer ear (the pinna).

Natural Sound Balance is focused on making sure that natural sound coming into the ear canal from the environment blends with the amplified sound coming from the hearing aid. The result is a clear and balanced signal.

Wireless connectivity provides ease of use to the wearer. The broadband wireless technology in the Quantum and Moxi family of hearing aids allows for communication between hearing aids and gives the wearer more freedom with the hands-free use of personal listening devices such as an MP3 player or cell phone. With an accessory called the uTV, wearers can also connect wirelessly to television.

With Quantum and Moxi, Unitron is able to offer the features that those with hearing loss are looking for. The new hearing aid families both promise to be industry-leaders and are a significant step forward in Unitron’s technology offerings.

Understanding the Wide Array of Hearing Disorders

May 16, 2016

Are you having difficulty understanding the words when someone speaks to you? Do you find yourself straining to hear your favorite songs on the radio or television? Perhaps you are beginning to avoid situations where you have to interact with others because of the embarrassment of asking them to repeat what they’ve just said. Don’t wait any longer. Call for an appointment with your Doctor of Audiology to have a hearing evaluation which will determine if you have a hearing loss or if it’s a problem that could easily be resolved medically.

The first steps toward hearing better involve consulting with an Audiologist who will determine what type and degree of hearing loss you have. Most people think if you can’t hear, it is simply a problem with your ears. What most people don’t realize is that you hear with your ears but you listen with your brain. It’s important to take a thorough look at the entire hearing system (mechanical working ear, sensory system and brain) to determine the next best step toward better hearing. Your Audiologist will begin by determining through the hearing evaluation which part of your ear (or ears) is affected.

Hearing loss can be categorized by which part of the auditory system has been affected. Generally, a hearing loss will fall into one of three main categories: Conductive hearing loss, Sensorineural hearing loss, or Mixed hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the outer ear or middle ear system, which includes the eardrum and tiny ear bones, called ossicles. Conductive hearing loss may be caused by fluid behind the eardrum or a malfunction in the Eustachian tube, the tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. Conductive hearing loss can also be something as simple as having too much wax in the outer ear canal. This type of hearing loss can often be corrected medically or surgically.

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear, or along the nerve pathway between the inner ear and the brain. It can be caused by genetics, the aging process, infection or disease, long periods of exposure to extreme noise, exposure to certain medications or drugs that are toxic to the ear. This type of hearing loss is not generally treatable medically and is usually permanent. Hearing aids can be a good solution for most types of sensorineural hearing loss.

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both Conductive and Sensorineural hearing loss in one or both ears. Your Audiologist will discuss the best method for improving your hearing if it is found that you have this type of hearing loss.

Understanding your hearing loss is the first step toward better hearing. If your hearing loss is treatable, your Doctor of Audiology will refer you to an appropriate medical specialist. If your hearing loss is permanent, your Audiologist will work with you to find the best possible solution. Having a hearing loss does not have to interfere with your daily life. Hearing aids designed and fitted specifically for you can improve the social interactions with your family and friends. Don’t waste another day wondering. Call our office for an appointment to have your hearing evaluated by one of our Doctors of Audiology and soon, you’ll be hearing the sounds of life again.

The New Miniature BTE

May 9, 2016

Just a few short years ago, behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids were not the style of choice for those who require hearing aids for improving their hearing. In fact, less than 20% 1 of people who wore hearing aids prior to 2000 chose the behind-the-ear style. Who could blame them? The old-style BTE’s were large, bulky and not very aesthetically pleasing to the eye. These issues enhanced the stigma that hearing loss is an old-person’s ailment and a handicap. Technology advancements have improved the number of BTE wearers to more than 60% 2 and with better, smaller choices, surveys indicate that more people with milder hearing losses are now benefiting from hearing aids1.

Along with having a smaller case size, today’s behind-the-ear hearing aids are more stylish and functionally versatile. The first miniature BTE wasn’t much to look at with very few case color choices. Although it was smaller than its ancestors were, it was very limited in terms of its offerings for user controls. In other words, it had very few bells and whistles. It was smaller for sure, which made it more aesthetically appealing, but the functionality limited how the wearer could manipulate sound in the environment. As the number of manufacturers who offer miniature BTE’s increases and the types of technology and sound processing available in the hearing aids expands, satisfaction with the BTE has improved. In fact, overall satisfaction ratings are significantly higher (85% vs 76%) than the traditional custom styles, even though there are no significant differences in perceived benefit or value1.

With technology advancements, behind-the-ear hearing aids are an exceptional choice for nearly anyone, no matter the degree of hearing loss or configuration. If you are experiencing hearing loss, whether you’ve worn hearing aids in the past or not, talk to your hearing healthcare provider about the new BTE to see if it is a good option for you.

1 Kochkin S: MarkeTrak VIII Mini-BTEs tap new market, usersmore satisfied. Hear J 2011:64(11):17-24
2 Kirkwood D: Resilient hearing aid industry records rising sales despite a troubled economy. Hear J 2009;62(12):11-16.