How Music Influences Moods

For centuries, people have found that music helps them to boost energy and mood–some even claim that music helps them heal more quickly. In fact, studies now show that music can either improve or reinforce your mood–which gives you a better quality of life.

Researchers from the University of Missouri concluded that upbeat music lifts a person’s mood. Participants in their study were told to improve their moods but only succeeded in doing so after listening to the upbeat songs of Copeland, as opposed to the sadder tunes of Stravinsky. However, when other participants were not told to improve their moods while music played, they remained the same emotionally. “People could focus more on enjoying their experience of the journey towards happiness and not get hung up on the destination,” said one researcher. Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, happy and sad music affects how we interpret neutral faces, according to a recent study.

Of course, it’s usually pretty simple to tell if the music is happy or sad, but there is more to it. Our brains actually respond differently to the happy and sad music, making the process much more subjective. It doesn’t matter how short or long the piece of music is. One study showed that after hearing a short piece of music, participants were more likely to interpret a neutral expression as happy or sad to match the tone of the music they heard. This also occurred with other facial expressions, but it happened most often with those that were more neutral.

In addition to affecting our interpretations of other people’s expressions, music–specifically ambient noise–can improve creativity. Some people love loud music in the background while they organize their days, deciding what to do and when. However, loud music may not be the best music to listen to while you’re attempting to think. Actually, for creative endeavors such as writing or painting, moderate noise is best. Actually, even more than low noise levels, ambient noise apparently enhances creativity and doesn’t put us off the way high levels of noise do. This is because moderate noise levels increase processing difficulty, which in turn promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity. In short, the harder we work to process things, the more creative our approaches become. However, this only applies to moderate noise levels. This is because loud noise overwhelms us and makes it too difficult to approach anything creatively–or at all.

To boost creativity, aim for a moderate noise level, and to boost your mood, look for an upbeat song to lift your spirits.

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Made for iPhone Hearing Aids: An Introduction

The iPhone, which is arguably the most innovative smartphone available, just got better. Apple has been collaborating with hearing aid manufacturers to create apps and hearing aids that are designed to work together. These are known as made for iPhone hearing aids. With a made for iPhone hearing aid, users can simply use an app to adjust the device. In addition, the iPhone delivers incoming audio such as phone calls and music or Siri’s responses right to the user’s hearing aid. Using a made for iPhone hearing aid is as easy as using any other Bluetooth device. According to Apple, “In Settings, go to General, then Accessibility, then Hearing Aids, and iOS will automatically search for and recognize your device. Once your hearing aid is paired, it’s available to you as an audio source whenever you need it.” Additionally, when you need to have a face-to-face conversation in a loud place, you can turn on the Live Listen feature and place your iPhone in front of the person you’re talking with. With Live Listen, one can use the phone’s microphone to hear the person speaking loud and clear.

The selection of made for iPhone hearing aids available for purchase include Audibel’s A3i, Audigy’s AGXsp, Beltone’s Beltone First, MicroTech’s Kinnect, NuEar’s iSDS, ReSound’s ReSound LiNX, and Starkey’s Halo. Of course, the right hearing aid for you will take a little time and research. A hearing specialist will be able to guide you in the process. The unique features and abilities of each vary. As an example, Audibel’s A3i’s proclaims “advanced noise reduction technology and a precise directional microphone”. If you’re the forgetful type, Audigy’s AGXsp boasts a GPS feature to help you find your hearing aids. The MicroTech’s Kinnect will work with your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, and it easily streams music, Facetime phone calls, and more, right to your ears. NuEar’s iSDS’s “Patented technology replicates high-frequency sounds (like women’s and children’s voices) in lower frequencies where they’re easier to hear and understand.” Finally, Starkey’s Halo’s “industry-leading feedback canceller provides feedback-free and comfortable listening all day long.”

If this all seems overwhelming, don’t worry. Your hearing care specialist will guide you as to what brand and model is best for you.

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How Echoes Operate

If you’ve ever been inside a large canyon, you’ve probably observed the wonder of echoes firsthand-but how do they work? An echo is a phenomenon we experience often. When you shout into a well or a canyon, the echo returns to you a moment later. An echo happens when a sound wave reflects off a surface, such as the water at the bottom of a well, and the sound is repeated back to you. For a place to be able to produce echoes, it must have certain features. For one, the size of the obstacle/reflector must be large compared to the wavelength of the incident sound (for reflection of sound to take place). For another, the distance between the source of sound and the reflector should be at least 66 feet (so that the echo is heard distinctly after the original sound is over). Lastly, the intensity or loudness of the sound has to be sufficient for the reflected sound reaching the ear to be audible. The original sound should be of short duration.

The length of time between the moment you shout and the moment that you hear the echo is determined by the distance between you and the surface that creates the echo. Not only do echoes tell how far away an object is, it can also show you how fast the object is moving and even its shape. This is called echolocation, and bats use it to find moths at night. A bat uses echolocation by sending out a clicking or chirping sound, which echoes off any objects that are near. Luckily for bats, they have very large ears and can sense even very soft sounds in certain wavelengths. In addition, their brains process echoes in a way that helps them know how far away an object is as well as how big it is and where and how fast it is moving. With the bat’s talents and attributes, echolocation is simple, leading the bat directly to its meal.

Bats aren’t the only mammal that uses echolocation–dolphins do as well. With what are called “phonic lips,” a dolphin makes clicking sounds. Humans, like nearly all mammals, produce sounds using their vocal cords. The dolphin doesn’t have vocal cords, but instead developed its phonic lips from what was once the dolphin’s nose. By sending pressurized air past these lip-like structures, the air vibrates and click sounds are produced. The echolocation process–sending out clicks and listening to the click echoes– is what produces a kind of mental image of the object that a dolphin is investigating with clicks.

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The Loss of Spatial Hearing- General Overview

Spatial hearing loss is characterized by the inability to distinguish spatial cues. For example, if a person suffers from spatial loss of hearing, they would likely be unable to tell where a sound came from. They would also have a difficult time picking one person’s voice out of a crowd. This makes it difficult for a person to cut out background noise and hold a conversation in a crowded place, such as a restaurant, bar, airport, or movie theater. Perhaps surprisingly, the ear is not the source of spatial hearing loss. Instead, it is thought to occur within the brain pathways that interpret noise.

This condition can affect anyone, but it is found most often in adults over 60 and young children. This can be especially frustrating for children in school – they find it hard to differentiate the teacher’s voice from other noises in class.

Audiologists are able to diagnose spatial hearing disorder with a test called the Listen in Spatialized Noise-Sentences, or LiSN-S, test. The LisN-S test determines how a person uses pitch and spatial cues in order to pick out certain sounds from background noise. The results tell the hearing instrument specialist the extent of the condition.

Spatial loss of hearing is often accompanied by other conditions. These conditions include loss of high-frequency and/or low-frequency hearing. Because these other forms of hearing loss are easily treatable with hearing aids, it is easier to reduce the effects of spatial hearing loss in people who suffer other forms of hearing loss as well. Hearing aids aren’t a magic bullet for everyone. In fact, for some sufferers of spatial hearing loss, hearing aids can actually make the problem worse.

Spatial hearing loss happens often in older people, due to the natural aging process and subsequent damage to the audio nerve. Medications, injury, vascular insufficiencies, or underlying medical conditions and diseases are also factors in the loss of spatial hearing. Sudden hearing loss that is noticed within a twenty-four to seventy-two hour span needs to be evaluated immediately. Some forms of sudden hearing loss can be helped if its treated right away. Causes can be blockage, illness, or infection–all of which respond well to early treatment. If sudden hearing loss is not quickly diagnosed and is caused by an infection or other underlying illness, it could progress to inner ear involvement permanently damaging auditory nerve pathways and resulting in permanent deafness or spatial hearing loss.

Unilateral hearing loss puts you at an increased risk of spatial hearing loss as well – so it is again essential to immediately get help if you notice any sudden changes in hearing. If you’re not sure if your hearing is changing, you should go get it tested right away.

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A Primer on Swimmer’s Ear, Its Origins, Signs and Symptoms and Treatment Options

Acute external otitis is an infection of the outer ear canal – the portion outside the eardrum. More people know it by its common name – swimmer’s ear. The infection is termed swimmer’s ear because it commonly comes about as the result of water remaining in the ears after swimming; this creates a damp environment that encourages the growth of microbes. This condition is also caused by scraping or damaging the delicate ear canal lining by using your fingertips, Q-tips, or other foreign objects to clean them. You should be familiar with the symptoms of swimmer’s ear, because although it is easily treated, not treating it can lead to serious complications.

Swimmer’s ear arises because the ear’s natural defenses (glands that secrete a water-repellant, waxy coating called cerumen) have become overloaded. A buildup of moisture in the ear, damage to the ear canal’s lining, and sensitivity reactions can all create an advantageous environment for the growth of bacteria, and result in infection. Specific activities will increase your risk of contracting swimmer’s ear. Swimming, use of inside-the-ear devices (including hearing aids or ear buds), aggressive cleaning of the ear canal and allergies all increase your likelihood of infection.

The most frequent signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching in the ear canal, mild discomfort that is made worse by tugging on your ear, a mild redness inside the ear, and mild drainage of a clear, odorless fluid. In more moderate cases, these symptoms may develop into more intense itching, pain, and discharge of pus. Extreme symptoms include intense pain (sometimes radiating to other parts of the face, neck and head), fever, swelling or redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, and actual blockage of the ear canal. If left untreated, complications from swimmer’s ear can be very serious. Complications might include temporary hearing loss

, long-term ear infections, deep tissue infections which may spread to other parts of the body, and cartilage or bone loss. Therefore, if you have any of these symptoms, even if minor, see your health care provider.

Swimmer’s ear can be diagnosed in an office visit after a visual exam

performed with a lighted viewing instrument called an otoscope. Doctors will also make sure that your eardrum has not been ruptured or damaged. If you definitely have swimmer’s ear, the conventional treatment includes cautiously cleaning the ears and using prescription eardrops to combat the bacteria. If the infection is widespread or serious, the physician may also prescribe oral antibiotics.

Remember these three tips to avoid getting swimmer’s ear.

  1. Dry your ears completely after bathing or swimming.
  2. Don’t swim in open, untreated bodies of water.
  3. Don’t place any foreign objects in your ears in an attempt to clean them.

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Cutting-Edge Hearing Loss Research: Inner Ear Hair Cell Regeneration

One of the sometimes frustrating things about being a hearing care specialist

is that many of the conditions we encounter which have caused our patients to lose their hearing can’t be reversed. Damage to the tiny, very sensitive hair cells of the inner ear is among the more prevalent reasons for hearing loss. The job of these hair cells is to vibrate in response to sounds. These vibrations are then interpreted by the brain into what we call hearing.

The sensitivity of these tiny hair cells allows them to vibrate in such a manner, and thus makes it possible for us to hear, but their very sensitivity makes them extremely fragile, and at risk of damage. This damage may occur due to aging, infections, medications, and by extended exposure to high-volume sounds, leading to noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL. The hair cells in human ears can’t be regenerated or “fixed” once they have become damaged or destroyed. Instead, hearing specialists and hearing instrument specialists must use technological innovations such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to compensate for hearing loss that is in essence irreversible.

Things would be a lot less complicated if we humans were more like chickens and fish. That may sound like an odd statement, but it’s true, because – unlike humans – some birds and fish can regenerate inner ear hair cells, and thus regain their hearing after it is lost. For reasons that aren’t fully understood, chickens and zebra fish(to name just two such species) have the ability to spontaneously duplicate and replace damaged hair cells, and thus attain full functional recovery from hearing loss.

Keeping in mind that this research is preliminary and has as yet produced no proven benefits for humans, some hope for the treatment of hearing loss comes from research called the Hearing Restoration Project (HRP). This research, funded by the nonprofit Hearing Health Foundation, is presently taking place at 14 laboratories in the United States and Canada. Researchers involved in the HRP are working to isolate the compounds that allow the hair cells in some animals to replicate themselves, with the future goal of finding some way to enable human hair cells to do the same.

This work is slow and challenging. Researchers need to sort through the many compounds involved in the regeneration process – some of which support replication while others inhibit it. But their hope is that if they can identify the compounds that stimulate this regeneration process to happen in fish and avian cochlea, they can find a way to stimulate it to happen in human cochlea. A few of the HRP scientists are working on gene therapies as a way to promote such regrowth, while others are working on using stem cells to accomplish the same goal.

Although this research is still in the preliminary stages, our staff wishes them quick success so that their findings can be extended to humans. Nothing would be more enjoyable than to be able to provide our hearing loss patients a true cure.

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Choosing Between Hearing Aid Replacement or Repair

One of our most frequently asked questions is, “My hearing aid is damaged or is not working as well as it used to – should I have it repaired, or get a new one?” Presented with only that amount of information, we have to answer truthfully, “Depends.” This is an individual decision, and the “ideal answer” is as individual as the individuals who ask it.

An important thing to consider is that all hearing aids – no matter how expensive they were or how well they were crafted – will at times begin to work less effectively, or break. The environment that hearing aids operate in – your ear canals – is an inhospitable one for complex electronic devices, full of ear wax (cerumen) and moisture. Ear wax is produced naturally, and we need it because it safeguards the lining of our ear canals, but it can “gum up the inner workings” of hearing aids; similarly, residual moisture is natural after swimming or showering, but it too can harm hearing aids. In addition, there is obviously the potential for breakage due to an accident or dropping the aids, and the internal tubing and other components inevitably break down over time, so after several years you can count on your aids needing repair or replacement.

Likely the major factor you should consider when making the “replace or repair” decision is how you feel about your present hearing aids – do you like them, and the sound quality they produce? If you do (as a lot of wearers of older analog hearing aids do), it may be easier for you to have them fixed rather than switch to newer digital hearing aids with a different set of sound characteristics.

One more consideration, of course, is price – new hearing aids might cost thousands, but fixing your existing aids might cost only a couple of hundred dollars. The part we can’t answer in this article is the impact of insurance. Some insurance policies include replacements, but not repairs or have varying policies on full or partial coverage.

Another question that arises if you choose to have your hearing aids repaired is, “Do I return them to the store where I purchased them, or send them to a repair lab myself?” There are several advantages taking them to a local hearing instrument specialist versus working with a distant repair lab directly. First off all, they can establish if repairs are actually necessary. Second, they may be able to get the repairs done on-site decreasing the amount of time you do not have your hearing aid. If they need to send the hearing aid back to the manufacturer or outside lab for major repairs, they’ll make the process easy for you and you might even get a better rate because they work in bulk.

If you decide to replace your hearing aid, you’ll have many innovative options to look at since the last time you shopped for one. More recent digital hearing aids have additional features that might help your hearing and can be more easily programmed to work the way you want them to. The answer to this “replace or repair” question is still your responsibility, but hopefully the information we have provided will help you.

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Uncovering the Relationships Between Hearing Loss, Dementia and Decline in Cognitive Function

For those of you who have suffered some type of hearing loss, do you ever find yourself having to work really hard to understand what is being said to you or around you? You aren’t alone. The sense that listening and understanding is tiring work is common among people with hearing loss – even the ones that wear hearing aids.

Unfortunately, the fallout of this phenomenon may not be restricted to hearing loss; it may also be related to loss of cognitive abilities. Hearing loss substantially raises your risk of contracting Alzheimer’s or dementia according to recent research studies.

A 16-year research study of this connection from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine included 639 participants between the ages of 36 and 90. The data indicated that 58 study volunteers – 9 percent of the total – had developed dementia and 37 – 6 percent – had developed Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that for every ten decibels of hearing loss, the participants’ odds of developing dementia went up by 20%; the more significant the hearing loss, the higher their risk of dementia.

In a similar research study, evaluating 1,984 participants, scientists observed a similar connection between hearing loss and dementia, but they also noted that the hearing-impaired suffered noticeable declines in their cognitive functions. The hearing-impaired participants developed reduced thinking capacity and memory loss 40 percent faster than individuals with normal hearing. In each of the two studies, an even more dismaying finding was that this relationship was not lessened by using hearing aids.

Investigators have suggested several hypotheses to explain the association between loss of hearing and loss of cognitive capabilities. Researchers have coined the term cognitive overload in association with one particular theory. The theory is that among the hearing-impaired, the brain exhausts itself so much working to hear that it can’t concentrate on the meaning of the sounds that it is hearing. The ensuing lack of understanding can cause social isolation, a factor that has been shown in other studies to cause dementia. Another theory is that neither dementia nor hearing loss cause the other, but that they’re both linked to an as-yet-undiscovered pathological mechanism – possibly vascular, possibly genetic, possibly environmental – that causes both.

However dismal these study results may sound, there are things to be learned from them. If you use hearing aids, visit your hearing instrument specialist on a regular basis to keep them fitted, adjusted, and programmed correctly, so that you are not constantly straining to hear. If you don’t have to work so hard to hear, you have greater cognitive capacity to comprehend what is being said, and remember it. Also, if the two conditions are connected, early detection of hearing impairment might eventually lead to interventions that could prevent dementia.

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How Professional and Amateur Musicians can Protect their Hearing

In addition to all of them being musicians, what do Barbra Streisand, Neil Young, Pete Townshend and Brian Wilson have in common? All of these musicians experienced – as a result of playing the music they love – permanent hearing loss.

When I treat musicians, I have to tell them a sad but unavoidable fact of life – the very music they love to play may be damaging their hearing. Exposure to loud music causes noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which can produce a temporary ringing in the ears (tinnitus); if you continue to expose yourself to the loud music, the condition can become permanent.

And this is true whether you play in a rock band onstage in front of thousands, in a symphony orchestra, in a chamber music group, or at home, rehearsing. Hearing loss can occur when exposed to any sound over 85 decibels (dB) in volume for prolonged lengths of time. If you play an electric guitar onstage, that instrument produces 120dB, but if you play an unamplified violin, it can produce 103dB, and thus cause just as much potential hearing loss. It has been estimated that musicians do more damage to their ears during the hours that they rehearse alone than they do in the short times they spend on stage.

Fortunately, there is something you can do to protect your hearing – invest in a pair of earplugs; not the cheap foam earplugs you find in drugstores, but high-quality musicians earplugs. Manufactures of ear protection today still use the original and proven design first invented by Etymotic Research over 20 years ago. Unlike the cheap Styrofoam earplugs that simply block sound, musician ear protection customized for you by your hearing instrument specialist allows you to hear your normal full range of sound, just at a reduced volume ensuring your hearing is protected. You can find universal-fit musicians earplugs in most stores that sell musical instruments, starting at about $15 a pair. But for the musicians I see – whether they play professionally or just for fun – I recommend custom-molded musicians earplugs with Etymotic filters, because of the greater protection they provide. These will be more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, more effective at blocking undesirable levels of noise while allowing you to hear the music properly, and easier to clean and care for. They are also more expensive than the universal-fit earplugs, but when you consider that hearing damage is irreversible, the investment is more than worth it.

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An Introduction to Hearing in Crowded Situations

A common question from patients relates to the ability to hear in crowded rooms. They report that they don’t seem to have any problem hearing people and understanding what they say when they are speaking to them one-on-one, or even in small groups. But in a crowd, such as a noisy party or in large public gatherings, suddenly it becomes difficult to understand what the person speaking to them is saying, or to distinguish the speaker’s voice from the background sounds. The same people that have difficulty with crowds, will often also express that they find it challenging to hear and distinguish certain consonants especially F, S, and H.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, there is a possibility that you may have suffered some form or high-frequency hearing loss. Human speech, especially the consonants “H,” “F,” and “S,” fall into the range of sounds between 3000 and 8000 Hertz, which scientists define as “high-frequency.” In a crowded situation there are many sounds across the frequency spectrum competing with one another. Much of the background noise – such as people dancing or walking – occurs at lower frequencies. Speech is layered on top of this in the higher frequency ranges. People with high-frequency hearing loss tend to perceive the lower frequencies – in this case, the noise – as sounding louder than the higher frequencies, which they are now having more trouble hearing.

High-frequency hearing loss is quite common. Some studies have found that as much as 18% of the population is affected. High-frequency hearing loss is normal with aging, but is increasingly being diagnosed in younger adults too. Audiologists suspect this may come from repeated exposure to loud music especially through personal headphones. There are other potential causes, including genetic factors, diabetes, exposure to toxic drugs such as chemotherapy agents, and other diseases.

If you are having trouble hearing in crowds and the reason turns out to be high-frequency hearing loss you’ll be glad to know that this can be treated. Hearing aids can be adjusted to amplify the higher frequencies and suppress lower frequencies, with the result that you can hear voices better in crowded rooms.

If you have trouble hearing in crowds, your first step should be to make an appointment with one of our specialists, so that we can determine whether you have suffered some form of hearing loss. Our specialists can perform tests to determine whether your problem hearing in crowds is really related to hearing loss, or whether it might arise from other causes.

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