Contact Sports and Hearing Loss

What are football players at risk of losing when playing to win?

August usually means a handful of things: It’s the last leg of summer, school is quickly approaching, and football is finally back. The return of football means many of us won’t leave our couches on Sundays (or Saturdays, depending on if you’re an NFL or college fan, or — well, let’s be honest, both!), but it also means more debate over just how dangerous the sport is.

According to ear surgeon John Leonetti, a Loyola University Medical Center doctor, retired NFL players may be at risk for more than just the effects of concussions, broken bones, and torn ligaments. According to Leonetti, they may also be at risk for permanent hearing loss and tinnitus due to repeated brain trauma.

Leonetti says there are two possible mechanisms by which repeated blows to the head could cause hearing damage: A heavy blow to the head can cause the brain to jiggle, potentially damaging the nerves that connect the brain to the inner ear; and a blow to the head can also create a shock wave powerful enough to damage the cochlea, which is responsible for sending hearing signals to the brain.

According to a study done by the U.S. National Library of Medicine on the management of temporal bone trauma, “the temporal bones are paired structures located on the lateral aspects of the skull and contribute to the skull base. Trauma is usually the result of blunt head injury and can result in damage to the brain and meninges, the middle and internal ear, and the facial nerve. Complications can include intracranial hemorrhage, cerebral contusion, CSF leak and meningitis, hearing loss, vertigo, and facial paralysis.”

The study points out crucial actions to help prevent complications. It states, “Diagnosis followed by appropriate medical and surgical management is critical. Diagnosis relies primarily on physical signs and symptoms as well as radiographic imaging. Emergent intervention is required in situations involving herniation of the brain into the middle-ear cavity or hemorrhage of the intratemporal carotid artery. Patients with declining facial nerve function are candidates for early surgical intervention. Conductive hearing loss can be corrected surgically as an elective procedure, while sensorineural hearing loss carries a poor prognosis, regardless of management approach. Children generally recover from temporal bone trauma with fewer complications than adults and experience a markedly lower incidence of facial nerve paralysis.”

Though there has been no published study involving football players and hearing loss, Leonetti says the anecdotal evidence alone should be sufficient to convince someone to conduct a study to determine if rates of hearing damage are indeed higher. Regardless, it is important to remember that hearing loss is usually the result of repeated instances of trauma, so protecting the ears from damage means fewer health risks down the road. And the right kind of protection is the kind that fits you comfortably, creating a seal that only custom-fit hearing protection can provide.

Luckily, you don’t have to go far to find that kind of custom protection — we provide it! Contact us today to learn more.

Why can I hear but not clearly understand what people are saying?

When we talk about hearing, we need to break it down into two parts. The first is audibility, or loudness. It means I can hear the sound. The second is clarity, which means I can understand the words that were said.

Common ways patients describe this problem are:

  • “I hear but I don’t understand.”
  • “It seems like everyone is mumbling.”
  • “I hear all the noise but cannot understand the words.”

In most cases like these, the patient has pretty strong hearing in the low pitch area. That is the part of hearing that relates to audibility. So they don’t have a loudness problem. Their hearing, however, is getting weak in the middle and high frequencies. This is where the clarity is for speech. So the words are not clear even though they can technically be heard.

This is such a common problem that it has a name. It is called a Sound Void®. Sound Voids are moments lacking in clarity or times when we hear only parts of the words or hear the wrong words. Here is an example of Sound Voids in action:

  • Three men go out for a walk. The first says, “It’s windy today.”
  • The second one says, “It’s not Wednesday, it’s Thursday.”
  • The third says “I’m thirsty too. Let’s go get a soda.”

The most difficult sounds to hear when your ears are getting weak in the middle and high pitches are s, sh, t, th, p, ph, f, and h. When these sounds are missing, you have difficulty differentiating between words. Oftentimes, there are only one or two sounds in a sentence that carry most of the meaning. When you lose those key sounds, the meaning can really get lost, and the conversation gets ruined.

What can you do if you have this problem? You should start with a complete diagnostic hearing test. If you have Medicare or an HMO insurance, your physician will need to order the test. If you have PPO insurance, you can call your local audiologist directly to get the testing done. This will make sure you do not have any underlying medical conditions relative to your hearing. Once these have been ruled out, you can then try some hearing aids to see how much they will help you. Today’s hearing aids are designed to provide maximum clarity with minimum loudness, so they are perfect for most patients.

Starkey Mission Blog: Day 3

The ability to reach out and lift other people up is unlike any other feeling in the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

I am lucky enough to have the privilege to do this every single day with my patients at home. The opportunity to travel to China just makes my own personal purpose in life that much bigger. We are not only giving the gift of hearing, we are giving the gift of hope. Hope that these individuals’ lives, and the lives of their families, will change for the better. Knowledge that the world is a big place and that there is an entire team of people out there that believes in them and wants them to succeed.
I just feel so blessed to be here, doing this work, and having this experience.
– Dr. Kim Ortega
Watch our mission trip video of a young boy, who has never spoken, being fit with hearing aids for the very first time.

Starkey China Mission Blog: Day 2

We fit 650 people yesterday and are looking at helping more than 700 people today. The excitement in the room is amazing! Children are trying to say their first words. An older woman is getting up and dancing to music she has not heard in over 15 years. A family is crying as their grandfather tells them he can now hear what they are saying.

It is a day like this that reminds me of why I am an audiologist: Because I bring joy to people and make lives better. I know my feet and back will be tired by the end of the day, but my heart will be soaring with all the stories I hear around the dinner table tonight.

Thank you to my staff and my patients who are making it possible for me to join the Starkey Foundation on this amazing adventure.

Starkey China Mission Blog: Day 1

The China Mission for the Starkey Hearing Foundation is up and running today. It is day 1 and we expect to fit approximately 650 people today. That is 650 families who will now be able to talk to each other; 650 people who will experience happy sounds like running water, birds singing, and children laughing.

So far we have seen all age groups. Dr. Ortega helped to fit a young child with their first set of aids. It is such a joy to see their faces when they hear themselves for the first time. She also fit an elderly man who had not heard himself or his family in over 20 years. Imagine his joy! Another fitting was for a mother who can now hear her children and feels like she can keep her family safer.

As you can see from the pictures, Dr. Ortega is all smiles. You cannot imagine the joy she feels with each person as she brings them the gift of better hearing.

We will update our pictures and stories as we can. Sometimes it is difficult to get information out of China due to the government limitations on the Internet.