Take care of those ears


Hearing is important no matter your age — but you start to pay more attention to hearing problems and issues as you age.


We asked Dr. Kristen Rubin, of Keystone Audiology in Warwick, for some advice on hearing health. Here’s what she told us:  

When things get loud, wear hearing protection, such as foam earplugs, over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones or custom ear molds. Noise levels become dangerous around 85 decibels.  The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time you can safely listen. At 85 dB, sounds start to cause damage after eight hours. A lawnmower can get up to 100 dB, which causes damage after one hour, and a concert can get up to 120 dB, which causes damage after only four minutes.

Drink your orange juice. A diet high in potassium can be beneficial, as potassium regulates the fluid in our inner ears. Bananas, potatoes, oranges and tomatoes are good sources of potassium.

It is hard to recognize your own hearing loss. It often happens slowly over time, and we tend to blame others at first for speaking softly, too quickly, or mumbling. Dr. Rubin suggests getting your hearing tested regularly to create a baseline, which can provide an early warning of hearing loss.

Get some hearing help. Once you know you have a problem, it’s time to explore a hearing aid.

One style is custom-made and fits in the ear only. This type can be so tiny that it is virtually invisible, sitting deep inside the canal, or it can be bigger and fill up the whole outside of the ear. 

The other main type of hearing aid has two components, with one piece sitting inside the ear canal and a second piece sitting behind the ear, connected by a small wire or tube. Which you choose will depend on your hearing loss, dexterity in your fingers, and lifestyle. 

Both styles can be high- or low- tech, too. For example, some connect directly to smartphones to stream phone calls to both ears, and you can make adjustments with an app on your phone. Some high-tech hearing aids can also count your steps, translate language in real time, or alert a loved one if you have fallen.  

An ear implant is called for in rare cases when the hearing loss is so severe that a hearing aid is not powerful enough to help. It those cases, a cochlear implant may be the only option.

To avoid worsening hearing loss, the key is not to wait for treatment. As hearing is lost, the auditory part of the brain loses stimulation.  If the hearing loss remains untreated for a long time, the brain “forgets” how to process and understand sound. 

Rubin also said that if someone you know doesn’t hear well, speak to them slowly and clearly. And don’t speak from another room. Ideally, you should be three to six feet away, so the person can focus on you.

Rubin, who grew up in Warwick, attended the University of Connecticut, where she discovered audiology. She received a doctorate in audiology from Salus University, in Philadelphia. After several years in Philadelphia, she returned to Rhode Island to take over Dr. James Healey’s audiology practice.

“This was an opportunity I had hoped for,” she said in an email interview, “to merge my audiology background and my entrepreneurial spirit.”

FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.