HAVE YOU HEARD?
Gael Hannan, Editor
The Better Hearing Consumer addresses the personal experience of living with hearing loss. Editor Gael Hannan, and her occasional guest bloggers, explore every corner of the hearing loss life with humor and poignancy. Comment Policy

Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah

Someone’s in the kitchen I know (oh-oh-oh)

Someone’s in the kitchen with Dine-AHH

Making lots of noise, noise, noise!

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that  “excessive noise seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects [disturbances in mental health], reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.

And that’s just the effect on people with good hearing, who have no inner noise issues!

But for people like me, sound doesn’t have to be excessive in order to be crazy-making. Like millions of other people, I have tinnitus. Also, a form of hyperacusis. Plus, (I suspect), muscles in my middle ear that have become bored and gone rogue, nutso, off the wall.

For people like us, noise can unpleasantly affect our conversations, workouts, and every daily thing we do. But the WHO warning still applies; so far, my heart-health is holding up, but I can get pretty testy and jumpy at loud noises, which in turn affects my behavior.  I don’t avoid social events, because that’s torture to an extrovert; I merely have  to decide between the lesser of two evils—put up with the noise or sit at home with a book.

Tinnitus and hyperacusis are heterogeneous, meaning that each of us experiences them somewhat differently, from different causes. How we deal with it, both emotionally and physically, is individual and so is our success rate.  And for some, our symptoms are ignited not just by sound, but by movement.  The whooshing of my hyperacusis is brought on, not only by sound, but by muscle movement. An intake of breath, a turn of the head or – when lying in bed – turning over or moving a leg. And it doesn’t matter whose leg it is—mine, the Hearing Husband’s or the cat’s—anything that jostles me can bring on the dreaded whoosh. I’ve learned to reverse the process by making the movement again, or taking a deep breath, or hunching my shoulders or some other muscle movement that settles my head-noise down to its normal tinnitus. Until the next flareup.

There’s not much I can do about nighttime whooshes—beyond sleeping alone in a mummy-like straight jacket in a cat-proof bedroom—but I can do something about the one of the noisiest places on earth—the kitchen.

Ah, the kitchen, where people congregate in the fragrant pit of fabulous food and gorgeous drinks, which cause the drool to pool in our mouths, anticipating the magical moment when we can actually eat.

But if you are sensitive to sound for any reason, kitchens can also be a nightmare. Hard floors create noise when it makes contact with anything—shoes, falling glassware, dogs’ fingernails. Chopping vegetables on a hard plastic cutting board is excruciating on the ears. Water steaming, veggies sizzling, and running faucets add up to one gigantic, horrific hissss. People-talk and laughter is amplified in the smaller confines of a kitchen.Peggy weill 2

Until the breakthrough cure for tinnitus and hyperacusis is discovered (probably within minutes of my leaving this earth), I’ll have to manage the kitchen noise the best I can.  We’re putting in a new kitchen over the next year and we’re focusing on using sound-absorbing,  noise-reducing  materials.

  • A more open-concept space that won’t let sound bounce off the walls.
  • Floor: cork-based, treated wood, non-trip and washable carpets.
  • Counters: laminate-that-looks-like-granite and a butcher block section—and a center island, positioned for easy people flow (as in, get outta my way).
  • Scraping chair and table legs send me through the roof. So, anything that moves—devices, appliances or piece of furniture—will have noise-muffling, gliding bottoms.
  • Garburator: Not gonna happen.  I’ll compost.
  • Drawers will be non-slamming and easy-sliding and the ones with cutlery will have sound absorbing mats to keep the clanking to a minimum.
  • Appliances must be quiet—and that means you, dishwasher, blender and fridge! blender
  • Timers will be visual or vibrating, rather than beeping or bellowing.

If too many people are talking in your kitchen, shoo them into another room with drinks and appetizers and when all else fails, hold an outside barbecue where the noise can be sucked up to the heavens.

If you have a noise sensitivity of any sort, understand and recognize your noise triggers and avoid them if possible.  And for people with typical hearing and normal responses to sounds, we just want you to understand why sudden loud noises—such as your voice—can make us cringe.  (Actually, we may not know why this happens, just that it does.) Please lift your chair when getting up from the table, and don’t turn on the blender without warning us. We’ll show our gratitude by replacing your noisy shoes with felt slippers.

Let’s hope that the next time someone or something is in the kitchen with Dinah, it doesn’t spark her tinnitus.

 

Kitchen Image:  A Silly Noisy House  Peggy Weil 1991

 

 

For those who have hearing loss and/or chronic tinnitus, news of breakthrough cures or treatments are met with a heartbeat-jump of hope.

Then, a snort of suspicion. suspicious21

But then we think, but what if?  How wonderful if one day, preferably before I die, ‘they’ discover something we can swallow or smoke that will actually revive those cochlear hair cells or eliminate chronic tinnitus? Gingko biloba and other miracle plant cures are spectacularly ineffective for most tinnitus-sufferers, quickly becoming just another jar in the medicine cabinet. And apparently marijuana can increase the sound perception rather than muffle it.

Are we closer to a laser beam that will zap a rogue acoustic nerve or cranky cochlea back into working order?

But if I hold my breath too long on those hopes, I will die.  So we just have to take the great news as it comes—in bits, slowly, surely.

Here’s a tasty bit: another reason why moderate alcohol intake may be beneficial to your health.  In her blog last week, my HHTM colleague Judy Huch reported that a National Institutes of Health-supported “meta-analysis of 143 studies on the effects of alcohol on the brain reports that light to moderate drinking (maximum of 2 drinks/day for men and 1 drink/day for women) reduces risks for dementia and cognitive decline by 23%”.  Refer to the blog for more details on type of alcohol, the neuroprotective effect, etc.

In summary, a very modest intake of alcohol might be good for us, along with being delicious and happy-making. (I suspect the difference in recommended amounts is related more to average body mass than gender. If so, is it fair to suppose that a smallish man should opt for the smaller amount, and a large-ish women could feel free to knock back a couple?) Regardless,this is good news for health conscious people who want to prevent dementia—don’t we all—and enjoy some wine or beer in the process. resveratrol-picture

But what does this have to do with hearing loss?  In my blog What Hearing Research Tells Me About Me, I referenced a study published in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.  Resveratrol is a plant compound found in red wine that may protect against noise-induced hearing loss and cognitive decline AND—wait for it—stress levels. And since hearing loss causes stress, products with resveretrol should be on our shopping lists. And just so that you don’t think I’m on the payroll of the nation’s winemakers, alcohol is not the only compound with resveratrol; I know at least one protein powder supplement that includes it.

People with hearing loss need to use many strategies to communicate and remain cognitively agile.  The 2014 study released by researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging, notes that as “the brain becomes smaller with age, the shrinkage seems to be fast-tracked in older adults with hearing loss”.  However, positive results are showing up in studies that examine the use of assistive technology and other communication strategies in combating this. 

For people who suffer from tinnitus—and that would include  me—a bit of alcohol can temporarily lessen the perception of the sounds that ring and roar in our heads.  But the magic word is ‘temporarily’. When the wine wears off, the tinnitus gleefully continues and participants on tinnitus forums comment that too much alcohol can make the tinnitus worse the next day. But now that I know that a glass of wine can be beneficial, I’m not going to worry about considered a lush. I mean, some children in Italy drink more than me.

Obviously, this strategy isn’t an option for those who prefer not to drink, or who have problems with alcohol and substance addiction. Assistive technology to maximize the hearing system is crucial, as is addressing the emotions of hearing loss—grief, frustration, anger—with the help of hearing professionals and consumer groups, as well as engaging family support.

The biggest impact and blow of hearing loss is felt in relationships. After 25 years of marriage, the Hearing Husband and I still have daily moments, even snits, related to hearing loss. But he works hard, not only to communicate the way I need, but also to help me in difficult listening situations.  Otherwise, my stress levels would be higher, possibly forcing me up to a higher level of daily alcohol consumption.  gaeldougdrrinks

A closing note on moderate versus excessive consumption: too much of a good thing is counter-productive.  In my blog, My Wine My Hearing Loss, the Relationship, I mentioned the chilling research from Dr. Elisabeth Stephanie Smith, University of Ulm, in her 2004 study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.  Chronic, life-long alcohol consumption can shrink your brain and lead to hearing loss, due to impact on central auditory pathways. 

And that’s exactly the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve!  Cheers!

Note: For more information about drugs that may help with tinnitus, see this week’s post by Dr. Carol Bauer.

Images from the Internet