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How Sweet the Sound

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LEXINGTON As the saying goes, sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing. That is particularly true for many people who suffer from hearing loss. It might take place gradually, the degeneration so subtle that it is ignored or undetected for years. A tree falling in the forest does make a sound, but that doesn’t mean you can hear it.

The team of audiologists at Bluegrass Hearing Clinic sees it all the time. Someone comes in with hearing loss. They are skeptical, but try hearing aids. Suddenly, they are reconnected to a world they didn’t realize they had missed.

Stacey High, AuD, recounts the story of a patient who “was so hard of hearing that he didn’t really say anything. His wife was screaming at him in the waiting room, but he couldn’t hear.” High tested the man and found him to have severe hearing loss in both ears. His wife was skeptical that hearing aids would help, but they tried anyway. The hearing aids worked. The couple was suddenly able to carry on a conversation. How long had they been unable to really communicate?

“His wife said, ‘You know, he’s always been part of the family, but he hasn’t really been part of the family for a very long time,’” High says. “She said, ‘He’s been isolated, physically there, but has not been involved.’ To see that man get his life back through better hearing, well, that’s why we do what we do.”

Bluegrass Hearing Clinic has been changing lives like that since 1997, when Deanna Frazier, AuD, founded the practice in Richmond, Ky. The practice has grown steadily since then, now consisting of 17 employees with locations in Bardstown, Cynthiana, Danville, Elizabethtown, Frankfort, Lexington, Manchester, Mount Sterling, Paris, and Richmond.

Frazier attended Eastern Kentucky University, received her master’s from the University of Cincinnati and her doctorate from Arizona School of Health Sciences. Initially, she was the lone audiologist at Bluegrass Hearing Clinic, but now the clinic has three other audiologists: High, Vanessa Ewert, AuD, and Daena Wilds, AuD. They work with patients who range from genetically deaf to those who have experienced hearing loss over time.

“Hearing loss can be genetically recessive, so a mother and father can create a child with hearing loss even though they have normal hearing,” Wilds says. “We also see a lot of people who have noise-induced hearing loss from farming, working in a factory, or being in the military.”

Often times, such hearing loss develops gradually. It can take a “trigger event” to help them realize or admit that their hearing has become a problem. “The typical person will wait about six years before they realize they are having problems and need to seek treatment,” Frazier says. “Often the “trigger event” is where they have missed out on something significant, been the butt of a joke, or they have an event coming up in the future that leads them to say, ‘Ok, it’s time to do something.’”

That something is often introducing the use of a hearing aid. And, like almost everything else, technology is rapidly changing the variety of options and the expected outcomes, with digital hearing aids offering advanced features over their analog counterparts.

“Analog is more of a one-to-one ratio when it comes to compressing sound,” Ewert says. “So what goes in, you give it this much amplification, and you get what comes out. Now with digital they have compression of sound. So if a very loud sound comes in, they can compress it so it doesn’t sound so loud. It helps with loudness tolerance.”

Hearing aids are also being developed to work with smart phones with the Bluetooth technology, allowing sound from a television or cell phone to be streamed directly to the hearing aid. That level of technology, however, comes with a learning curve for the patients.

But it’s time well spent to regain and restore quality of life. The impact of restored hearing can be immediate and dramatic. “As soon as we put the hearing aid on, you see the whole facial expression change,” Wilds says. “They go from this flat expression to being more engaged. They come back into the world and they come back into families.”

But the job of an audiologist is about more than hearing aids. Bluegrass Hearing Clinic also does noise monitoring for industry, provides custom molds for noise protection and swimming, as well as all types of diagnostic testing.

They also treat tinnitus. “Patients that have a lot of noise-induced hearing loss are more likely to have tinnitus, but people that have normal hearing can have it too,” High says. “Caffeine can contribute to it. Some herbal supplements can contribute to it. Even medicines can contribute to it.”

“I say we are auditory therapists,” Ewert says. “We are helping your auditory cortex through a similar rehabilitation that a patient with a knee or hip replacement would go through. New patients that are just starting to wear hearing aids don’t know what to expect. My job is to help them transition through the process so they can figure out what the world sounds like again.”

“We truly believe in letting our patients experience their world again,” Ewert adds. “We’re with them every step of the way.”

We truly believe in letting our patients experience their world again.— Vanessa Ewert, AuD