Hearing and Dementia: Healthy Hearing is Linked to a Healthy Brain

September 18th, 2017

hearing

Your ears catch the sound in your world, but it’s your brain that makes sense of it. New research suggests that hearing loss could have a greater cost on your brain than just the loss of information. Hearing loss could actually be a risk indicator for cognitive decline linked to dementia. Or, to look at the bright side, hearing correction can actually delay the onset of dementia, research shows.

Dementia is a general term used to describe severe memory loss and a decline in mental ability usually affecting those 65 years and older. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. The risk of developing dementia increases for older adults if they have hearing loss, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers found that for adults 50 years and older, those with poor hearing were more likely to have a dementia diagnosis than those with normal hearing. Other factors that increase the statistical likelihood of dementia include hypertension, obesity, smoking, depression, inactivity, social isolation and diabetes.

But dementia may be delayed by tackling these risk factors. A new report suggests that as many as one third of all dementia cases may be delayed or prevented by eliminating some of the risk factors — specifically, active treatment of hypertension in middle and old age, as well as increasing exercise and social engagement, reducing smoking, and managing hearing loss, depression, diabetes, and obesity.

It is estimated that more than 40 million Americans have noise-induced hearing loss (the most preventable type of hearing loss). But these findings suggest that rather than just being an inconvenient part of aging, hearing loss may play a much more important role in brain health than we’ve previously thought.

Just as many adults are diligent about getting yearly physicals, it is good practice to schedule a hearing test every year. Make an appointment with our qualified staff to have your hearing evaluated. Once we have a baseline audiogram, we can watch for changes and take action if necessary.

If you are diagnosed with hearing loss and hearing aids are recommended, don’t delay treatment. Today’s hearing devices are discreet, comfortable and connect to the latest technology. Not only will you be able to hear better, recent research indicates your brain will be healthier, too.

At-Home Treatments for Nasal Congestion

August 19th, 2017

noseA stuffy nose is an annoying, distracting, and very common problem. Most of us get an occasional stuffy nose from viral infections (such as a cold), from allergies, or as a side-effect of pregnancy. Inflammation and swelling inside the nose make you feel stuffed up and uncomfortable. Mucus and drainage may also join the party. You don’t necessarily need to run to the doctor every time you get the sniffles. In most cases nasal congestion can be treated effectively at home.

Steam Up the Bathroom
Take a hot shower or soak in a warm bath to decrease nasal congestion. The steam helps mucus drain from the nose and improves breathing. Although the benefits of the steam may not last, it provides temporary relief … which can be all you need to get through the day or get some precious sleep.

Warm Compress
Warmth may decrease sinus congestion and tightness in the nose and face. Wet a washcloth with very warm water and apply it to the face (be sure it isn’t too hot). You can add slices of fresh ginger or lemon to the water while soaking the washcloth for a pleasant aroma and additional relief.

Saline spray
A shot or two of store-bought saline spray (a mix of salt and sterile water) may help decrease tissue inflammation in the nose. These sprays do not contain medication, so they are usually safe to use during pregnancy. You can buy them over-the-counter in many stores.

Sinus Flush
There are several kinds of bottles that can be used to flush out sinuses. Neti pots are used to effectively wash mucus out of sinuses, but they require you to “sniff” in liquid, which can be hard for some people. A specially-designed squeeze bottle and saline solution can also be to flush the mucus out of each nostril. Distilled or previously boiled water (that is cooled) can be used to avoid bacteria from tap water.

Cool moisture
Adding moisture to the air from a cool mist humidifier can help to thin mucus and make draining easier. It can also help to reduce inflammation inside the nose. It’s important to keep a humidifier clean to prevent bacterial growth inside the machine. Follow the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations.

Drink Up
Be sure to drink enough water. Being well-hydrated causes the mucus to be more thin and makes it easier to push fluid from the nose.

What’s Making My Throat Itch?

July 15th, 2017

itchyYou can’t scratch the inside of your throat — but sometimes it gets dog-gone itchy. Almost everyone has had the experience of an irritating itchy feeling inside your throat. It can be caused by a variety of things. To solve the puzzle, it’s helpful to look at symptoms that come along with an itchy throat.

Causes
Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is one of the most common causes of itchy throats. The histamine reaction can make your throat feel irritated. Other common allergy triggers are pollen, dander, dust, and irritants such as cigarette smoke or exhaust fumes.

Itchy throats caused by allergies may be accompanied by:

  • sinus pressure
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • itchy eyes and skin
  • sneezing
  • tiredness
  • swollen, red, or watery eyes

Food and drug allergies can also cause an itchy throat. The allergy may be mild, ending with an itchy throat or mouth. But they can also be life-threatening, so care is needed. Common trigger foods include peanuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, and wheat. 
Many people have allergies to certain medications including penicillin and other antibiotics. Some medications cause dry coughs and itchy throats even if you aren’t allergic to them. People taking ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure should know that they can cause an itchy throat and dry cough.

 

When caused by food or drug allergies, itchy throats may come with:

  • hives
  • redness of skin around the eyes
  • itchy ears
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • stomach pain
  • swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat
  • trouble breathing or swallowing
  • sense of doom
  • drop in blood pressure
  • loss of consciousness

 

Strep throat, tonsillitis, and viruses may start with an itchy throat before progressing to a sore one. If it is just a cold, the itchy throat likely won’t progress beyond mildly sore. If a person has a flu infection, their throat will be more severe and accompanied by fever, body aches, and chest discomfort. If the itchy throat is caused by an acute illness, it will probably be short-lived and accompanied by a combination of the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • swollen glands
  • muscle aches
  • weakness
  • headache
  • cough
  • nasal congestion

 

Dehydration is common during hot weather, after exercise, or during illness, and can make your throat feel itchy. When the itchy throat is caused by dehydration, other symptoms can include

  • extreme thirst
  • dry mouth
  • infrequent dark urine

 

Heartburn can cause an itch. Some people have a condition called silent reflux and may only notice a chronic, itchy throat as a symptom. But this is the exception. Normally, reflux or heartburn comes along with:

  • difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • burning sensation in chest or throat
  • gas
  • inflamed voice box
  • worn down tooth enamel
  • inflamed gums
  • bad taste in mouth

 

What To Do About It

 

A doctor does not always need to examine an itchy throat. Many times, home treatments are effective. How to best treat an itchy throat depends on what is causing it. Here there are some tried and tested remedies that may help:

  • a spoonful of honey to coat the throat
  • salt water gargles
  • lozenges and cough drops
  • nasal spray
  • hot tea with lemon and honey
  • over-the-counter allergy or cold medications
  • nasal sprays

 

There are also steps you can take to avoid getting an itchy throat in the first place. If you smoke, try to quit. Drink plenty of water, especially in hot weather. Avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol, which can irritate your throat.

 

If your symptoms last for more than 10 days, get worse, or don’t respond to self-care, you should see a doctor. Get help immediately if your itchy throat comes with trouble breathing, wheezing, hives, swelling in the face, a severe sore throat, fever, or difficulty swallowing.

Relief from Vertigo using Epley’s Maneuver

June 30th, 2017

dizzzyIf your world is spinning like a tilt-o-whirl, you may have a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). People who have BPPV become intensely dizzy seemingly out of the blue — even glancing up or rolling over in bed can cause extreme vertigo and even nausea. But it’s possible for some people to find relief from BPPV using a series of rather of bizarre-looking movements called Epley’s maneuver.

To understand why it works, first you need to know why BPPV happens. In one part of your inner ear, tiny crystals of calcium carbonate develop over time. They aren’t a problem if they stay put – but if these crystals dislodge and float to another part of the ear, then you’ve got trouble. Even small head movements can cause the loose crystals to trigger inner-ear sensors. It’s like a monkey trying to dial a phone … all sorts of confusing messages are sent to the brain.

What causes the crystals to dislodge in the first place? Researchers don’t know for sure. But if BPPV can be diagnosed, a doctor can lead you through an exercise to move the crystals into another part of the ear chamber where they’ll be out of the way and eventually absorbed by the body … a little like those water-filled puzzles that you tip in order to  move the rings onto a stick. The most successful of these is called Epley’s maneuver.

It’s a fairly simple exercise that involves tilting your head and leaning in various directions. The maneuver is even easy enough to try at home—as long as you know how to properly do it. Many people who recognize the onset of BPPV use videos for instruction. One of the most popular is produced by the American Academy of Neurology. But first you have to identify which ear is causing the vertigo (If you get dizzy every time you roll left in bed, then your left ear is the likely culprit). Once you know which ear has the problem floaties, look to that side when you begin the maneuver. You may also need to stabilize your neck after you try it — avoid any extreme movement of the neck for 48 hours.

There are other ways to address the problem. Some people prefer getting from their doctor an anti-vertigo medication that suppresses symptoms. And BPPV cam go away eventually by itself, but it could take weeks.

If Epley’s maneuver doesn’t help, it’s possible that you didn’t do it right, or that the crystals are in a part of your ear canal that requires another simple maneuver (called the Log Roll). But it’s best to leave it to the experts. The advantage of talking to our doctors is that you can confirm you’re treating the correct side and the correct canal. They can pinpoint where the calcium crystals are and how to move them along.

Are Antibiotics Always the Best Path to Treat Sinus and Ear Infections?

May 18th, 2017

antiIf you have a painful sinus problem or ear infection, you just want relief … and swallowing antibiotics can seem like the easiest path to recovery. About 90% of adults in the U.S. end up getting an antibiotic for acute sinusitis from their general practice doctor. Ear infections tell the same story; millions of parents take their children to the pediatrician for ear infections, and most of them end up going home with antibiotics.

But antibiotics may not always be the best remedy, according to recent research. Many medical groups are now recommending that doctors prescribe antibiotics with more caution. Research has shown that 60% to 70% of people with sinus infections recover without antibiotics. About 70% of children get better from ear infections on their own within two or three days, and about 80% are better within a week to 10 days.

There are some real downsides to using antibiotics when they’re not necessary — they can cause upset stomachs, allergic reactions and other problems. And they can contribute to the development of superbugs — infections that are getting harder and harder to cure.

It is difficult for doctors to know what is causing an infection just by observation. Sinus and ear infections can be caused by bacterial infection (for which antibiotics generally work)… but they can also be caused by viruses, drainage problems, and other conditions for which antibiotics definitely offer no help. Antibiotics may be more appropriate to give to certain patients who are less able to fight off infection, such as those with diabetes, or serious heart or lung disease. And antibiotics should be considered in patients with severe sinusitis symptoms.

And there are some kids who definitely should get antibiotics for ear infections, such as those ages 6 months to 2 years who have infections in both ears or any child who has severe symptoms, such as severe pain for several days and a fever of at least 102.2 degrees. Any child who has a ruptured eardrum should also get antibiotics.

The new guidelines recognize the need for physicians to decide the best way to treat each person. Sometimes a “wait and see” approach will give people flexibility … they get a prescription for antibiotics, but are instructed not to use it until they are more certain that the infection won’t resolve on it’s own. The longer symptoms last, the more likely a sinus problem is to be a bacterial infection, some experts say. The new guidelines also recommend ways parents can protect their kids from ear infections in the first place, such as by breast-feeding and keeping kids away from cigarette smoke.

At-Home Treatments for Nasal Congestion

April 18th, 2017

ouchA stuffy nose is an annoying, distracting, and very common problem. Most of us get an occasional stuffy nose from viral infections (such as a cold), from allergies, or as a side-effect of pregnancy. Inflammation and swelling inside the nose make you feel stuffed up and uncomfortable. Mucus and drainage may also join the party. You don’t necessarily need to run to the doctor every time you get the sniffles. In most cases nasal congestion can be treated effectively at home.

Steam Up the Bathroom
Take a hot shower or soak in a warm bath to decrease nasal congestion. The steam helps mucus drain from the nose and improves breathing. Although the benefits of the steam may not last, it provides temporary relief … which can be all you need to get through the day or get some precious sleep.

Warm Compress
Warmth may decrease sinus congestion and tightness in the nose and face. Wet a washcloth with very warm water and apply it to the face (be sure it isn’t too hot). You can add slices of fresh ginger or lemon to the water while soaking the washcloth for a pleasant aroma and additional relief.

Saline spray
A shot or two of store-bought saline spray (a mix of salt and sterile water) may help decrease tissue inflammation in the nose. These sprays do not contain medication, so they are usually safe to use during pregnancy. You can buy them over-the-counter in many stores.

Sinus Flush
There are several kinds of bottles that can be used to flush out sinuses. Neti pots are used to effectively wash mucus out of sinuses, but they require you to “sniff” in liquid, which can be hard for some people. A specially-designed squeeze bottle and saline solution can also be to flush the mucus out of each nostril. Distilled or previously boiled water (that is cooled) can be used to avoid bacteria from tap water.

Cool moisture
Adding moisture to the air from a cool mist humidifier can help to thin mucus and make draining easier. It can also help to reduce inflammation inside the nose. It’s important to keep a humidifier clean to prevent bacterial growth inside the machine. Follow the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations.

Drink Up
Be sure to drink enough water. Being well-hydrated causes the mucus to be more thin and makes it easier to push fluid from the nose.

Eucalyptus Oil
Eucalyptus oil is a concentrated natural oil from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree. For adults without allergies to eucalyptus, inhaling the oil can decrease inflammation of the nasal lining and make breathing easier. Place a few drops of the oil in a pot of simmering water to fill your room with the scent and steam, or use an essential oil diffuser.

Over-the-Counter Medicines
Some stuffy noses are due to allergic reaction. Some allergy medications contain antihistamine to block this reaction. Read the directions and understand the side effects before taking these medications.

Decongestants also help with nasal congestion. They work by causing small blood vessels in the nose to narrow, which decreases swelling. Over-the-counter and prescription medications are available. If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor before taking decongestants. Decongestants can have side effects, so be informed before taking them.

If your nasal congestion continues for more than 10 days, it may be time to see a doctor. Other things that might signal a more serious problem and require a visit to our offices include:

– green mucus
– facial pain
– pain in the ear
– headache
– fever
– coughing
– chest tightness

If you have any questions or concerns, grab your tissues and make an appointment today!

How to Tackle (achoo) Spring Allergies

March 28th, 2017

children-allergies-ftrSeasonal allergies are no fun. Whether you’ve dealt with them since elementary school, or are just now discovering the sneezing, sniffling, congestion and itchy eyes for the first time as an adult, welcome to the club — every spring, 36 million in the U.S. grab a box of tissues and brace for the next six to ten weeks of air-borne misery. There are plenty of ideas out there on how to treat allergies … some of it more useful than others. See if you can spot the fact from fiction below:

Does living in a desert cure allergies?
Nope.
Don’t park your trailer in the west desert just yet. Grass and ragweed pollens are found nearly everywhere. A new environment might ease your symptoms temporarily, but the relief could be short-lived. New allergens are probably lurking, ready to trigger a reaction.

Does eating local honey cure allergies?
Unfortunately, No.
Some people try and use honey as a natural remedy for allergies. But most reactions aren’t triggered by the type of pollen found in honey. Even a Pooh-Bear sized jar of it won’t build your immunity. Enjoy it with butter on toast, but know that even local varieties probably won’t ease your symptoms.

Will I outgrow my seasonal allergies?
Sorry Kid.
Most won’t, especially if they have hay fever (allergic rhinitis). A study in Sweden tracked 82 people with hay fever and found that 99% still had it 12 years later. But 39% did say they had some improvement.

Can the pollen count predict bad allergy days?
Actually, Yes.
Pollen counts measure how much of the fine yellow dust is in the air over a period of time. A high count means you’re more likely to have symptoms when you go outside. You can use it to decide whether to play outdoors, or instead catch up on Netflix for the day.

Does rain clear the air of pollen?
Yes, Depending …
Temperature, time of day, humidity, and rain can affect levels of pollen. If you have allergies to pollen, the best time to go outside is right after a good storm. Pollen counts run lowest on chilly, soggy days. But mold spores, on the other hand,  show up in damp weather. You’re most likely to have an allergic reaction to mold on wet summer days.

Can allergy shots help?
We know this one for a fact.
They aren’t a cure, but if you have bad allergies, they might help. Regular injections greatly reduce some people’s reactions to certain allergens. (There are also under-the-tongue meds that work the same way.) Allergy shots help your body get used to the things that trigger an allergic reaction. In time, your symptoms will get better and you may not have symptoms as often.

You may want to consider allergy shots — called “immunotherapy” — if you have symptoms more than 3 months a year and medicines don’t give you enough relief. At first, you’ll go to your doctor once or twice a week for several months. You’ll get the shot in your upper arm. It’ll contain a tiny amount of the allergen — pollen, mold, dander, or bee venom, for example. The dose will go up gradually until you get to what’s called a maintenance dose. After that you’ll probably get a shot every 2-4 weeks for several months. Then your doctor will gradually increase the time between shots. During that time, your allergy symptoms will get better and may even go away.

If you want to know if immunotherapy might be right for you, make an appointment to talk to one of our friendly doctors. We’ll keep the box of kleenex handy.

References:

http://www.webmd.com/allergies/guide/allergy-shots#1
http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/discomfort-15/tame-allergies/slideshow-allergy-myths-facts

Protect Your Kids’ Ears with Hearing Protection

March 6th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 3.41.33 PMYou want your kids to be safe and healthy … you brush their teeth, wrestle them into seatbelts, and use hand sanitizer like it’s going out of style. But what are you doing to protect their ears? Excess noise can hurt kids’ long-term hearing. Being exposed to everyday noises, such as listening to loud music, being in a band, attending sporting events, or riding a dirt bike, can lead to hearing loss over time. You can minimize the damage by teaching your children to protect their ears in loud situations.

Encourage your children to use hearing protection when they are exposed to noise that is too loud or lasts too long. The louder the sound, the quicker hearing damage will occur. Hearing protectors don’t block out all noise — they limit the level of sound and make things more quiet.

When to Use Hearing Protectors for Kids

  • When attending loud events in stadiums, gymnasiums, amusement parks, theaters, auditoriums, and other entertainment facilities.
  • When visiting auto races, sporting events, and music concerts, including symphonies and rock concerts.
  • If riding a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, or farm tractor.
  • When participating in shooting sports. Hearing protectors should be a standard part of shooting-safety gear as noise from a gunshot can damage your child’s hearing immediately and permanently.

Types of Hearing Protectors

Earplugs: Earplugs come in either soft foam or hard plastic inserts that fit directly into the ear canal. Earplugs can be less expensive than earmuffs, and come in both disposable and reusable options. They are easy to carry around in a purse or pocket. Some even come with a neck strap so that your child won’t lose one if it falls out. The soft foam reshapes itself to fill your ear canal, but the silicone, rubber, or plastic plugs need to have a more exact fit.

Earmuffs: Earmuffs often look like wireless headphones. The part that fits over the ear is filled with fluid, foam, or both. Earmuffs often cost more than earplugs, but they are easier for young children to wear correctly. Check to make sure the earmuffs are not too loose for your child’s head. If your child wears glasses, check to make sure the earmuffs seal properly over the glasses and are not uncomfortable.

How can you help kids be willing to use ear protection? Start by discussing whether they would rather wear earplugs that can be hidden by hair or a hat, or make a fashion statement with more noticeable hearing protectors. Fun and fashionable styles of hearing protection are available in stores and online. Make sure that earmuffs are within easy reach. Keep them visible and handy. Hearing protectors in a drawer won’t do any good.

When hearing protectors aren’t an option, cover your ears with your hands, lower the volume, or move away from the noise. By teaching your children about hearing protectors and why and when they are needed, you can empower your them to make smart decisions that can protect their hearing now and in the future.

Don’t Blame the Vocal Cords: Tone Deafness and Singing

February 20th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 6.25.57 PMAs anyone who’s watched an episode of American Idol knows, not everyone can sing. Some of us can carry a tune, and others … well … we’d better keep our day jobs. Tone deafness is the inability to hear and reproduce relative pitch — to pick up a sound with your ear, process it in your brain, and then create it with your vocal cords. Why does bad singing happen?  The breakdown could occur anywhere along that process … in the ear, the brain, or the throat.

Nearly all of us are equipped with the biological hardware to produce a wide range of notes, according to Sean Hutchins, a neuroscientist who studies music. But singing is a complex expression.  “The majority of people, around 60 percent, have a difficult time” with it, he said.

The majority of bad singers don’t have bad vocal cords — their throat muscles work just fine. So, do bad singers hear notes incorrectly to begin with? To find out Hutchins asked volunteers to reproduce synthesized vocal tones that he made with a computer. First, they matched the note with a computer note. Almost everyone was able to make the match, suggesting that for most people hearing was not the problem. But when people were asked to use their own voices to match the note, most of them … especially non-musicians … had a harder time.

Even when he played the same note more than 20 times, those who got it wrong the first time could not reproduce the pitch. They sang the same erroneous note over and over, as if they were locked in. When they were shown a screen that depicted the pitch of their voice compared to the actual note, they still couldn’t get it right.

The fact that some people can’t find a note even with help, and even after many tries, suggests that the brain is dialed in to the error, even when the ear knows better. Bad singers know they’re off-key, but they can’t find the right note. The term for this error is imitative deficit. The brains of bad singers associate a note we hear with the wrong muscle movement in the voice. The wires are crossed.

Their is hope for the screechers though. Researchers studying brain trauma have found that remapping the brain is possible, but it can be a laborious task, requiring practice every day for years. Hard work: the answer nobody likes to hear.

Are you tone deaf? Test your ear!

http://tonedeaftest.com/

Reference:

http://discovermagazine.com/2014/julyaug/11-singing-in-the-brain

Trickier Than you Think: Drinking More Water for a better ENT Health

January 18th, 2017

times-to-drink-waterSince middle-school health class, you’ve been told to drink eight glasses of water per day for better wellness. But many people find this hard to swallow — literally. Now, a new study may tell us why. Researchers have identified a brain mechanism that stops us from swallowing too much liquid when we are not thirsty.

Being hydrated is important. To work correctly all the cells and organs in your body need water. It lubricates the inside of your mouth and throat, cushions joints, protects the spinal cord, regulates body temperature, and helps food through intestines. Water also dissolves minerals and nutrients so that they are more accessible to the body, and transports waste out the back door. In fact, 60-70 percent of our body is made up of water.

Water leaves your body through activities like sweating, urination, and even breathing. Drinking plain old water is the best source of fluid, because it doesn’t contain calories, caffeine, or alcohol, but you can also gain water through foods and other drinks. The recommended amount of water to be consumed per day varies from person to person, depending on their size, how active they are, and how much they sweat. The idea of drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, (which works out at around 1.9 liters) is an easy-to-remember amount that puts people on the right track. But is it right for you?

A new study that suggests we should drink only when we are thirsty, because swallowing when we aren’t thirsty is physically challenging. Researchers at the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University in Australia published their finding in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They discovered a mechanism in the brain that makes swallowing excess water difficult.

The team enrolled a number of participants and asked them to drink large amounts of water immediately after exercise when they were thirsty, and later on in the day when they were not thirsty. They asked the participants to rate how difficult it was to swallow. Compared with water consumption just after exercise, participants found it three times more difficult to drink water when they were not thirsty. They were having to overcome some sort of resistance, according to the research.

The team measured brain activity just before each episode of drinking. They discovered that certain areas of the right prefrontal cortex of the brain showed significantly higher activity when participants had to make an effort to swallow the water, suggesting that this brain region “overrides” the swallowing inhibition to allow excess water consumption. The brain likely works this way because drinking too much water can cause as much or more harm to your body as not drinking enough.

When it comes to water intake, we may do best by listening to our body’s needs. To get it right, just drink according to thirst rather than an elaborate schedule, researchers recommend. Still, the team points out that water intake remains essential to human health, and there are certain groups — such as elderly individuals — who tend not to consume enough water and should make an effort to drink more.

Original Reference:
http://newswise.com/articles/study-challenges-idea-of-mandatory-water-intake