Singing Leads to Better Hearing

January 5th, 2018

Singing-3-singing-35633120-500-334Go ahead and belt that show tune in the shower — it’s for your health! It’s long been known that singing can reduce stress and increase mental alertness, but your melodies may also improve the way you hear and understand conversations in noisy places, according to recent research.

Deciphering speech in noisy situations can be hard for older adults. Hearing aids can only help so much, because separating speech from noise doesn’t happen in our ears as much as it does in our brains. As people age, something declines along the pathway between the inner ear and the brain’s auditory cortex. Although hearing aids are becoming increasingly better at suppressing extra noise, they can’t completely correct the problem of aging auditory systems.

But some people have less of a problem as they age. Older musicians do better than non-musicians at distinguishing speech from noise, even when their overall hearing is the same — and researchers wanted to know why. So some scientists invited older adults to join a choir (no musical experience or talent required), and tested whether the musical training changed how their brains processed speech in noisy environments. Each session lasts ten weeks, with one two-hour rehearsal each week.

“Singing is sort of like brain boot camp. You’re sort of whipping your neurons into shape,” said Ella Dubinsky, a graduate student in the lab where the choir experiment was conducted. “We wanted to see how short-term could we make the musical training. How quickly can we see these improvements?” she said.

In addition to the choir participants, the researchers followed two other control groups for comparison. One simply listened to music, and the other had no musical intervention. The result? The choir group’s hearing improved after singing training. The other two groups showed no improvement.

But don’t move to Broadway and addition for Hamilton yet. Besides singing, there are other ways that you can improve your hearing at any age.

Practice Focusing on and Locating Sounds.

Hearing exercises can help you hone in on where sounds are coming from and who or what is making the sounds. Create a noisy (but comfortable) environment. Have someone move around the room while reading sentences from a book or newspaper. Close your eyes, repeat the sentence back to them, and try to locate from where he or she is reading the sentence.

Practice recognizing various types of sound.

Close your eyes and listen to all the different sounds in your environment. One by one, try to decipher individual sounds that you hear, both near and far away. The more you practice, the more sounds you will learn to recognize.

Consider downloading software apps designed to improve hearing.

Examples include AB CLIX (based on identifying differences between words), Forbrain (based on recognizing pertinent sounds in voices), and Category Carousel (based on associating sounds with images).


Besides giving you strength, balance, and flexibility, did you know exercises like yoga, walking, and stretching can help with your hearing? Exercise increases circulation in your ear and brain, and good circulation is important for healthy nerve function. If your doctor agrees you’re healthy enough, chances are good that exercise will help you feel better as well as hear better, too.

Meet the Neti Pot — An Over-the-Counter Help for Sinus Infections

December 7th, 2017

neti_potYou can feel a sinus infection as soon as it hits … pressure, discomfort and misery. Even thinking about one might make your teeth ache. Treatments for sinus infections range from antibiotics to surgery. But now there is also a traditional remedy that’s getting more attention after recent research shows it to have promise … the neti pot.

The neti pot is a ceramic or plastic container that looks like Aladdin’s magic lamp. People use it to flush out their nasal cavities with a saline rinse (nasal irrigation). Recent research has shown it may work to reduce symptoms of sinus infections, and to relieve associated headaches. It also helped people use fewer over-the-counter medications. Doctors say nasal irrigation is worth trying if you suffer from persistent or recurring sinus infections … but be warned … it feels weird. The sensation of having water in your nose makes some people feel a bit claustrophobic until they master the technique.

How Do You Use a Neti Pot?

There aren’t any official medical guidelines, but Neti pots usually come with an insert that explains how to use them. You can also make an appointment with our doctors to talk you through the process before trying it on your own. Here are few tips:

  • Use distilled water for safety, rather than tap.
  • Add a saline solution (that comes pre-measured with your kit).
  • Bring the water to room temperature before using it, so it’s lukewarm to the touch.
  • Tip your head over a sink. The fluid should flow through your nasal cavity and out the opposite nostril.
  • There’s no need to fire hose your nose. It’s the volume of the fluid that’s cleaning out your sinuses, not the pressure.
  • When you start, hold your breath so you don’t shoot water into your airway.
  • Expect to make a mess. It’s a sign you are doing it right.
  • When you are done, gently blow your nose to get rid of any remaining liquid.
  • Clean your device after each use and allow it to air dry. Clean it regularly with soap and water to prevent bacterial growth, and replace it every few months.

For any patient seeking to reduce sinus infection symptoms, experts advise sticking with nasal irrigation for long enough to determine if it’s effective – even if it feels a little weird at first. If nasal rinses aren’t working, it will be important to speak with our specialists to determine if you have sinusitis, or perhaps another related issue instead.

The neti pot is generally safe to use. About 10% of regular users experience mild side effects, such as nasal irritation and stinging. Reducing the amount of salt in the solution, adjusting the frequency of Neti pot use, and changing the temperature of the water reduces side effects. Neti pots are available over-the-counter at many drug stores, health food stores, and online retailers. They usually cost between $10 and $20.

Teacher and Caregivers Should Know How & When to Use Auto-Injectors for Anaphylaxis

November 18th, 2017


If you’ve seen someone go into anaphylaxis after a severe allergic reaction, it can be scary. But if they have an auto-injection device (sometimes called an EpiPen). they can quickly and easily self-administer life-saving medication. To use it, a person pulls off the cap and sticks the needle into her thigh. The drugs enter the bloodstream immediately, kicking in within 30 seconds.

Around 3.6 million Americans carry this medication, many of them children. The pens contain epinephrine, otherwise known as adrenaline, which relaxes the muscles and opens up the airways, allowing a person to breathe. These drugs aren’t a cure  — they typically wear off after around 15 minutes. It’s really just a way to buy time while a patient seeks medical attention.

But a new study has found that when children with life threatening allergies experience anaphylaxis, parents, teachers and other caregivers often fail to administer epinephrine. The study showed that less than 40 percent of kids — even those who had previously experienced anaphylaxis and been prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector — received a dose of the drug before they got to the emergency room or an urgent care clinic after experiencing a reaction.

While awareness in schools about allergies has grown in recent years, there is a lag in understanding when it comes to using auto-injectors. It is important for anyone working with school-age children to be able to recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis and understand how to use auto-injectors. Within minutes, an allergic reaction can turn into a life-threatening situation. Using epinephrine immediately after exposure to an allergy trigger can help reverse the symptoms.

Parents of children with severe allergies should work with teachers and caregivers at the start of each school year to create an action plan with an explanation of the child’s allergy triggers, what to do in case of reaction, where they have access to epinephrine and how to administer emergency anaphylactic treatment. Signs and symptoms of a life-threatening allergic reaction may include hives, nausea, cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, swelling of the face and throat, wheezing or difficulty breathing, chest pain, flushing, headache or seizures.

The start of a new school year is also an important time to check dates on the auto-injection device to be sure it hasn’t expired. If you want more information about these devices, or have questions about when to use them, come in and talk to our doctors!


Meet Dr. Amir Allak: South Valley ENT’s expert in cosmetic and functional facial surgery

October 28th, 2017

doctor-allakDr. Amir Allak is a doctor who believes in the whole person. His passion for science and talent for connecting with people led him to his career path … and have allowed him to be the kind of person who understands and connects with patients on a deeper level.

How did you first become interested in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery?

Dr. Allak: I’ve always loved both science and people, and medicine was the best crossroads between those two things. Some are drawn to the practice of surgery because it is so focused on a single objective, but the reason I love practicing ENT is because I get the opportunity to see who a person is … even during surgery. By looking at a person’s face, I never forget who they are. It is easy for some to reduce a patient to a statistic. I prefer to know more about them … maybe they are a mom, a teacher, someone who likes to sing, someone who reads mysteries. It’s much more personal, and something I really value.

Dr. Allak brings a strong background in both his education and practice. He attended medical school at the historic University of Virginia and went on to train extensively with a world-renowned expert in Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Dr. Jonathan Sykes at the University of California, Davis. Through these experiences, Dr. Allak not only refined exceptional technical skill, but honed a strong person-centered philosophy about the practice of medicine. In addition to being board certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology and treating general ENT disorders, Dr. Allak brings to the group a specialty expertise in cosmetic and functional facial plastic and reconstructive surgery.

What are your strengths as a surgeon?

Dr. Allak: There is a certain amount of technical ability that every good surgeon simply has to develop. Once you have those skills down, some may think that is enough. But there is more … interactions with patients are the discriminating factor between an enriching experience, and a mediocre one. My ability to explain procedures, allay fears, educate, break down stigmas, are what sets me apart. The basic technical ability is something you can expect from every good surgeon, but the interpersonal aspect is the real test … and enhances every other part of the experience for the patient and me alike.

When it comes to his medical approach, Dr. Allak believes that solid communication between doctor and patient is the key. He says that giving patients time to communicate, understanding expectations, and then really listening to what they have to say, makes him a better doctor.

How do you empower people to make decisions that are right for them?

Dr. Allak:  Ultimately, the decision to have elective cosmetic surgery or procedures is a very personal choice. The way I see it, people work hard for their money, and it is up to him or her to decide how to use those resources to bring happiness to their life without judgment for deciding how best to navigate that path.

As far as empowering patients, it is really less about what I do, and more about what I can understand from each person that makes for a better experience. It’s about listening … absorbing and learning from each interaction. I want to understand what your goals and expectations are and tailor my approach to meet your needs. Every person is unique … in what they want, in how they think. No two surgeries are the same because no two people are the same. I work to match my skills to what each person desires out of the experience. This allows me to apply my skillset to enhance the overall service to the next level.


With his education, skills and experience, Dr. Allak could have gone almost anywhere … but he chose South Valley ENT for his practice. It’s a good fit, he says, and he already feels at home here.

  1. Why did you choose South Valley ENT?

Dr. Allak: The doctors at here share a philosophy that I believe in … that people come first. There is a positive energy in this practice – you can see it on the faces of people as they leave their appointments. There is a level of trust, expertise, and caring. I know that each of the doctors here actually cares about their patients, and each one goes about their craft with that sort of empathy and nurturing attitude. It makes for a seamless interaction when we collaborate knowing that we all hold these principles as top priorities.

Dr. Allak brings to South Valley ENT a special expertise in cosmetic and functional surgery of the face. This includes cosmetic rhinoplasty, functional nasal surgery (for nasal breathing), eyelid rejuvenation, aging face surgery (facelift, necklift, browlift, etc.), reconstruction after Mohs skin cancer surgery, facial trauma surgery, as well as non-surgical facial rejuvenation (botox, fillers, etc.) and others.

Stuttering in Children — What to Look For

October 18th, 2017


Kids sometimes trip over their words, especially when they are gaining early language skills. Sometimes children — especially when grammar and vocabulary skills develop faster than motor skills — go through a  temporary stage of “disfluency” that can last up to several months. But if stuttering is a more persistent problem it may require outside help to correct.

If stuttering lasts longer than three months and begins after age 3, it is likely a child will need therapy to correct it. Around 20% of children between ages 2 and 4 need help with stuttering (10% over the age of five).

There are four factors that can contribute to stuttering. The first is genetics. Half of people who stutter have family members who also stutter. Second, children with speech, language, or cognitive development delays are more likely to stutter. The third factor involves brain structure. People who stutter process speech and language in different areas of the brain than non-stutterers. Finally, fast-paced lifestyles and high expectations within a family can contribute to stuttering.

Most children who stutter start between 2 and 4 years old. However, it is not uncommon for stuttering to start later than age 4. One of the signs of early stuttering is repeating a sound or a single syllable (buh-buh-buh-baby). If you hear a part-word repetition, listen for how many times the sound or syllable is repeated. Keeping a record will help you form a better picture when you discuss the problem with a doctor or speech therapist.

Parents can help their child by staying positive. If your child shows signs of frustration or becomes hyper-aware of the stuttering, it’s fine to acknowledge that the child is struggling. But try not to say things like “Stop!” or “Slow down and think about what you’re going to say.” This often frustrates children and might even trigger more stuttering. Instead, simply repeat back what he is saying so that he knows he is being understood.

For many children, stuttering is not a big deal, especially in the early grades. For other children, though, stuttering may mean that they are less likely to raise their hand to answer a question. Children can also have difficulty forming friendships for fear of teasing. Teachers can use eye contact, give the child enough time to finish speaking, and stay focused on what the child is saying rather than how he is saying it.

There is no known “cure” for stuttering, but there is a lot of success for children who come to therapy while they are still young. Help from a therapist can help a child feel more confident and willing to share her ideas — whenever and wherever she wants to share them.


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

September 18th, 2017


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.

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.