Smiling Ear to Ear

Hearing aid programs adjust for fluctuation in symptoms.

When Halloween rolled around each year, Omega Donisi seldom, if ever, took her kids to a nearby store for a manufactured costume that dozens of other children would be wearing while trick-or-treating.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

An app on her phone allows Omega to control fluctuations in her hearing.

No, she went out, purchased the materials, sat down and made the costumes. She did the same whenever they needed costumes for school plays or other functions. She even made costumes for her kids’ friends, if they asked.

“That was one of my hobbies,” Omega says. “They’d tell me what they wanted, and I’d throw the idea together and make it for them myself. My children are all grown now, so I don’t do it anymore, but I really enjoyed it. It was fun.”

Making costumes for her children isn’t the only thing Omega no longer does. She’s no longer working either. Now 57, she had to give up her job with the City of Melbourne and retire early because of complications from Ménière’s disease.

An inner-ear disorder, Ménière’s disease can cause dizzy spells, ringing in the ears, a sensation of pressure in the ears and sometimes fluctuating hearing loss. The various symptoms can come and go over time.

Symptoms can also increase or decrease with the weather. In particular, any change in barometric pressure can spark a sudden increase in symptoms, which otherwise might lie dormant for long periods.

Omega was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease when she was 23. Since then, she has experienced several of its characteristics, including a 10-year period of dormancy. That ended about 15 years ago, when her symptoms suddenly increased and intensified.

After losing a significant amount of hearing in her left ear during her initial encounter with the condition, Omega’s hearing loss increased in both ears upon its return. She was also plagued the second time by balance disorders so severe she had to quit her job.

“One of the problems I had at work was when people spoke in really low tones, which I didn’t hear well,” Omega says. “I also struggled to hear men’s voices. When the balance problems affected my ability to get up in the morning and drive right away, I decided to take early retirement last September.”

Omega’s hearing loss did not factor into her decision to retire because she wears hearing aids. For years, she has been getting her hearing aids changed out and adjusted at EarCare, which has offices in Melbourne, Merritt Island and Indian Harbour Beach.
“EarCare made it possible for me to adjust my hearing aids from my phone so that I could hear better, even in meetings,” Omega says.

I Will Follow

Omega says she originally went to EarCare “because the audiologist who tested my hearing and the specialist who adjusted my hearing aids at the ENT doctor’s office I was going to left and started their own practice called EarCare. I followed them to EarCare, because they’re so incredibly good.”

The specialists Omega has been loyal to for so many years are Dr. Karen Cowan-Oberbeck, AuD, FAAA, and Glenn A. Oberbeck, BC-HAS.

Glenn says patients with Ménière’s disease present unique, though far from insurmountable, challenges.

“The challenge you often have with patients who have Ménière’s disease is that there is so much fluctuation in their hearing loss,” Glenn explains. “These patients literally have good days where everything is great and bad days where everything can be extremely difficult.”

“When you have that kind of fluctuation in hearing, what’s actually changing is the frequency response. It’s not a matter of simply turning the volume up or down on the hearing aids. You literally need to get in there and manipulate
the programming.”

“That’s what we’ve done with Omega. We’ve actually come up with multiple programs for her good days and bad days. If she’s having a raging bad day of Ménière’s, she can just switch to the program we’ve created for that.”

Omega’s ability to simply switch from one hearing aid program to another depending on the severity of her symptoms is the result of recent advances in technology and Glenn’s expertise in getting the most out of that technology.

The creative process that brought Omega to this point began years ago, after she was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease and was fit with hearing aids. When the hearing aids alone didn’t provide the required improvement, Glenn went to work for her.

Using the results of a series of hearing tests, Glenn determined the parameters for Omega’s best and worst hearing days. He then used those parameters to create the programs that she switches in and out of, depending on the severity of her symptoms.

Omega has four such programs under her command, including programs that allow for the increase in ambient noise when she is in a crowded setting, such as a restaurant or family gathering.

Technical Knowledge

The adjustments Glenn made have greatly improved Omega’s speech-reception thresholds. Ranked as severe when she’s not wearing her hearing devices, those thresholds are only mild when Omega is wearing them, Glenn reports.

Omega can also control the programming of her hearing devices through an app on her iPhone. Glenn’s programming expertise is one of the many reasons she continues to visit Dr. Karen and Glenn at EarCare for hearing tests and adjustments.

“Glenn is so great with the hearing aids,” Omega reports. “They are very technical, but he takes all the time necessary to teach you how to use them properly and what to do in certain situations when you need to change programs.

“He’s just great. It’s actually because of the hearing aids that Glenn recommended, the adjustments he’s made to them and the programs he’s created that I was able to continue working as long as I did.

“I think it’s partly because Glenn wears hearing aids himself that he understands what you’re talking about when you’re having a problem. That’s why he’s so good at making the adjustments and finding that comfortable level that’s just right for you.

“Not everybody can do that. That’s why I think the world of Glenn and Dr. Karen. They are the most thorough and patient people I’ve ever worked with. I will follow them anywhere they go.”

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