A diagnostic hearing evaluation saved this woman’s life.
Nora Drown’s mother, Betty, proved the age-old adage that “mother knows best.” Two years ago, frustrated by Nora’s inability to hear clearly, Betty encouraged her daughter to undergo a hearing evaluation at EarCare in Melbourne.
“Mom was already a patient there,” Nora explains. “When I took her in for her annual hearing exam, she told them, My daughter can’t hear very well at all. Can you check her hearing, too? Of course, I told them I was fine and that I could hear. I was reluctant to do it, but I went ahead and did so to appease my mother.”
Nora was given a complete diagnostic evaluation conducted by Karen Cowan-Oberbeck, AuD, owner and Doctor of Audiology at EarCare.
What Dr. Cowan-Oberbeck uncovered was far more than the average hearing loss.
For starters, Nora was surprised to find out she had a profound hearing loss in her right ear.
“I honestly had no idea because my left ear would compensate for the loss in the right ear, so to me, it was balanced when it really was not,” Nora recalls. “I never had to turn the television up really loud, and I don’t recall asking people to repeat themselves, although my mom would disagree. The fact that I was completely deaf in that ear and had no idea really raised concern with Dr. Cowan-Oberbeck. She sent me to an ear, nose and throat specialist and that decision saved my life.”
“Nora had some off and on dizziness that she complained of as well,” Dr. Cowan-Oberbeck explains. “I found that her hearing was severely asymmetrical, with a profound hearing loss in the right ear. So, I recommended she have an MRI. The results showed that she had a schwannoma tumor growing on her eighth cranial nerve, which is the nerve that sends hearing information to the brain.”
Common symptoms of a schwannoma tumor are what Nora experienced: one-sided hearing loss and buzzing or ringing in the ear. Dizziness may also occur.
The exact cause of the acoustic schwannoma was unknown.
“The doctors said it probably took fifteen years to get to the size it was,” Nora explains.
She underwent a seven-hour surgery to remove the tumor, followed by four days in the hospital.
Don’t Delay Screenings
The hearing professionals at EarCare emphasize the importance of starting annual hearing screenings around age 50 in order to establish a hearing baseline and to accurately detect hearing loss. Hearing healthcare should be part of everyone’s overall health regimen.
“Too often, there’s a stigma attached to having hearing aids,” Dr. Cowan-Oberbeck says. “Some people think hearing aids make them look or feel older than they are. We have patients from all walks of life and various ages. Hearing loss can affect anyone at any age, so screenings are vital.”
The personal consequences of vanity can be nearly life altering. Untreated hearing loss means giving up some of the everyday sounds you are used to enjoying. Vanity could severely reduce the quality of your life. Research now shows untreated hearing loss contributes to reduced brain function, social isolation, depression and balance issues.
Because Nora had a total hearing loss in the right ear, her left ear had been overcompensating for several years.
To assist with her hearing, Bea McCabe, a hearing aid specialist at Earcare, recommended a CROS type hearing aid, ideal for those suffering from single-sided hearing loss. A microphone positioned on the weaker ear picks up information (sound) and sends it to the better ear.
“It’s really a wonderful improvement for Nora,” Dr. Cowan-Oberbeck says.
Today’s hearing aids come with advanced technology and longer life spans.
The average life expectancy of a hearing aid is about five years. After that, the electronics within the device begin to wear out, affecting its performance. It is no longer as reliable, and the acoustic response is not as accurate.
“An important reason that people choose to upgrade their technology is that the hearing aids they’re currently wearing are not performing up to the standards or meeting the performance levels that are expected for best hearing,” explains Dr. Cowan-Oberbeck.
The capabilities of today’s hearing aids are another reason to upgrade technology. The most significant change is wireless connectivity: the ability to wirelessly pair hearing aids with external devices, such as televisions, telephones and computers.
Because the advanced technology can initially be intimidating to patients, the audiology professionals at EarCare set up strategic appointments for training. These allow the hearing aids’ capabilities to be introduced, practiced and expanded upon as the patient becomes more familiar and comfortable with the technology.
“Manufacturers are always coming out with new technology, and it is important to us to be able to provide those advancements to our patients and for them to understand how to use them properly,” Dr. Cowan-Oberbeck says. “We take our time when we meet with the patient to thoroughly explain the hearing aids and how they work.”
Patient for Life
The EarCare staff wants people with hearing loss to know that once they become a patient, they will never need to go elsewhere for adjustments.
Dr. Cowan-Oberbeck emphasizes the clinic’s Patients For Life program, where they service a patient’s hearing aids for the life of those hearing aids. This includes regular maintenance and adjustments every few months and annual hearing evaluations.
Every one to two years, a patient’s hearing is evaluated in depth to ensure the hearing aids are working properly for them. Nora says she is amazed at what she thought she could hear before compared to what she can hear now.
“I had an ambulance drive up alongside me the other day, and I was amazed at how clear that sound was and how I could hear it from both sides,” Nora shares. “Even in a noisy restaurant, the sound is so much better than before, and I thought it was good then.
“I can’t tell you how thankful I am to my mother for pushing me to have my hearing checked and to Dr. Cowan-Oberbeck and everyone at EarCare. They saved my life!”