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Helping People Hear Better Turns Doctor’s Heart “Into a Puddle”

  January 03, 2017
By David Heitz

The viral videos going around Facebook tell it all: beaming babies demonstrating shock, amazement, and joy at hearing the voice of a parent for the first time. Usually, the videos are shot at an audiologist’s office when a child who was born with a hearing loss gets their first pair of hearing aids.

“It’s just really sweet, especially when the child is getting their first hearing aids fitted,” Dr. Allyson Rainer, Au.D. said in an interview with Healthy Cells. “It just turns my heart into a puddle.”

Dr. Rainer is the newest Doctor of Audiology to join Audibel Hearing Healthcare, “Mississippi’s Center for Hearing Excellence.” Since 1962, Audibel has specialized in protecting and restoring hearing, and serves most all of Central and Southern Mississippi. Audibel also has a clinic in Mobile, Alabama — which is Dr. Rainer’s primary clinic.

Dr. Rainer has lived in South Alabama for almost 20 years, but is originally from Brandon, Mississippi. She graduated from the University of South Alabama. It takes eight years of formal education to become an audiologist, which now requires a doctorate (Au.D.) for those who did not graduate before the change — like fellow audiologist and Audibel owner, Stephanie Rogers. Ms. Rogers earned a master’s degree in audiology from LSU.

After working in Texas, Dr. Rainer is glad to finally be home. She’s especially excited about moving into Audibel’s new hearing clinic in Mobile next month, which she says will be easier to find and have the latest audiology testing equipment.

More than 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day
Dr. Rainer has known for a long time that she wanted to do something in the medical field to help improve peoples’ lives. She also enjoys art, but it can be a hard path to make a living as an artist.

With almost 11,000 Baby Boomers per day turning 65, age-related hearing loss has become a big medical issue nationwide. Seniors who choose to not explore the option of hearing aids end up missing out on important moments in their life. Not only may they be unable to hear their grandchild’s first words or struggle hearing their pastor’s message, but they may jeopardize their own safety — not hearing a vehicle while walking, suffering a misunderstanding at work, not hearing someone enter their home who shouldn’t be there, or in some cases, not even hearing a smoke detector go off in their home. They may even misunderstand important medical care information at a doctor’s appointment.

With the new Mobile clinic being near the hub of activity, Dr. Rainer plans to do quite a bit of community outreach. She will help her neighbors make sure they are able to protect their hearing from damaging noise with custom earmolds, know of any disruptive change in their hearing ability through a thorough hearing assessment, and keep their hearing aids fitted properly and in tip-top working order. She will also hold hearing workshops to help educate local residents and their family members about the lost opportunity caused by untreated hearing loss and available options, and to answer any questions for residents who may be interested in improving their lives by purchasing their first pair of hearing aids.

Sadly, medical research shows that untreated hearing loss can often be mistaken for dementia. Children may think their parent has a much larger medical problem than what exists and begin a difficult journey that isn’t necessary. “That’s why it’s so important to convince mom and dad to get their hearing checked, even though some stubbornly choose to resist getting hearing aids. It seems to still carry the stigma of being a telltale sign of getting older, but our patients are thrilled with their devices once they have them and become acclimated. What folks don’t realize is that untreated hearing loss is much more noticeable than today’s hearing aids to their co-workers, friends, and family. People really don’t know what they are missing.”

“It’s important for people to understand, a lot of patients who are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s very important to make sure the patient doesn’t first have a significant hearing loss,” Dr. Rainer stressed. “What if that’s all that it is? Hearing loss can all too often lead to isolation and not being cognizant of their surroundings because they can’t hear what is being said fully — so they appear confused and frustrated. It’s amazing how one condition can mimic the other.”

Hearing aid technology rapidly advancing
“These days, hearing aids aren’t an inconvenience. They are rather stealthy, intuitive, and easy to use,” Dr. Rainer said. “Some of our hearing aids even link up to a patient’s smartphone, and users can control their hearing aids from their phones without anyone around them noticing. They can even store settings for different places they enjoy by using technology called geocaching.”

For instance, the background noise at a favorite restaurant can be much different from the ambient noise at the beauty salon, or at their job. By storing favorite settings based on these different locations, the hearing aids automatically adapt as you travel from place to place.

Hearing aids are also becoming increasingly water resistant — which is important in our climate. Unfortunately, hearing aids are known to go through the wash in elder care facilities. Now, some hearing aids can survive the spin cycle, sometimes multiple times. All patients need to do is let the hearings aids fully dry and change their batteries.

“The technology now available is advancing so rapidly that people who have hearing aids that are four-to-five years old, it’s amazing how much improved their life can be with a new set of hearing aids due to the ongoing advancements,” she said. “Our hearing aids have a setting so that as long as the hearing aids are turned on, you can remotely locate them if you have misplaced them. Our primary manufacturer has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade into research to make our patients’ lives better, and they are an American company.

“We even have technology now that is directed solely for patients who have ‘ringing’ or ‘chirping’ in their ears, known as tinnitus. Often just wearing amplification can help, but now our hearing aids come with life-changing tinnitus management software,” Dr. Rainer said. “It uses sound therapy that just sort of undulates the sound and helps redirect the brain’s focus away from the tinnitus. It doesn’t really replace it, it just takes your mind off of it, which is the ultimate goal.”

Service members and young adults are growing patient segments

These days, Dr. Rainer sees a lot of active and retired military coming in for hearing tests and hearing aids. Not only do the hazards of combat affect their hearing, but even basic training can damage it. “Gunfire and explosions have a lasting effect on one’s hearing. This includes those who love to hunt. That’s why we offer an array of custom hearing protection. And for the hunter, we can help you hear better in the woods.”

What about young adults? “We used to think, what in the world are all these young people doing in here,” Dr. Rainer said. “But in the past five years, and there has been a huge focus on this, the iPods, stereos, smartphones, and ear buds people wear attached to their phones… the quality of the sound has gotten so good, the fidelity is so hazardous to one’s hearing. Today, our patients are surrounded by damaging noise on a daily basis — often without recognizing it. An industry standard is that our patients sadly suffer with hearing loss for seven years before seeking treatment. Think about all the lost opportunity in those seven years.”

“My dad is an audiophile, and back in the ‘70s, he had a stereo system, and these huge headphones he’d use to listen to his records. You turn it up to a certain point, and it would get distorted and uncomfortable. That is no longer true.”

Now the technology is so good, people are rocking out to music so loud that it’s damaging their ears early in life. “And they don’t realize it,” Dr. Rainer said.

Other causes of hearing loss often include workplace noise (factory workers, farmers, soldiers, first responders, dentists, musicians, landscapers), motorcycle engines, smoking (the nicotine in cigarette smoke damages the cochlea and reduces important blood supply), diabetes (affects flow of blood to the ear), and certain ototoxic medications.

Regardless of what is causing your hearing loss, the knowledgeable audiologists and hearing specialists at Audibel Hearing Healthcare are here to help you. Helping you hear better is their sole focus.

To schedule your complimentary hearing screening and consultation, call 1-800-748-8661. There are no hidden fees or commitments. If your hearing screening shows a hearing loss or tinnitus that is affecting your quality of life, a member of Audibel’s team of hearing professionals can let you experience their incredible technology right in the clinic. They even have devices that allow you to transmit audio direct from your television or favorite music source, for example. Whether you need custom hearing protection, custom hearing solutions, or just a thorough hearing test, they can help you.

Audibel’s home clinic is in Hattiesburg at 3901 Hardy St. Ste. 100, across from CVS Pharmacy at 40th Avenue. They also have hearing clinics available for you in Brandon, Columbia, Gulfport, Laurel, Lucedale, Meridian, Mobile, Picayune, Ocean Springs, and Vicksburg. Back to Top

January 03, 2017
Keywords:  Feature Story

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