By Alexander Germanis
The holiday season is largely about giving rather than getting and being thankful for what we have. But there are still often things for which we forget to be grateful—things we still take for granted.
The ability to hear is one of those things. We are schooled from an early age to visit the dentist or to get our vision checked, but taking care of our hearing on a regular basis is an aspect of our personal health care that often goes by the wayside.
The audiologists at the Central Illinois Hearing and Balance Center (CHBC) desperately want to change that. Whether they are seeing newborns or seniors soon to experience their hundredth new year, they urge everyone to consider just how precious the gift of hearing is.
Passion for Hearing, Compassion for Patients
Central Illinois Hearing and Balance Center was founded by Dr. Finn R. Amble, M.D., F.A.C.S and Dr. Aaron Rossi to supplement and provide continuity of care between the ENT and audiology practices. The doctors have put a major investment into the CHBC practice by bringing in the most state-of-the-art equipment for the two audiologists, Ann Marie Smith, Au.D., CCC-A and Terra Cano, Au.D., FAAA.
They believe that what sets their practice apart is their staff and knowing you are dealing with Doctors of Audiology who have invested seven years of schooling.
With a long-standing interest in science and health, Dr. Smith has been directly linked to audiology from a very young age.
“It began when I was in middle school,” Dr. Smith recalls. “I knew a fellow student who was deaf. She was in my classes, so to communicate with her I learned sign language. I also had a neighbor who was a teacher of the hearing impaired and I was close with her. [Those experiences] sparked my interest in audiology.”
Originally from Burlington, Iowa, Dr. Smith worked for 24 years in a hospital’s ear, nose and throat clinic while simultaneously teaching public speaking at a junior college in the evenings. When her husband got transferred, they moved to Bloomington/Normal, where she brought her expertise and decades of experience to CHBC.
Although born in Alaska, most of Dr. Cano’s childhood was spent in the Midwest as well. But her interest in audiology developed during her undergrad studies at the University of North Dakota. “I began my freshman year majoring in speech-language pathology,” she begins.
“However, I was drawn to audiology because I was intrigued with the way the field is able to combine aspects of healthcare, science and counseling.”
Returning to the Midwest to earn her doctorate and then joining CHBC, she and her husband love living and working in Central Illinois.
“One thing I love [about the work] is that every day is different,” Dr. Smith agrees. “It’s a state law that newborns have to have a hearing rest. If they didn’t pass at the hospital or were a home birth, we test little ones. The oldest person I had was 110 years old. I love that—all the different ages.”
Just as hearing loss can affect any age there are also myriad types of hearing loss. “Just because someone has hearing loss doesn’t mean they are necessarily a candidate for a hearing aid,” Dr. Smith says. “There could be a whole host of other reasons: maybe it’s simply impacted ear wax, or an ear infection.”
“We really listen to what you’re coming in for and take that into account and spend time with you,” she continues. “We listen to what your wants and needs are and make recommendations based on that and our diagnostic testing.”
Part of the inconvenience of going to a doctor is finding out you need to come back for your results, which means another appointment, another wait in reception and possibly another set of paperwork. CHBC prides itself on comprehensive service, preventing the medical runaround.
“When we do the testing—the same day, the same appointment—we go over the results and recommendations with the patient,” Dr. Smith assures. “You don’t have to wait.”
“Comprehensive care is vital for all aspects of healthcare, including our ears,” Dr. Cano says. “Our audiology department is able to provide both hearing and balance services.”
“If a patient has tinnitus or a balance issue, we can help,” Dr. Smith adds. “We can test for balance, because walking and balance depend on good hearing.”
“We also have the ability to work as part of an interdisciplinary team,” Dr. Cano continues, “which includes otolaryngology specialists and physical therapists, allowing us to make the most appropriate referrals with our patients' best interests at mind.”
Further convenience is provided by CHBC’s other location: Sound Choice Hearing Clinic in Pekin. Dr. Cano and Smith both operate out of the Pekin and Bloomington locations throughout the week.
Conservation is a word often associated with the environment, but our hearing is something we can and need to conserve as well.
“We really want to educate patients on how important it is to use hearing protection when cutting the grass, using snow blowers or hunting,” Dr. Smith warns. “And try not to listen to super loud music through the ear buds.”
The audiologists can make custom hearing protection for people who do engage in loud activities with different filters depending on that activity. “Whether you have normal hearing or even if you have some hearing loss, we want you to preserve what you have so it doesn’t continue to get worse,” she says.
“My recommendation is every year to at least get a baseline hearing test,” she suggests. “If you’re around noise, such as farmers who work with loud equipment, you definitely should be tested more often. If your family members are saying you’ve become isolated, you can’t understand people, you get frustrated, you get embarrassed or you’re not answering people correctly, those are signs you need to get a hearing test.”
Sudden hearing loss can be a serious issue and is considered a medical emergency. Although there may be different causes for it, if you or someone you know experiences sudden hearing loss, the sooner treatment is received the better the chance the hearing will come back.
Starkey: Homegrown Hearing
For a long time, there has been a stigma attached to hearing aids; many people have been embarrassed to wear or even to admit to owning one. Part of that embarrassment was due to the large, clunky appearance hearing aids used to have. Thankfully, those days are over.
The audiologists at CHBC are proud to present the Starkey Hearing Technologies brand line of hearing aids to their patients. “While there are a lot of different hearing aid manufacturers,” Dr. Smith begins, “Starkey is the only one in the United States. Made in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, they are the leaders in state-of-the-art hearing aid technology.”
“They have the Halo iQ hearing aid that streams through an iPhone,” she continues. “You can get your phone call and not have to put your phone to your ear; and it goes to both ears.”
Starkey has partnered with another company called Bragi, making a hearing aid with Bluetooth technology. “They can make ear molds, you can swim in these and when you go running, it will stream your music,” Dr. Smith adds. “If you go like this,” she says, waving her hand over her ear, “you can turn them off and on.”
Starkey also makes rechargeable hearing aids so needing to replace batteries every few days is no longer necessary. There are also a variety of accessories, such as remote controls. “So maybe if you have issues with your dexterity or have poor vision, you can use a remote to adjust the volume or change the programming,” Dr. Smith puts in. “Plus, Starkey offers a three-year warranty, which is outstanding.”
“I have enjoyed working with Starkey because of the clear and natural sound quality, especially for first-time hearing aid users,” Dr. Cano adds. “Starkey's customer service is also very knowledgeable and accommodating, which benefits not only myself as the provider, but also my patients.”
Relationships are About Communication
The Greek philosopher Epictetus is credited with saying, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
While this can be a somewhat humorous piece of advice, there are some people who are less able to abide by it because of varying degrees of hearing loss. Dr. Smith shares an instance of one of her patients: “The person was in her 30’s and she was really struggling with hearing her husband as her hearing loss was more in the lower frequencies and lower pitches, which is typically where a man’s voice is. He was at the appointment when she was fit with the hearing aids. It was very emotional; she began to cry. We all needed a tissue, because she could hear her husband sitting right next to her as clear as day. He had never realized how much she had been struggling. But she did not need to be struggling.”
Relationships are dependant upon good communication. Helping their patients maintain those relationships is what audiologists do, which is why they are happy to develop their own relationships with their patients as well. “We work with them through routine visits once they have their hearing aid. We get to know their families as we encourage them to bring their families here. It’s a long-term relationship we build with our patients. To us, that’s priceless.”
“Communication plays a vital role in quality of life,” Dr. Cano adds, “and I am honored to be able to have a positive impact in the lives of my patients.”
“With the holidays behind us, you may think your loved one has everything they need. But what if they can’t hear too well? Take your loved one to an audiologist to have their hearing tested,” Dr. Smith suggests. “Give them the gift of hearing.”
The Central Illinois Hearing and Balance Center is located at 808 S. Eldorado Rd., Suite 2 West in Bloomington.
You may contact them at 309-661-0232 or online at CIHearing.com.
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