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Dickinson audiologist explains hearing loss, preventative measures

Dr. Krystal Mann, audiologist with Krystal Clear Hearing Center in Dickinson, shares information on hearing loss and how it can be prevented in a sit-down interview with The Dickinson Press.

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DICKINSON — Dr. Krystal Mann is an audiologist with a private practice called Krystal Clear Hearing Center. She earned her medical certification from the A.T. Still School of Osteopathic Medicine in Mesa, Arizona.

Hearing loss can be, well, deafening. It can render work, hobbies, socializing and other basic functions of life brutally difficult. Mann said that anyone who feels they or a loved one might be suffering hearing loss should make arrangements to get that checked out.

“The temporal lobe is one of the main lobes in your brain. And if that's not stimulated with sound and the neurons in there die, you can imagine that it might lead to worsening of dementia. It doesn't necessarily cause dementia, but there's a strong correlation there,” Mann said. “Unlike a muscle, once (neural connection) is gone you can never get it back. So as time goes on and that nerve is no longer transmitting the sound to the brain accurately, that leads to poor clarity. So even the best fitted hearing aid is no longer clear for them.”

Untreated hearing loss can lead to isolation and depression, as the individual and their acquaintances become frustrated with each other over the growing difficulty in communication, she said. This problem is far from exclusive to the elderly.

Warning Signs

“Signs of hearing loss include, you know, asking ‘what?’ repeatedly to loved ones. A lot of times the loved ones see it before the person with a hearing loss identifies it themselves… Another sign is just asking to have the television volume raised,” Mann said. “If the clarity isn't right on the phone, well a lot of times on the phone, it's more difficult for people with hearing loss to hear because there's no visual cues.”

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According to the National Institute of Health, a 2016 study found that approximately 28.8 million American adults could benefit from the use of hearing aids.

Mann said hearing tests as a precautionary measure are often a good idea for those who’ve never had one in adolescence or adulthood. Occasionally she’ll discover a hearing loss problem when a patient comes in to get checked for earwax blockage.

“We always recommend that everybody has a hearing baseline so in the event that something happens, we have a hearing test to compare it to,” she said.

Mann added that the official recommendation, at a minimum, is for every person to have a baseline hearing test after turning 55 and before starting kindergarten. Early detection is improving, as many hospitals now have adopted a standard procedure of hearing tests for newborns. Hearing loss in children is sometimes mistaken as a learning disability or attention disorders because it’s frequently overlooked as a possible explanation, so the test is important.

“Then we can fully rule out hearing loss. We definitely don't want them to go into school and get behind,” she said.

Sensorineural vs. Conductive

There are two categories of hearing impairment.

“Permanent hearing loss is something that we call sensorineural hearing loss, because it's due to damage in the inner ear, and the nerve pathways beyond. Whereas medical hearing loss, we call that conductive hearing loss because there's an abnormality in the outer or the middle ear,” Mann said. “So an example of a sensorineural hearing loss, that's a permanent hearing loss would be damage to the outer hair cells in the cochlea due to noise exposure, and then damage. And then an example of the conductive hearing loss would be hearing loss due to an ear infection or fluid in the ear in the middle ear space. You can also have a mixed hearing loss, which is a combination of the two.”

She then elaborated on the root causes of a conductive (medical) hearing loss.

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“The medical one most often is fluid in the ear,” she said. “That is caused by dysfunction of the eustachian tube when it isn't draining the fluid like it's supposed to, and that just causes a buildup of fluid in the middle ear space. And then sometimes that fluid can drain on its own but if it doesn't, it requires medical intervention. So I would refer them to an ear, nose and throat doctor.”

The CDC recommends wearing ear protection when exposed to noise exceeding 85 decibels, especially if it’s for more than just a few minutes. This would include using a lawn mower and many power tools. Mann said that for certain other loud activities, such as a rock concert or skeet shooting, where you don’t want to completely drown out the noise. There are products that suppress it to a more healthy decibel. They include electronic ear muffs and custom molds. Headphone and earbud users should be careful about how loudly they listen to music.

More by Jason O'Day

Related Topics: DICKINSON
Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in rural southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge.
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