Perhaps you may want to reconsider turning the volume all the way up on your iPod.
Tara Roney, an audiologist at Westech Hearing & Audiology in Columbus, works with patients with hearing, balance and other related ear problems. In her eight years, she’s seen patients whose hearing has been affected by age, genetics and noise exposure — including loud music.
Roney identifies, diagnoses and treats people with hearing-related disorders. The Dothan, Ala., native’s specialty is the baby boomer and geriatric populations.
Roney sat down with the Ledger-Enquirer to talk about the causes of hearing disorders, ways you can protect your hearing and rewards of her job.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What can cause hearing disorders?
There are three main things. There’s the aging process, noise exposure — really those two, I would say, are the top two reasons. We’ve mainly seen with the baby boomers that they’re having more noise exposure than we’ve ever seen before, because they were the first to have rock and roll... They just have more active lifestyles, so we’re seeing them at an earlier age now.
(The third thing) is hereditary, genetics.
How did you get into audiology?
I kind of fell into it in undergraduate school. I was a sophomore in college and still trying to figure out (what I wanted to do.) I was having a hard time, then I saw an introductory class for speech and hearing science. It was one day a week, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just go and take that and see what it’s all about.’ I thought initially I was going to go into speech pathology. I had some older friends who were going through (the program) and enjoyed it.
The undergraduate program required you, during your junior and senior years, to take both speech and hearing classes. The majority of it was speech pathology, but then some hearing disorder classes were thrown in there too. I ended up enjoying the hearing disorder classes. I was drawn to it, as far as it being more concrete, black and white. You know, here’s your problem and here’s what we can do for you, and it’s done. It’s not a long progression of therapies like speech pathology. My mind, I think, was geared that way, as far as being more of a concrete thinker.
Can you tell me about any stories that have particularly touched you as an audiologist?
What I love is whenever someone comes in and they really are apprehensive about coming back to see me and having to admit that there is a problem. Usually a family member comes in with them and they’re the ones trying to say, “You do have a problem.” (I love) when a person comes in and gets fitted with a hearing aid, or even just a demonstration hearing aid for the first time, and they listen to what they’ve been missing for so long. Their eyes will light up. Sometimes they’ll cry just because they didn’t realize what they had been missing.
Your brain sort of adapts to how you’re hearing, even if it is bad. Over time you think, ‘Well, they’re just mumbling to me,’ when really you’re just missing the clarity of the words. Once they get that back, to see their eyes light up and hear somebody talk from behind, which they hadn’t heard in years, or hear the clock ticking... that ‘wow’ factor is what really makes my job worthwhile.
What can people do to better take care of their hearing?
Ear plugs, ear plugs, ear plugs. My husband today is going quail hunting and I said, “Please wear your ear plugs.” It takes one time, one gunshot sometimes, to cause permanent hearing damage, if it’s loud and dramatic enough to the ear drums. One person had come in recently and he had a shot a gun and had forgotten his ear plugs. He didn’t completely go deaf or anything, but his hearing dropped some — and he probably won’t get that back. So ear plugs are very important for shooting guns, hunting or doing anything that’s loud — including using blowers or lawnmowers outside. Any kind of loud noise over 90 (decibels) for more than 10 minutes is going to hurt your hearing.
How can people tell what type of noise would harm them?
If you can’t hear yourself talking over it or if you can’t hear the person next to you, that’s certainly going to be too loud. IPods, that’s the thing with the younger generation now. I’ve seen some people come in, 25 to 27 years old, who have started (experiencing) noise-induced hearing loss. It could be iPods, it could be hunting, it could a concerts where you go and sit by the speakers. With iPods, I always say, if someone else can hear it next to you, that’s too loud. So parents can monitor that.