Can’t Hear These Iconic Sounds of Spring?

It may be time to get your hearing checked.



Birdsong. Where ever you live in the United States, the great spring bird migration happens at this time of the year. Warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, orioles, thrushes, vireos fly through on their way from winter homes in the tropics, singing as they wing their way north.eastern-bluebird-c-dorrie-holmes-320 One of my favorites is the eastern bluebird, a very early arrival in my part of Western Massachusetts, claiming its backyard house in February. I realized only this spring (an early one in the east) that bluebirds sing. Here’s a YouTube video. Hope you can hear it!

I was unable to find specific decibel levels for bird songs, which vary according to species of course, but I did come upon a study that found that urban sparrows sing at a higher pitch than they used to, to compete with traffic noise.

Pattering rain. Louder than snowfall but nothing like the deluge of a summer downpour. A moderate rainfall measures about 50 decibels.

Leaves rustling in the breeze are just 20 decibels, close to the softest sound most humans can hear.

Spring peepers. I always thought these were newly hatched frogs, but a “spring peeper” is a member of the tree frog family. The high-pitched sound is a chorus of males, looking for mates. Click here for a picture of the peeper’s balloon-like throat, which makes the sound

Insects. I can’t find any information about the decibel level of a bee buzzing – but it’s good to be able to hear it, especially if it’s near your ear. A buzzing mosquito, on the other hand, comes in at 37 dB, and should be audible.

Squirrels, according to expert Robert Lishak, have a regular language, from “kuk” (a sharp bark of alarm, usually repeated three times) to “quah” (the predator is still in sight but not quite as threatening) to the “quah moan.” Dr. Lishak describes the quah moan as sounding like a “chirp followed by a meow.” “Muk Muk” is a soft buzzing or huffing noise, possibly a male mating call. These vary in decibel level with the softest, the muk-muk, around 20 decibels. You’ll need sharp hearing to hear that one.

Picnics. The crinkle as you open that bag of chips only increases your appetite, and the satisfying crunch as you bite into one makes you want to keep on eating. Healthier foods also have inviting sounds. Thinks of the crunch of a bite of celery, the snap of a carrot. The pop/hiss of a soda can is another familiar picnic sound.

America’s Pastime. How loud is the sound of that bat hitting the baseball? The crack of the bat actually varies in pitch and intensity, depending not only on how hard the ball is thrown and where exactly it meets the bat, but on the kind of hit it produces.

Fun reading: Moonshot: The Analytic Value of the Crack of the Bat, by Robert Arthur. This 2014 analysis of baseball bat sounds found that a line drive in general produced the highest frequency sound, amplified by sound systems in a stadium or on TV or radio. This is followed by the sound of a home run (second loudest), a ground-ball hit, and a ground-ball out.

According to a similar article in The New York Times, a ball hit in the sweet spot has a sharp crack, a ball hit on either side will thunk. The crack may alert an experienced outfielder to the trajectory of the ball before he can visualize it.

Share your favorite spring sound in the comments box, below.

First published on AARP Conditions and Treatments, 3/19/16

Boomers, Hearing Loss and the Workplace

Americans are working longer than ever, whether by choice or necessity. It’s created a problem the workplace has tried to ignore: hearing loss among the millions of boomers still on the jobolder_1645590c

It’s 2016, which means that the first of the baby boomers turn 70 this year. 2.5 million of them. Having survived to 70, their life expectancy is now 85. That’s just the start. Ten thousand baby boomers will turn sixty-five every single day between 2011 and 2029, according the Pew Research Center, with similarly long life expectancies.

Many of them plan to continue working and many others will be involved in volunteer work. As of today, more than half of boomers are still on the job – that’s about 45 million baby boomers, ranging in age from 51 to 70. The total figure for boomers, according to the Census Bureau is 76 million.

By 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts, nearly one-third of those 65 to 74 will be in the work force.One half of those 65 and over have hearing loss. Two-thirds of those 75 and over have hearing loss.

How is the workplace going to cope with this? So far, by ignoring it.

Very few workplaces offer accommodations for those with hearing loss. For instance, company wide meetings might be held in rooms equipped with hearing loops or with both an ASL interpreter and CART captions. Few businesses provide those accommodations. Audiologist Juliette Sterkens, who is HLAA’s Hearing Loop Advocate, thinks the omission is not deliberate on the part of employers: in an email she wrote that she was “convinced that most are unaware that their employees’ struggle.” Echoing a familiar comment about the invisibility of hearing loss, she added, “they may realize something is not right but they cannot put their finger on it.

For now, it falls on you – the hearing-diminished boomer – to hold your own.

Here are some tips.

*Get hearing aids. Unfortunately, corporate America drops the ball on this one too. Most company insurance plans do not pay for hearing aids, nor does Medicare.

*If you can’t afford hearing aids, try a PSAP. If you’re not sure what a PSAP is, start with this New York Times article: “Just Don’t Call Them Hearing Aids.” At one-tenth the average price of a hearing aid, they are very effective for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. Only 20% of those who could benefit from hearing aids use them. That number holds firm well into old age. Hearing aids work. So do PSAP’s. For most employees, either of these devices can correct hearing to nearly normal.

*If you are still having trouble despite hearing aids, tell your supervisor and your colleagues. And then tell them again and again. Hearing loss is invisible, and they’ll quickly forget they need to look at you when they talk, refrain from yelling on the phone, not expect you to hear them from across the room.

*Make sure your hearing aids have telecoils. By law all landline telephones must be hearing-aid compatible, which means that the inner workings won’t cause your hearing aid to buzz. If you flip to telecoil mode when making or receiving a call the reception will be far clearer. And if you happen to work in one of those rare places where meeting rooms are looped, you’ll be able to hear as clearly from the back row as you would from the front.

*If necessary, ask for accommodations. The easiest and most effective of these is a captioned telephone. A captioned phone won’t work for a trader on the floor of the stock exchange – the captions are too slow – but it will help a majority of those with hearing loss to follow a business conversation.

*If you work at an information counter or a cash register, or anyplace where you regularly interact with people, ask for a portable hearing loop. These are usually thought of as accommodations for customers with hearing loss, but they are equally effective for an employee with a loss.

*Use personal assistive-listening devices. If you need to regularly hear one or more speakers – at a daily meeting for instance, look into FM systems or Phonak’s Roger system. The FM systems work best for one on one conversations, but the Roger can be used with several microphones around a table, allowing you to hear all the speakers.

*If you feel you are being discriminated against because of your hearing loss, keep a record of incidents. These can turn out to be invaluable in retaining your job, or in getting a decent settlement if you are told you’re no longer needed.

*Check out HLAA’s Employment Toolkit, which offers a wealth of information.

No company will tell you they’re firing you because you can’t hear, but there are plenty of pretexts – the job is being eliminated, you’re “not a team player,” etc. – and you may be able to expose them for just that if you have kept a written record.

No one wants to get into a lawsuit, and the big guys usually win. So optimize your workplace experience, and keep your job.

Reflections on Hearing Loss

KB in Seattle copyInterview with Stu Nunnery, After hearing loss, Katherine Bouton finds new purpose in life. This paragraph about HLAA is just one part. Click on the link to read the whole interview.

Stu: Hearing loss has many side effects short and long term and most troubling to many of us is the isolation, depression, and other long term health issues.

Katherine: This is why I advocate for HLAA. Joining your local chapter of HLAA is the best way you can find others like you. It doesn’t mean you give up your hearing friends or your hearing life, but you meet new friends. And because many HLAA meetings have Communication Access Real Time (CART) capability, you can actually comfortably “hear” in these meetings.  I’ve learned a huge amount in casual conversation with my HLAA friends, and even more from the structured programs we sponsor. That said, in contrast to the very culturally vibrant deaf community, outside of HLAA (and maybe ALDA) there isn’t a hearing-loss community at all, much less a vibrant one. I think active HLAA members do have a vibrant community, but it’s hard to get people interested.


Source: After hearing loss, Katherine Bouton finds new purpose in life

New Drug Might Protect Hearing

Hearing loss isn’t something that just comes with age. Your hearing also can be damaged — sometimes irreversibly — by the drugs you take.

Ototoxic medications, literally “toxic to the ear,” can include common prescription and nonprescription drugs, ranging from the seemingly benign, like aspirin and ibuprofen, to powerful chemotherapy drugs and certain antibiotics. People with hereditary hearing loss may be even more susceptible to their effects.

This month, a Seattle biotech start-up announced that it had received a $2 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to develop a drug to preserve hearing and balance in people being treated with a specific class of antibiotics. Called aminoglycoside antibiotics, they include gentamicin, streptomycin and neomycin — all effective treatments for serious infectious diseases like septicemia and multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis. They are useful worldwide because of their low cost. But in areas where hearing aids are hard to come by, they can cause disabling loss.

They result in irreversible hearing loss and even deafness in up to 50 percent of patients, according to a Stanford University study published last year in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The risk is highest in patients who already have hearing problems or have kidney disease. Doctors understandably have been cautious in relying on these drugs.

Oricula Therapeutics, the Seattle company, has completed testing in rats and found that the drug protected the animals’ hearing when taken with a 10-day course of amikacin, another aminoglycoside. The NIH grant will fund the next phase of research, safety and toxicity testing in humans.

This is only a first step, but a promising one. If this is successful perhaps similar protection against ototoxic drugs will follow. Some hearing loss is preventable — noise. But some isn’t, especially for those with serious illnesses. The drugs aren’t an option.

Aminoglycosides aren’t the only drugs that can cause serious hearing problems. Here are some others that have the potential to harm your hearing, especially if you take them in high doses for a long period:

Other antibiotics including Cipro (ciprofloxacin) and Levaquin (levofloxacin). Both of these are prescribed for a wide variety of bacterial infections, and both can cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

Antidepressants, including Prozac, Elavil, Paxil, Zoloft and Celexa. Linked to ringing in the ears, or tinnitus. (Paradoxically, they are also often prescribed to relieve the psychological burden of tinnitus.)

Loop diuretics: A specific group, including furosemide (Lasix), prescribed for heart or kidney problems. They can cause hearing loss if taken in large doses for long periods, although the effect may be reversible once the drug is stopped.

Chemotherapy drugs, including  Cisplatin and Carboplatin. These are extremely damaging. If you already have hearing loss, or if you have a family history of it, oncologists may suggest substituting other chemotherapy drugs, if possible. But if it’s a case of your life or your hearing, most people will feel there’s no choice.

Quinine (for treatment of malaria). Like loop diuretics, it can affect hearing if long-term use at large doses is required, but the effect may be reversible.

Drug combos. Taking multiple prescription drugs, or an over-the-counter pain reliever along with a prescription drug, can sometimes exacerbate hearing problems. For example, aminoglycoside antibiotics, like those mentioned above, are even more lethal to the inner ear’s hair cells when combined with drugs like vancomycin, which can cause tinnitus, or a loop diuretic like furosemide.

Over-the-counter pain relief, including frequent high doses of aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Naproxen (Aleve), can increase the risk of hearing loss, studies show.

If the new drug is successful, it will be the first medication to receive FDA approval to protect the inner ear from damage caused by these antibiotics. Such a drug would be invaluable in allowing more latitude in treating serious disease.

For now, the bottom line is not to take any drugs in larger doses or for longer periods than you absolutely need them.


Adapted from AARP: Conditions & Treatments