Written by Dr. Jocelyn Doré
Did you hear the peepers this weekend? On several occasions over the weekend, while driving by swampy areas, I heard the telltale sound of the peeper frogs chirping at dusk. It always signals the start of spring. As an audiologist, I hear my patients talk about the peepers all the time.
“I realized I didn’t hear the peepers anymore.” This is a common observation for patients with noise-induced or age-related hearing loss. The hearing organ (cochlea) in our ears is lined with nerve cells called outer hair cells. At the entrance to the cochlea, there are nerve cells that are sensitive to the highest sound frequencies. As you move further and further into the cochlea, the nerve cells are sensitive to lower and lower frequencies. Over the course of our lives, those high frequency nerve cells get trampled again and again by all the sound that enters our ears. Those highest frequency nerve cells get damaged and stop sending high frequency information further up the auditory system. In short, the highest frequency noises tend to disappear first, at which point we start missing some consonant sounds and high frequency environmental sounds like the peepers.
The call of a spring peeper encompasses many frequencies, but the dominant energy is at about 3000 Hz. When a patient starts to experience hearing loss at 3000 Hz, there is also confusion between the /ch/ and /sh/ sounds, which are at the same frequency range. Therefore, if the spring peepers start getting softer, it’s usually a good indication that it is past the time to pursue hearing aids.
For those of you keeping track, crickets chirp between 2500 and 4000 Hz as well. This is also the frequency range for common bird songs such as bluebirds, black-capped chickadees and Baltimore orioles. There’s a lot of nature out there you might be missing!
The treatment for high frequency hearing loss is hearing aids. We program hearing aids to amplify the specific frequencies and intensity (loudness) necessary to accommodate a patient’s hearing loss. The audiological evaluation identifies which frequencies are experiencing hearing loss and how much amplification is needed at each frequency to correct for the loss.
New hearing aid users need some time to get used to amplified sound. When we restore the peeper sounds, for example, a whole host of other environmental sounds come along with that same high frequency range. These include paper crinkling, your feet on the floor, laptop keyboard keys, silverware on a plate, and the sound of water running. I joke that patients walk around the house with a can of WD-40 because they realize that all the hinges squeak. The best way to acclimate to hearing aids is to wear them consistently. We want to re-train your brain to accept these high frequency sounds as the new normal, and the only way to get used to it is to persist! At first things can sound a little tinny, but I like to tell my patients, “Welcome back!”
“I felt like I was hearing peepers, even in the dead of winter.” This is a trickier (and fortunately, rarer) complaint. When patients notice hearing sounds that aren’t really there, they typically get diagnosed with some form of tinnitus. We conduct an audiological evaluation and often the patient sees an Ear, Nose & Throat physician to evaluate whether there is an underlying medical condition contributing to the tinnitus. The treatment for tinnitus depends a lot on how much the sound is bothering the patient. Some patients are aware of their tinnitus but find it does not interfere with quality of life. Other patients use tinnitus maskers, which introduce a barely-audible sound into the ears, which can make the tinnitus less bothersome. Some patients benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy to manage bothersome tinnitus.
So, did you hear the peepers this weekend? Perhaps it’s time to come in for a hearing evaluation. We have six audiologists ready to meet with you and discuss the frogs that may or may not really be in your neighborhood swamp.
Dr. Jocelyn Doré is a board-certified Audiologist treating adult & pediatric patients in our Danbury & New Milford offices.
ADVANCED SPECIALTY CARE
At Advanced Specialty Care, our Clinical Audiologists do more than ensure you hear well – we focus on your total hearing health. Our affiliation with ASC’s Ear, Nose & Throat specialists ensures a comprehensive approach to healthy hearing. We offer state-of-the-art instrument technology and qualified professionals.