Archive for December, 2017

A woman in an airplane suffers from hyperacusis, plugs her ears.

Hyperacusis: Does Pink Noise Help?

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If you’ve never heard of the term ‘hyperacusis,’ it refers to a condition in which a person’s normal tolerance to sounds in their everyday environment is severely diminished. With hyperacusis, the sound of a car braking at a traffic light can sound like a horrible screech, and a group of people applauding a speaker can sound like a huge thunderclap in a storm. In short, it’s as though someone was toying with the volume control of Life, and left it stuck on the highest setting – just about everything sounds extremely loud.

On the flip side, someone who has hyperacusis usually has lost most of the dynamic range generally associated with hearing, which means there isn’t much difference in the loudness of various sounds. For example, an actual explosion might sound very much like a book dropping off the edge of a table.

Most hyperacusis patients have a sensation of inner ear pain or a feeling of pressure in the ears which is similar to what you might feel when making a rapid descent in a commercial jetliner. On an airplane, this feeling can be easily overcome by yawning or chewing gum, but a hyperacusis patient feels this ear pressure all the time. This constant discomfort can have an enormous impact on a person’s life, affecting their job as well as their home life and relationships.

For someone with hyperacusis, operating a lawn mower, listening to the radio in the car, or running a vacuum cleaner at home may not be possible. This condition has less to do with volume, and more to do with particular sound frequencies, which can make attempts to muffle out noise entirely futile as well.

What can be done to help people who have hyperacusis?

Noise Has Color

The pink spectrum of noise is the one which most closely matches the broad range of sounds which we hear in our normal environment. That’s why treatment for patients with hyperacusis generally involves building up a tolerance to pink noise, rather than white noise, which includes higher frequencies. The higher frequencies are the ones most troubling for hyperacusis patients, so trying to build a tolerance to white noise is not nearly as effective an approach.

The goal of any program of sound therapy is to slowly and incrementally build up a tolerance to noise, but this can be a very frustrating and difficult experience for someone with hyperacusis. Many patients find that they just don’t have the patience to undergo this kind of slow therapy, and search for something that will produce faster, less uncomfortable results. If nothing helps, a patient may have few options other than to wear earplugs a majority of the time during waking hours.

A man with hyperacusis sits with headphones on, listening to pink noise at the doctor's office.

It’s important to find the right kind of sound therapy for your hyperacusis, and many patients have found that pink noise has helped them.

How Sound Therapy Works

The whole idea of sound therapy is to get a person re-familiarized and tolerant of the noises which populate our day-to-day world. Sounds are delivered to the ears by one of the several methods, like listening to CDs with recorded everyday sounds. But this can be an inconvenient kind of session for the hyperacusis patient because therapy sessions should last at least two hours per day, and if you’re stuck with one CD for that long, it can get to be uncomfortable and restrictive.

An alternative method of sound delivery calls for custom-fitted sound generators made for your head and ears and having pre-recorded pink noise sounds played for the duration of your therapy sessions. With a sound generator, you’d be free to walk around and do other things, but it can be quite expensive. Whereas a pink noise CD costs less than $100, a sound generator delivering the same pink noise sounds might cost several thousand dollars.

Counseling: A Critical Part of Hyperacusis Therapy

Whichever kind of sound delivery system you choose, there is another essential part of sound therapy: counseling. Having a trained counselor or advisor can make all the difference sometimes, which can ease the difficulties and frustrations that come with sound therapy.

To begin, any sound therapy program requires a high degree of self-motivation from the participant, since no amount of cajoling will persuade a patient to undergo the uncomfortable sessions required. There will be days when the patient wants to shorten or skip the course, or even quit the process altogether. Those are times when a skillful counselor can serve as a cheerleader, and convince the patient to keep eyes on the prize and continue to forge ahead.

It is quite normal for hyperacusis patients to feel that the therapy is hurting them instead of helping since pink noise can be torturous to their hyper-sensitive ears. At times, it takes some skilled counseling to assure a patient that the process is doing them some good, and not harming their ears at all.

It is often a long and uncomfortable process getting re-acquainted with the sounds of our everyday world, but for the patient who sticks with it, it is possible to lessen and maybe even cure the adverse effects of hyperacusis.

A women with a sudden nosebleed.

What Causes a Sudden Nosebleed?

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When an adult experiences a sudden nosebleed with no apparent cause, there could be many things that triggered it. While unexplained nosebleeds might seem serious, in most cases they aren’t.

If it turns out that there’s a specific medical condition that triggered the nosebleed, your physician will advise you on what steps to take next. If you regularly experience unexplained nosebleeds, you should notify your doctor, so that they can give you an accurate diagnosis of the causes of your nosebleeds. In this article, we will examine some of the most common causes of a sudden nosebleed, and how to treat and prevent this condition.

Quick Fix: Buy a Humidifier

Sometimes the cause of a sudden nosebleed can be something as simple as very dry air brought about by constant indoor heating. Dry air is a relatively common situation in cold weather when a heating system might be running for most of the day, with no humidifier at work to restore moisture.

Nosebleeds can also occur when someone is exposed to cold weather for a prolonged period. Both these scenarios cause the lining of the nose to dry out, crack and bleed. To prevent the indoor heating cause, you can make sure your home is adequately humidified, especially during the cold season when the heat is on. For someone who has to spend long hours outdoors, the best preventive measure is to use a nasal spray which artificially moistens the inner lining of the nose.

Underlying Medical Conditions

There are certain medical conditions which inhibit your body’s ability to form blood clots, and that can trigger nosebleeds at virtually any time. Kidney disease, liver disease, and persistent excess consumption of alcohol can all act to interfere with clotting and induce a sudden nosebleed.

This condition can also be caused by congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and hypertensive crisis, which is a sudden blood pressure escalation coupled with anxiety, breathing difficulty, and an intense headache. There are also some very common medical conditions which can contribute to the triggering of nosebleeds, such as colds and allergies, as well as just blowing your nose frequently. All these can severely irritate the nasal lining, and trigger spontaneous nosebleeds.

A young man with a tissue in his nose, from a sudden nosebleed.

Do you take blood thinning (anticoagulant) medications? If so, they might be the culprit behind your sudden nosebleed.

Blood Thinners and NSAIDs

Many medications which are used to treat pain can have the side effect of triggering nosebleeds. Included in this category are aspirin, anticoagulant medications, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Blood thinners like these inhibit the body’s ability to generate clots, and that means they can not only cause a nosebleed but can make it much harder to stop one that has started.

These kinds of medications are often prescribed for someone who has an irregular heartbeat, or someone who has had an actual heart attack. Since blood clots can cause a stroke or heart attack if they travel through the body and lodge near the brain or heart, people with heart conditions are often prescribed blood thinning medications which act to deter clotting.

Persistent Nose Scratching

The cause for a nosebleed can sometimes be a little more obvious, such as the case for someone who is constantly picking or scratching. This kind of activity can easily injure blood vessels in the nostrils, causing nosebleeds that seem to come out of nowhere. This kind of nosebleed is most common with small children.

What to Do With a Sudden Nosebleed

Most nosebleeds can be stopped or treated at home, without the need to seek medical treatment. If home treatment methods fail to get it under control, you should find medical attention, even though such situations are rarely life-threatening.

One technique for stopping a nosebleed is to sit down and lean forward, using direct pressure against the nostrils to pinch them closed for approximately 10 minutes. During that span, you’ll have to breathe through your mouth. It may also help to spray your nostrils with a nasal decongestant, because that constricts the blood vessels, and limits blood flow through the nose.

Once you have stopped the nosebleed, you can prevent it from recurring by using topical ointments and saline inside the nostrils. And of course, you should avoid any further irritation of the nose from scratching or nose-picking.

Especially for patients who take blood thinners, medical attention is their best option. These anticoagulants will decrease the body’s ability to clot and stop the nosebleed, and talking to your doctor will help them modify the dosage of any blood-thinning medication you might be taking or change it altogether.

If you have more than one nosebleed in the same week, that’s a definite sign that you should talk to your doctor. In most cases, sudden unexplained nosebleeds are not serious medical conditions, but when they happen more frequently in a short timeframe, they can be warning signs of more concerning health conditions.

A man receives a check-up for middle ear infections.

Treatment for Chronic Middle Ear Infections

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A middle ear infection, also known as ‘otitis media,’ is an infection or inflammation that occurs inside the eardrums.  This can cause sinus issues, among others.  Generally speaking, people with middle ear infections pick them up from colds, coughs, sore throats, and other respiratory problems. Of course, the word ‘chronic’ suggests this is an ongoing problem, which is why we want to address the treatment side of things today.

With ear infections, doctors like to wait at least two months to three months before classifying it as ‘chronic.’ ‘Acute’ ear infections usually only last for a few weeks. Typically, those with an acute infection will experience fluids accumulating behind the eardrum.

These fluids can remain behind the eardrum for a few months. If the fluid stays in place for a prolonged period or there’s some form of negative pressure, the patient will continue to see problems long into the future. Over time, the middle ear may develop a hole in the eardrum, leading to more severe issues. Doctors talk about middle ear infections in terms of months as opposed to days or weeks because chronic middle ear infections typically start without pain or any real symptoms. As time goes on, the ears may pop after sustained pressure and result in hearing loss.

Before talking about the treatments and what you can do to alleviate the issue, we should note that infants and young children are particularly prone to middle ear infections. In fact, three in every four children will experience a middle ear infection before their third birthday.  As the canal that connects the back of the nose/throat to the middle ear, the ‘Eustachian tube’ is more horizontal and much shorter when children are younger. For the microorganisms that cause infection, a shorter tube allows them to enter the middle ear faster.  In combination with a young child’s weaker immune system, and children find it hard to stave off.

A young girl gets checked for middle ear infections by a doctor.

Young children are more susceptible to middle ear infections due to a shorter Eustachian tube that allows bacteria easier access to the middle ear.

Treating Middle Ear Infections

In the majority of cases, antibiotics will be the first course of treatment. Even though there’s no real evidence to suggest their effectiveness in treating otitis media, since most middle ear infections are viral, they can remove various symptoms and make it easier for the infection to resolve itself.  Antibiotics usually fix the problem in around five days. Doctors often prescribe amoxicillin, allowing you to get back on your feet in no time.

After medication, many children and adults require grommets, which are also an option if the middle ear infection doesn’t clear up immediately. Grommets are tiny tubes placed inside the eardrum that aid with drainage. As we discovered earlier, the problem worsens when the fluid doesn’t drain away, so grommets could stop the negative spiral of events that makes otitis media worse.

Under general anesthesia, these grommets can be installed in around 15 minutes and are left inside the ear for several months. With the eardrum open, the middle ear infection can heal fully, and the grommet will eventually be pushed out. You typically won’t feel any pain, and the majority of grommets are removed between six months and a year after being installed.

If the problem is too severe for either of these solutions, surgery is recommended if there aren’t any other solutions available. With this option, the idea will be to remove the infected tissue and the areas causing the recurring pain and discomfort. Once these problem areas have been eliminated, an intact eardrum can then recreate a middle ear space as found in healthy ears.  Hearing can then be restored.

At first, you may find it strange that hearing is the last thing to be restored, but the first two steps are pivotal to stop the infection from returning. If these two steps aren’t met at the beginning, anything else done to improve hearing will be futile. If the infection comes back after the hearing is restored, hearing can be lost again so this is why the order of priority has been developed in this way.

In most cases, the problem will clear itself up with the help of antibiotics. If this doesn’t work, your doctor should discuss more great solutions so you can move forward with your life without worrying about infection and discomfort in your ears.

A little boy with pet allergies cuddles up next to a puppy in a green beanbag chair.

Pet Allergies: Causes and Prevention

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Some things stay controversial, and the debate over pets and allergies has been going on for some time. Can you have pets when you have allergies? How will it affect you? Why do pets trigger allergies in the first place? Since our furry, feathery friends can add so much to our lives, it seems sad we should be restricted due to such a common health issue like pet allergies.

What Causes Pet Allergies?

Before we go any further, we should note that everybody is unique so will have different types of pet allergies and different things that set off the condition. For example, some people might be allergic to just dogs while others are allergic to cats, horses, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, rabbits, gerbils, and even birds.

When it comes to pet allergies themselves, they commonly develop in children, but they can also show at any stage of life. Even if you had a cat for the first twenty years of your life with no problems, you could still get a cat at 40 and suddenly see a reaction. Regardless of when it develops, pet allergies are what we call ‘allergic asthma.’ Proteins from their skin, known as ‘dander,’ irritate your immune system.

If you’re sensitive to these particular proteins, the immune system overreacts after touching or inhaling the allergen and this releases histamine thus leading to an allergic reaction. If you have allergies or asthma, the release of histamines will worsen the symptoms.

A little girl and a french bulldog touch noses, showing that pet allergies don't have to stop you from owning a furry or feathery companion.

If you have pet allergies and want to become a pet owner, fear not! There are ways to control pet dander and allergens in your home. You can also speak to a vet or your allergist to see if there is a compatible pet for you that won’t irritate your allergies.

An Overview

Unfortunately, family pets can be a trigger of allergy and asthma attacks, but this doesn’t mean you need to give up your pet or put your dream of having a pet aside just yet. First things first, talk with your doctor, and they should be able to assess the severity of your case. From here, you should consult with your vet. Since physicians aren’t typically trained giving you advice for living with pets, professional vets will probably provide you with the best opportunity to live harmoniously.

As you work with your vet, they’re likely to present you with tips that’ll lessen the effects of having the pet and, hopefully, reduce the symptoms you see. For example, regular vacuuming to control pet dander will be necessary, as will keeping your pet from your bedroom. Considering you need to avoid the allergen to prevent an allergy attack, it’s best to keep your pet from living spaces, so you have allergen-free sections of your home.

Furthermore, your vet will recommend keeping all bedding clean while also considering dust mite covers, and this is because dust mites enjoy eating pet dander. As an alternative solution, you can try some shampoos and sprays on the market that have been designed to neutralize all dander. Ultimately, it’s about being sensible and doing all you can to avoid pet dander from ruling your home.

Talk To Your Doctor or Allergist

If the tips above haven’t helped or you’ve tried them before, it’s now time to talk with your doctor again because they should help you to find what’s actually causing the allergy symptoms. Rather than assuming the pet is the cause, the doctor should be able to test for pet allergies to see the primary contributing factor to your allergies. From here, they can suggest advice, or you may find that your condition just doesn’t allow you to live safely with your current pet. If you need to find a new home for your friend, your vet should be able to help you with this.

As we’ve said previously, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a little companion by your side because all pets are different. While all dogs (and other pets) shed, some will shed less than others. These pets may be more compatible with your health concerns. With these hypoallergenic pet breeds, you might be able to live comfortably by applying the tips listed previously.

Ultimately, we recommend spending time with the type of pet you wish to adopt so you can learn whether you can both live happily together. If the pet doesn’t trigger your allergies, you may just have found a new home for a pet and a happy future for yourself. Before committing though, we recommend taking them home and spending time together in different environments just to be sure.

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