Olympics for the ear

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Published: 15th May 2013
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We don’t generally think of listening as an Olympic sport do we? We don’t think of training or improving our hearing or listening ability, or developing our ear muscles?
However, when we look at hearing and listening from a Sound Therapy perspective this changes!
I started thinking about this the other day when I spoke to a 79 year old gentleman who has had a long history of ear troubles and tinnitus.
This gentleman had hearing problems from before the age of 30. From age 12 to 30 he was surfing at the beach every chance he got. As a result he used to frequently have problems with liquid coming out of his ears or wax building up which would require syringing.
At age 20, when playing football, he received a direct kick to his left ear, giving him a ‘cauliflower ear’ and this started his tinnitus. He also worked as a tradesman in a sheet metal shop for a total of 5 years and was exposed to high levels of industrial noise.
Later, when he went in as a consultant in the building game, he suffered many embarrassing moments due to poor hearing. He said, “The problem was I must have made that many errors with mispronunciation, not getting the story right.” He found he had to get to every meeting early to sit right in the middle of the table so he could see everybody. Otherwise if he arrived late and was in a different seat, at some point in the meeting they would say, “It’s your turn to talk” and he’d say “what do you want me to talk about?”
Seeking help he saw many doctors and had an ear operation in 1984 after which he could hear better. However, on returning home, when he blew his nose, it seemed to upset the fine tuning in his ear. To me, this indicates a problem with the pressure balance and muscle function in the middle ear.
After retirement he was less stressed and found noticeable changes. But gradual hearing loss and tinnitus still meant he had trouble keeping up with conversations. As a golf player his hearing loss was a disadvantage, as hearing the club hit the ball is an important point of feedback for refining your stroke.
People with hearing problems usually have a very long journey of seeing many practitioners before they find answers. At one time during a normal ear wash procedure, for removal of wax build up, his left ear drum was damaged. He was left bleeding from the ear, and of course this would have made his earlier problems even worse!
A more positive experience was when he was tested by an experienced ENT doctor who knew how to do accurate diagnosis. First he was given a normal hearing test at which he performed very badly. Then the doctor took a tuning fork, struck it so it was humming, and placed it against the patient’s temple. To his amazement he could hear the sound the tuning fork was making as clear as a bell! Before this he was not aware that we hear through our bones.
In fact, bone conducts sound just as well as air does, and the role of ear drum and middle ear is to catch the sound from the air and transfer the vibration into the bones. If there has been damage to the middle ear mechanism it cannot conduct sound into the bones. This is called ‘conductive hearing loss.’ This man had conductive hearing loss, but his bone conduction is comparatively good. This means there is still function in his inner ear and the sensory cells (the little hair-like cells called cilia, which we hear so much about.) The worst damage is in the mechanical part of the ear – and no doubt partly in the muscle function in the middle ear.
At this time of the Olympics, we are all super conscious of the adaptability and reconditioning possible for the muscular system of the body. We see those muscle bound athletes on the screen and we know that their shape represents hours and hours and months and years of training. So how can we re-train the muscles of the middle ear to reach their peak performance?
This is easy with Sound Therapy, which offers the ear a progressive, tailored retraining, audio-gymnastic program, through sounds which become gradually more and more challenging for the ear. Just as brain plasticity has now been irrefutably proved by science, new cutting edge research by neuro-physiologist Dr Stephen Porges is now showing how the middle ear muscles are part of a social engagement system involving many different sensorineural pathways that respond to and can be improved by certain types of sound stimulation.
I was able to explain to this gentleman that there is a good chance for Sound Therapy to help him in this area. If his middle ear muscle performance can be enhanced, there is every chance that his hearing will improve, as we know that his bone conduction (and therefore his sensorineural hearing) is still working.
Even at 79, or even over the age of 90, we have seen people benefit significantly form the audio gymnastic retraining this program offers.
So if you are sitting in your arm chair watching the Olympics, and thinking “I’ll never get anywhere near the fitness of those athletes, its too late for me,” remember that it is never too late to improve the fitness of your ears for listening.

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