Never too late to start protecting hearing

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Krista Frick, audiologist at UP Audiology in Houghton, demonstrates a hearing test on audiologist Melissa Collard as Collard’s dog Copper looks on.

HOUGHTON — It’s often family and friends who spot the earliest indicators of hearing loss, said Dr. Melissa Collard of UP Audiology in Houghton — the TV turned up too loud, the need to have things repeated.

“I always say wives are my best referral source,” Dr. Krista Frick said.

While a loss of eyesight would make most people head to the ER, most people find a way to explain away their hearing loss, Collard said. For Better Hearing Month in may, they’re trying to change that mindset.

The problem has become more pronounced during the pandemic because of mask-wearing, which prevents people from being able to read lips, Collard said.

Before people can come to UP Audiology, they must get a referral from their doctor so theri insurance can be billed. An initial screening will include questions such as whether someone has had ear infections, or if they have experienced ringing in their ears. The initial visit also includes checking the ears and eardrums, as well as a hearing test.

“We’re not here to sell you a product,” Collard said. “We’re here to figure out what’s going on and help you find the best solution. If we can’t help you solve your problem, we’re going to figure out where you need to go to get some help.”

UP Audiology works with ear, nose and throat doctors in Marquette, Escanaba and the University of Michigan’s children’s hospital.

People can need to be sent somewhere else for things such as ear infections, or sudden hearing loss. For the latter, time is of the essence, Collard said.

“If you wake up one morning and your hearing is gone, go to the ER, get a referral to an ear, nose and throat doctor,” she said. “If you do it quickly, there’s a greater chance that it can come back.”

The biggest times for sudden hearing loss are the fourth of July and the start of deer season, Collard said.

“Inevitably, we get a call the opening day of deer season — ‘My rifle accidentally went off in my truck,’ or ‘My buddy was shooting next to me, and I can’t hear,” she said. “It doesn’t take more than a time or two.”

The audiologists also talk to people about what they can do to protect their hearing. Once a patient comes out the booth, the first thing Collard will ask them is what kind of noise they’ve been around. Then she goes over options for protecting what they have.

One of the go-to recommendations is inexpensive foam earplugs, which Collard wears herself when mowing the lawn. UP Audiology can also design a custom device depending on the need, whether it’s musicians, kids with ear infections or people with snoring spouses.

“We’ll get people who come in with a really specific situation, like ‘I am a clay shooter, but I need to hear my partner talking in between when we’re doing a competition,'” Collard said. “We can make things for that.”

One of their clients is a 200-person company in the Appleton, Wisconsin area, which orders heavy-duty custom ear protection that can last five years, Collard said.

Office manager Sherrie Vorbeck thinks about hearing when she sees parents with screaming children at loud events such as fireworks displays or monster truck rallies.

“The earlier you start the better whether they’re a day old, or they’re 95 years old,” she said. “Protecting your hearing is very, very important.”

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