Photos Cameron Flaisch
The dedicated professionals at Harbin Clinic Ear Nose & Throat focus all their skill and training on caring for their patients.
Harbin’s audiology team includes Dr. Bayle Anderson, Dr. Melissa Carter, Dr. Sheri Marshall, Dr. Sarah Merrell, and Gina Robinson (Master of Education in Audiology). Daily, they’re involved in the study of hearing and balance problems that occur in patients of all ages.
Robinson says, “Our main goal for working with patients is to help them hear and communicate as effectively as possible.” Hearing loss creeps up on some people so gradually they don’t notice it until other people begin pointing it out.
According to Merrell and Robinson, one of the most common signs of hearing loss is hearing but not understanding, such as in conversation in a restaurant or in groups where there’s a lot of background noise. Some people find out when others tell them they speak either too loudly or too quietly. Still others discover they suffer from tinnitus, a perception of sounds (phantom noise) or ringing in the ears.
Merrell and Robinson explain the causes of hearing loss fall into two broad categories: conductive and sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss deals with issues of the middle and outer ear, such as ear infections, the buildup of fluid or ear wax, and problems with the bones of the middle ear.
These issues often tend to be more temporary and readily treatable. Sensorineural hearing loss is a more ongoing problem, requiring long-term solutions. These causes may include congenital issues, or by viral infections, growths on the auditory nerve, or aging.
One ongoing challenge audiologists face is helping patients develop realistic expectations about their condition. Merrell says, “It’s called a hearing aid for a reason; it’s an aid, not a cure.” The hearing specialists at Harbin Clinic often deal with the public’s misconceptions about hearing loss. For instance, many people believe this is only an issue for senior citizens.
Not true. Merrell says, “There are multiple factors involved that can impact people at any age.” Also, some think only long-term exposure to loud noise can damage hearing, but it can be permanently damaged by a one-time encounter with such things as fireworks, power tools, and firearms. Merrell noted that she had a patient, a ten-year-old boy, who seriously damaged his hearing with the use of earbuds with the volume turned up too high.
Merrell had a two-year-old patient, a girl who had no language skills because of hearing loss. After the audiology team worked with the patient and her family, the girl, now five, speaks in full sentences. Merrell says, “This is a second career for me, and it’s been rewarding, a huge blessing to bring people back into the hearing world after they had lost hope.”
That’s why Harbin Clinic’s audiologists do what they do. As Robinson says, “Family members are so happy because they can communicate again.”
For more information, visit www.harbinclinic.com/audiology