Hearing Loss

Straining to hear? Do people say you’re talking loudly? Thinking about ordering a hearing aid or sound amplifier from a magazine or late-night TV advertiser?

Doing so could delay the diagnosis of a treatable or serious ear condition and lead to further hearing loss or other complications.

“The problem might be as simple as a wax impaction blocking the ear canal, which is easily treated, or at the other end of the spectrum, it could be something as serious as a tumor pressing on the hearing nerve,” says Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D., clinical deputy director for the Division of Ophthalmic, and Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Many cases of hearing loss are related to aging and exposure to loud noises, and a hearing aid, or frequently one for each ear, might be the solution. But while a prescription is not required for most kinds of hearing aids, it’s important to see a health care professional not only to rule out other medical causes of hearing loss, but to ensure that hearing aids are properly fitted and come with follow-up care.

“Sometimes there are issues with comfort. Perhaps you can’t wear a particular hearing aid because it is scratching the ear canal,” said Mann. “There are sometimes problems with a whistling noise from the hearing aid known as ‘feedback’ because it’s not a proper fit in the ear canal. These are all issues a hearing health care professional will work through with you.”

Aids Versus Amplifiers

Mann adds that consumers should not confuse hearing aids with the personal sound amplification products (PSAPs.) Although some PSAP technology is similar to that of a hearing aid, only hearing aids are intended to make up for impaired hearing.

A PSAP, in contrast, is for people with normal hearing who have a desire or need to amplify sounds in certain situations. For example, a PSAP may be helpful for hunters or bird-watchers. They are often advertised as a way to listen to a television set to a low volume that won’t disturb someone sleeping nearby.

FDA regulates hearing aids as medical devices in order to assure their safety and effectiveness. PSAPs are not subject to medical device regulations, although they are subject to other safety regulations as an electronic product that emits sound vibrations. FDA recently issued a draft update to this guidance to clarify what claims are appropriate for each of these two distinct types of products.

Differences among hearing aids themselves are more complex, which is one of the reasons a professional should be involved. Because hearing loss affects people in different ways, you need a device appropriate for your condition, and tailored to your lifestyle. A librarian, for example, might need different features in a hearing aid than a concert manager or a salesperson who spends the workday on the phone.

Hearing aids of various sizes may be worn behind the ear, in the ear or completely in the ear canal. Some include directional microphones, which allows sound coming from a specific direction to be amplified to a greater degree than sound from another direction. Some have switches specifically for telephone conversations, or inputs to allow you to plug directly into an electrical device, such as a TV or computer.

Acrylamide in Your Diet

If you’re trying to lose weight, you may already be telling your waiter to hold the fries. Now there’s another health benefit you can reap: Cutting down on certain fried foods can also help you cut down on the amount of acrylamide you eat. That’s a good thing because high levels of acrylamide have been found to cause cancer in animals, and on that basis scientists believe it is likely to cause cancer in humans as well.

FDA chemist Lauren Robin explains that acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods—mainly plant-based foods—during high-temperature cooking processes like frying and baking. These include potatoes, cereals, coffee, crackers or breads, dried fruits and many other foods. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, acrylamide is found in 40 percent of the calories consumed in the average American diet.

While acrylamide has probably been around as long as people have been baking, roasting, toasting or frying foods, it was only in 2002 that scientists first discovered the chemical in food. Since then, the FDA has been actively investigating the effects of acrylamide as well as potential measures to reduce it. Today, the FDA posts a draft document with practical strategies to help growers, manufacturers and food service operators lower the amount of acrylamide in foods associated with higher levels of the chemical.

In addition, there are a number of steps you and your family can take to cut down on the amount of acrylamide in the foods you eat.

Acrylamide forms from sugars and an amino acid that are naturally present in food. It does not form, or forms at lower levels, in dairy, meat and fish products. The formation occurs when foods are cooked at home and in restaurants as well as when they are made commercially.

“Generally speaking, acrylamide is more likely to accumulate when cooking is done for longer periods or at higher temperatures,” Robin says. Boiling and steaming foods do not typically form acrylamide.

Tips for Cutting Down on Acrylamide

Given the widespread presence of acrylamide in foods, it isn’t feasible to completely eliminate acrylamide from one’s diet, Robin says. Nor is it necessary. Removing any one or two foods from your diet would not have a significant effect on overall exposure to acrylamide.

However, here are some steps you can take to help decrease the amount of acrylamide that you and your family consume:

  • Frying causes acrylamide formation. If frying frozen fries, follow manufacturers’ recommendations on time and temperature and avoid overcooking, heavy crisping or burning.
  • Toast bread to a light brown color rather than a dark brown color. Avoid very brown areas.
  • Cook cut potato products such as frozen french fries to a golden yellow color rather than a brown color. Brown areas tend to contain more acrylamide.
  • Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator, which can increase acrylamide during cooking. Keep potatoes outside the refrigerator in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry.

FDA also recommends that you adopt a healthy eating plan, consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including:

  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk products.
  • Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
  • Choose foods low in saturated fats, trans fat (which both raises your bad LDL cholesterol and lowers your good HDL cholesterol and is linked to heart attacks), cholesterol, salt and added sugars.