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The Sounds of a Day

My alarm goes off at 6 am. Ugh. I just want to crawl back under the covers, but my dog whimpers from the living room letting me know she needs to go outside. As I open the back door for her, the automatic timer clicks on the coffee pot and the pitter patter of brewing coffee gives me hope for a little relief from my morning grogginess.

As I walk into my garage, I note that there are children laughing and talking nearby walking to school. I’ll need to be especially careful as I back my car out. As I pull onto the highway, my car makes a quiet clicking noise. What on earth is that? That can’t be good. I’ll need to stop by the dealer and have that checked out.

As I’m walking into work, a friend calls out to me from across the street. I haven’t seen her in forever. I need to remember to give her a call later and make plans for a lunch date. The bells on the front office jingle as I walk in announcing my arrival to my coworkers, and the day proceeds with an array of phone calls, e-mails, and meetings. The last meeting of the day is a large staff meeting. Everyone is talking over one another with ideas for the new training program. Is that the phone ringing in the next room? It’s barely audible with everyone speaking at once. I’d better go answer it.

On the way home, ambulance sirens fill the air and I look in my review mirror to see if I need to pull to the side of the road. Sure enough, here they come. My phone pings that I have a text message, so I check it while I’m still pulled over. I finish driving home and pull back into my garage. When I get out, I press the button on my keyless entry and wait for the chirp that informs me my car is now locked.

My dog barks a greeting as I enter the house and my cat purrs next to my leg equally excited to see me. I set the oven to preheat and put a pot of water on the stovetop to begin the preparation of my dinner. As the oven lets out a long beep to let me know it’s finally reached 350 degrees, the pot of water softly bubbles in the background.

The friend that I saw earlier calls to catch up and her quiet voice is difficult to discern over the hectic noises of her kids playing in the background, but we set up the lunch date I’d been thinking we needed. I finally settle in to watch my favorite TV show, and eventually head off to bed setting my alarm for the next morning.

Sounds impact every part of my day. They have social, economic, and safety effects. My ability to hear makes the difference between whether or not I wake up on time for work, whether I catch the mechanical issue on my car early enough to fix it before it causes bigger problems, and how fully I get to participate in the world around me. Losing those sounds would not only create a wall between me and the people (and animals) I interact with and care about, it would also just make daily activities far more difficult. So the question is–are you missing some of the sounds in your life? And are you living your life to its fullest without them?

–Allie

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Working With Hearing Loss

If you have hearing loss, you may face many challenges in the workplace. Research has shown that those with hearing loss earn less and get passed over for promotions more often than those with normal hearing. Trying to work when you have a hearing loss is a challenge. Phone conversations are difficult. Not being able to hear in the board room or during staff meetings can leave you out of the loop and cause you to miss out on important information. If you wear hearing instruments, you will certainly be able to hear better. Taking a few extra steps will help ensure you are hearing and working your best.

Share Your Story

First, tell your boss and co-workers about your hearing loss. Let them know what your challenges are and how they can communicate with you to be most productive.

Talk In Person

People with hearing loss tend to communicate better in person than over the phone. Let your colleagues know that when possible speaking face to face is better for you. Watching visual cues when having a conversation helps you better interpret what people are saying.

Stay In Your Line Of Sight

If people are trying to get your attention and you aren’t responding, ask them to walk into your line of sight. Being tapped on the back can be startling, but if someone walks toward you from the front, you can anticipate his or her arrival.

Face Forward

In meetings, ask others to face forward when talking, and not talk when their backs are turned, like when writing on a whiteboard or taking notes. When their backs are turned to you, his or her voice projects away from you, making it harder to understand what is being said.

Get Some Private Space

Open office cubicles tend to be louder than closed office environments, and can put a strain on anyone’s listening skills, let alone someone with a hearing loss. If possible, ask to be put into an office with a closing door.

Patience

Talk to your colleagues and let them know your hearing loss can be frustrating for everyone, a little patience goes a long way in creating a happy, productive work environment. Visit your hearing professional on a regular basis to make sure you have the tools you need to hear your best.

 

-Kelli

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Help! What’s that noise in my ear?

ringing in the ear

The medical name for ringing or noises in your ear is tinnitus. If you are experiencing it, you are one of millions in the world who suffer from tinnitus. There is no exact science or even the same experience for those with tinnitus. The sounds can range from ringing to sounds such as crickets or other insects.  I’ve even had a women claim to be hearing church bells. Also, the intensity can be anything from mild to loud. Some experience variable intensity; others experience a constant sound. I personally experience an occasional ringing that is intermittent. The one constant for people is the frustration. It is at the least a nuisance; to some it can become intolerable.

So how does this come about, and why are there no real medical treatments to resolve this condition, especially with the large number of people who suffer from it?

For one, most medical issues when diagnosed have a definable causal reason for the illness or area that is causing the discomfort or pain. Treatment then centers around dealing with what is causing the problem until a successful solution is found. With tinnitus, the challenge is that there are a multitude of possible causes including genetics, medicines, accidents, trauma, illness, and hearing loss.

You can find all kinds of products or techniques that advertise their ability to reduce or stop the ringing, but most these don’t really work. Some try masking the noise by running a fan, radio, or even ocean sounds while trying to sleep. Recently, in-the-ear tinnitus maskers like hearing aids have been produced. These only cover up the tinnitus at best. They don’t correct it. Additionally, herbal remedies are sold on TV and radio, but seldom work.

So what is the answer?

To begin with, all diagnosis and treatment requires isolating the cause. None of the above noted treatments ever center on isolating the cause; they only declare, “take this or use that and you’ll solve the problem.”

Recently, many professional groups have been formed to help search for the answers and to help people who suffer overcome or manage their tinnitus. Their goal is for tinnitus suffers to be able to lead healthy productive lives free of the sometimes debilitating noise and ringing in the ear. It has been estimated that over 60% of tinnitus suffers have some level of hearing loss. So, what does hearing loss have to do with ringing in the ears?

In this explanation, I will avoid the medical names and instead use the names we all learned in school. The ear functions both as a receiver of vibrations of air waves and a canal vibrating the ear drum. The ear drum is called that because it functions just like a set of drums. Vibrations are created by beating the drum, and the diameter of the drum determines the type of sound it transmits. The vibrations the ear drum receives are transmitted through the middle ear to the three smallest bones in our bodies. We learned to call them the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup in school. The stirrup is attached to the inner ear where the vibrations are then change into an electrical impulse by a series of hair cell nerves in a bed of fluid. The new electric impulses are then sent to the brain which translates the impulses into what we perceive as sounds.

There are several types of hearing loss with the two most common being conductive and sensory neural. Conductive hearing loss is the inability of the ear to conduct the vibrations to the inner ear. It can be as simple as wax or something plugging the ear or various medical conditions that constrict the vibrations. Sensory neural loss happens when the vibrations are reaching the inner ear properly but due to damage to the inner ear and the hair cell nerves, the sufferer is unable to receive and transmit the electronic impulses. It could also be caused by an issue with the neurological chain transmitting the correct signal to the brain. Basically, hearing loss always stems from an inability of our ears to transmit the right signal to the brain for one reason or another.

Many times ringing in the ear or tinnitus is a direct result of hearing loss. Your brain doesn’t care if your vision clarity comes from your eyes or your eyes using glasses, contacts, or corrective surgery; all it wants is the correct signal, and you experience clarity of vision. The brain operates the same looking for the correct signal from the ears. When it doesn’t receive the correct signals, the brain searches and searches for what’s missing. Many times that can result in you actually hearing the brain searching for what is missing, or what we call ringing in the ears or tinnitus. Remember the old fax machines?  When you called one and it answered, it began looking for the correct signal from another fax. While doing so, it produced an obnoxious noise over the phone line. It wouldn’t stop unless you started your fax machine and the two found each other. Then, the phone line went pleasantly quiet, but the noise would persist if you didn’t have a fax machine until you hung up. Well, you can’t hang up with your brain just because you don’t like the noise. And it won’t stop unless you send it the correct signal regardless of what you try.

So, what is the first step to solving the annoying ringing and noise in your ears? Simply get a hearing test from a licensed professional, announce the ringing you are experiencing, and ask them to identify what frequency it sounds to be during the exam. We at Heartland Hearing perform these tests as a complimentary service at no charge.

This isn’t a cure, but a step to identify the cause so you can go in the right direction to get the best outcome possible without chasing rabbits or spending needless money. Many patients have reported that when they have corrected their hearing loss (sent the brain the correct signal), they experience a great or complete relief from their tinnitus.

Only when you can identify the source of a problem can you successfully fight it and have a chance of success.

It is wise to get an annual hearing screening so you are armed with the facts to take control of your hearing health and wellbeing.
Royce R. LaMarr, BC-HIS

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How Important Is Hearing Health Care?

Before I began working in the hearing industry, I have to admit that hearing health care wasn’t really on my radar. Strange since I always went for physicals and yearly eye exams. I could also remember regularly having my hearing checked in school as a child, but it wasn’t something I thought about much. I didn’t notice ads for hearing aids or think about whether my music might be too loud. I didn’t wonder whether or not my family members were getting their annual hearing exams either. However, after meeting and interacting with patients and others in the hearing health field, my whole perspective has changed.

First, I’ve realized that early detection is paramount. I’ve seen the difference in levels of understanding between patients who caught and corrected their hearing loss early and those who may have been unaware or waited to take steps for five, ten, sometimes fifteen years. Our ears are simply devices that send signals to our brain. Over time, our brain can forget how to translate those signals if it’s not getting them regularly. If you have a hearing loss and you wait too long to do something about it, you may never get some of that understanding back.

Second, I’ve seen the way it effects communication—with strangers, with family, in business. Try reading only every third word of this article. Did you get much out of it that way? Can you imagine if that’s all you could hear when others were speaking to you? It becomes so incredibly frustrating for both the people with the hearing loss and their loved ones. Sometimes, those with hearing loss even begin to withdraw and become distant because communication is just too difficult.

Even after getting hearing aids, it’s still extremely important to have regular visits to your hearing specialist to insure your instruments are set to the appropriate prescription for you. We recently had a patient and his wife come in for a follow-up visit who were a perfect example of this. One of our Patient Care Coordinators noted the difficulty he had hearing her, his wife, and others in the waiting room. During his time with our Hearing Instrument Specialist, she made a significant adjustment to the settings on his hearing instruments. When he came back through the waiting room just twenty minutes later, the difference was remarkable. He was communicating easily with others in the waiting room. Our PCC commented to his wife on the immediate difference, and she said, “I know. He’s not yelling anymore!” Did you ever think that twenty minutes of your time could make that big of a difference in how you interact with others? I know I hadn’t before.

Finally, I now consider how hearing health could affect my family in the future. My dad was at my house one day, and my dog suddenly took off running to the kitchen. “Where’s she going?” he asked. I said, “Didn’t you hear that? The cat jumped through the cat door and the bell on his collar jingled.” My dad hadn’t heard it. That was a high frequency sound. If he has a mild high frequency loss now, what sounds might he miss later if it’s not corrected? Could he miss my baby boy’s soft toddler chatter in a few years? Could he miss him whispering “I love you” or telling his favorite story by heart? Will all of my family be able to participate and enjoy conversation at big Sunday dinners? Will we get to appreciate and fully enjoy all of the precious moments we have together? I don’t want my family to miss any of those moments. Nor do I want to miss them myself—now or in the future when I may have my own grandchildren’s sweet words to hear.

So, now I know the real importance of hearing health care. I will get my yearly hearing exams, and I will push and prod my family to do so as well if necessary. I will make sure we get to appreciate all the amazing sounds in our lives. Will you do the same?

-Allie

Image Credit

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How Does Your Ear Work?

Do you know how your ears really work? The human ear is divided into three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear is what we all think of as our ear; it is what we see on the side of our heads. This is known as the auricle. The ear drum is the dividing line of the outer and middle ear. The middle ear is a cavity which contains the three smallest bones in our body. They are the malleus, incus, and the stapes. The inner ear is where we find the cochlea. The cochlea is a seashell shaped structure that houses over 30,000 hair cells which are responsible for different frequencies or pitch. These hair cells are surrounded by fluid.

As acoustic sound happens around us, our outer ear picks up the sound whether it is speech or noise. It then acts as a funnel and directs the sound to our eardrum. The sound makes our eardrum vibrate. As it vibrates the middle ear, the three tiny bones are put into a rocking motion. The last bone called the stapes then works as a plunger and creates a wave in the inner ear which allows the many hair cells to sway in the fluid. As the hair cells sway, an electrical signal from a part on the cochlea is sent to the brain. When this electrical signal reaches the brain, the brain perceives it and hopefully understands it as sound or speech.

This is the order of how our ears work. The importance of this is to know that the outer ear works as a funnel, while the middle and inner parts are transducers which send a signal to the brain. The final result is that we actually hear with our brain and not with our ears. That is why most people with hearing loss say they can hear they just don’t understand what someone is saying. They aren’t getting the right signals to the brain.

When a person has a degree of hearing loss, it is important that we send the correct signal to the brain. It’s also vital to begin doing so as quickly as possible so the brain doesn’t “forget” certain sounds over time. This is just one reason that having an annual hearing exam is very important!

 

Tim

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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The Care and Keeping of Hearing Aids

hearing aids repairsHearing loss is a common affliction, often caused by earwax buildup, head injury, ear infection, or ruptured eardrums. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the cochlea due to illness, genetics, or exposure to loud noises. A damaged cochlea is unable to transmit signals to the brain properly. Many people who experience hearing loss wear hearing aids for treatment, but, as with any technology, hearing aids require regular maintenance and repair to ensure they work properly.

Hearing technology has come a long way in the past few years. With so many different types of hearing aids for adults to choose from, finding one that fits your lifestyle is easier than ever. Of course, there are general maintenance guidelines to prevent the necessity of hearing aids repairs. To prolong the life of your hearing aid, it should be turned off when not in use. All hearing aids should be protected from water and stored in a cool, dry location. Do not wear your hearing aid while swimming, bathing, showering, or when using spray hair products.

Regular cleaning can prevent the need for many common hearing aids repairs. Wax buildup can cause distorted sound or no sound at all. Changing wax filters, cleaning batteries and contacts, and brushing out the microphone opening are all easy fixes to keep your hearing aid working smoothly.

Because 60% of people with hearing loss are in educational settings or the work force, it is important that they are able to hear clearly. Diligently changing hearing aid batteries ensures that they will not experience sudden hearing loss or distorted sound due to dead or dying batteries.

When buying a hearing aid, you are making an investment in your hearing and quality of life. Keeping your hearing aid in good condition and making appropriate hearing aids repairs will ensure that you are able to keep doing all the activities you love. Don’t let your hearing loss slow you down.

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What to Expect When Shopping for a Hearing Aid

Buying a hearing aidWhile three out of every 10 people over age 60 have hearing loss, 65% of people with hearing loss are under the age of 65. Treating hearing loss is important to the patient’s state of mind as well as their ears. According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, people with untreated hearing loss are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than people without hearing loss. Buying a hearing aid is one of the easiest ways to combat the effects of hearing loss.

If you want to look into buying a hearing aid, your first stop should be your doctor’s office for a medical exam. Your doctor can clear out ear wax in preparation for your hearing test, as well as checking for tumors and infections that may be causing your hearing loss.

Once you have received your physician exam, it is time to shop for hearing aids. Your audiologist or hearing aid specialist will first have you take a hearing screening test. While screening for hearing loss, he or she may have you listen to a variety of words and tones through headphones, repeat words spoken while reading the tester’s lips and when they are covered, or discerning speech while a loud recording plays in the background. Be sure to tell the tester if you spend a lot of time on the phone or in loud environments, such as restaurants, as they may not think to ask.

There are several different types of hearing aids for adults, and you will want to ask questions to make sure you choose the right one to fit your needs. Battery life and cost, warranties, and return policies are all things you should ask about. When you pick up your hearing aids, test them out in the store. Practice putting them in and taking them out, adjusting volume, changing batteries, and talking on the phone.

While you may be thrilled with your new hearing aid, be sure to schedule a follow-up appointment with the audiologist. While wearing your hearing aid, take note of any issues you may have in certain environments, and if it turns out to not be the right hearing aid after all, remember to return it for repairs or exchanges.

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Which Hearing Aid is Right for You?

hearing aids for adults

Hearing loss affects people of all ages and all walks of life, although men are more likely to report hearing loss than women. The causes of hearing loss are many and varied, and can include exposure to loud noise, impacted earwax, allergies, or head trauma. Some illnesses that affect hearing include otosclerosis and Meniere’s disease. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the cochlea is damaged by illness, loud noise, genetics, or other trauma and cannot transmit signals to the brain.

Fortunately, technology has made many advancements in hearing technology, so buying a hearing aid to fit your needs is much easier than in the past. Because of increases in digital technology, designing a new hearing aid from concept to manufacturing to market can cost between $85 million and $200 million. Currently, there are five different types of hearing aids for adults, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

The first type of hearing aid is the behind-the-ear aid that most people picture when talking about hearing loss. The earpiece is connected by clear tubing to a plastic case that rests behind the ear and contains most of the parts. Behind-the-ear hearing aids are a popular choice for seniors and children with hearing loss, as they are durable, easy to clean, and can accommodate a variety of earmold types.

If you are concerned about appearance or comfort, you may opt for a mini behind-the-ear hearing aid. Made in a similar fashion as a regular behind-the-ear aid, the mini is smaller, the tube is thinner, and offers a choice between a traditional earmold and an “open fit” ear piece, which is inserted into the ear.

In-the-ear hearing aids are made of a small shell that contains all of the hearing aid parts, and fits in the outer part of the ear. While they are smaller than behind-the-ear aids, in-the-ear hearing aids are larger than the last two types of hearing aids for adults, which may make them easier to handle and adjust.

The last two types of hearing aids for adults are in-the-canal (ITC) and completely-in-the-canal (CIC). Similar to in-the-ear, ITC and CIC hearing aids contain all of their parts in a tiny shell. The shell is then inserted either partially or completely into the ear canal, depending on type. ITC and CIC hearing aids can be difficult to handle due to their small size, so they may not be the best choice for everyone.

Buying a hearing aid can be a long process, similar to purchasing eyeglasses. Don’t worry if the first few you try on aren’t perfect. Everyone has differently-shaped ears, so no hearing aid will fit every person. Talking to your audiologist about your specific needs will help you narrow down the choices and find the right hearing aid for you.

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Why should I get a hearing exam?

What you don’t know can hurt you and your future. To understand why, let’s look at the process of human hearing. Sounds are mechanical vibrations carried through air and mass. Most sounds enter our ear canals and vibrate our eardrums. The eardrum transmits the vibrations through the middle ear over the three smallest bones in our body. These are the malleus, incus, and stapes. In school, you may have called them the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. The three bones then vibrate the inner ear called the cochlea.

Anything that interrupts that flow of vibrations is called a conductive hearing loss. These interruptions can be as simple as wax blockage or fluid in the middle ear. They can also be caused by more serious health issues. Sometimes, we can treat and correct these problems medically.

When the vibrations arrive at the cochlea (a snail-shaped tube of small hairs in fluid), they are turned into electrical impulses and sent to the brain for translation and interpretation. If the cochlea is damaged from exposure to loud noises, genetics, illness, or other issues, it loses its ability to transmit the signal to the brain properly. This is called a sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss cannot be medically treated. However, it can be treated by compensating for the loss by replacing the signals that are diminished.

Here is the KEY to keeping your ability to hear, understand, and enjoy your relationships, entertainment, and life: You must keep the flow of sound coming to your brain at the correct levels.

From the description of the process of hearing, we see that there are two components that make up your ability to have normal hearing. First is the ability of the ear to receive and send the correct signals to your brain. Second is the ability of the brain to receive, translate, and interpret those signals in real time. If the flow of sound is diminished for any reason, then the brain becomes starved for those signals. Over a period of time, it may lose its ability to translate and interpret correctly. This means it may be unable to recognize the meaning of the sounds or unable to keep up with speech dialog. Delayed treatment of hearing loss can cause serious damage to the brain’s ability to function normally in understanding speech. The longer the delay, the greater the possibility of damage. That is the reason we recommend a hearing screening or exam.

Even if you don’t suspect having a hearing loss, getting a hearing exam baseline is important for other reasons. It becomes your legal medical record and establishes a history in the event that you were to suffer an accident or illness that may damage your hearing. If, following such an accident or illness, you found yourself in litigation, you would have proof that your condition was not pre-existing.

What you don’t know can hurt you, but you can avoid that pain with a simple exam! Get your baseline hearing exam, follow it with annual hearing screenings, and take control of your future ability to hear and understand.

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How do Hearing Instruments Help?

Eyes and ears are different, yet similar. In simple terms, the difference is what they interpret. The similarity is how they transmit and process the signals interpreted. Eyes are designed to receive visual signals that are shaped by light. The light signal is transmitted through the eyeball to the retina. There it is translated into an electrical signal and sent through the optic nerve to the brain stem and channeled to the brain. The brain is where the electrical signals are interpreted. We simply call this process “sight”.

The ear is different in that it receives (catches) sound waves. Sound waves are mechanical vibrations that enter the ear canal and vibrate the eardrum. The eardrum then transmits the vibrations through the middle ear by three tiny bones (the incus, malleus, and stapes) to the inner ear called the cochlea. The cochlea is vibrated, and about 50 thousand tiny hairs in a bed of fluid are stimulated generating electrical signals. These are transmitted through the acoustic nerve to the brain stem. From there, they are sent to the brain where the signals are interpreted.

The mediums for these two senses are images and sound, but the transmissions for both are changed to electrical energy that the brain interprets. The reason glasses or contacts work is that they change the signal the brain receives for clarity. The brain doesn’t care if it is your eyes or your eyes combined with glasses sending the signals. It just wants the correct signal. The same is true of your hearing. The brain doesn’t care if it is just your ears or your ears and a hearing instrument; it is looking for the necessary signal to bring clarity.

Another difference between your eyes and ears is the number of different environments they encounter. Your eyes deal with two main environments- light and dark. Your ears encounter thousands of different environments each day. Just sitting on your couch watching TV, your ears may pass through hundreds of changing sound environments without ever leaving the room. No matter the number of environments, if you give your eyes and ears the right signals, you get clarity. It’s really all about getting the correct signal to the brain.

What happens to many when they begin to have trouble with their vision or hearing is the degradation of the eyes or ears ability to send the correct signals to the brain. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but may go unnoticed because it occurs gradually rather than all at once. Unless you’ve suffered a sudden major hearing loss, your decreased abilities may become your assumed norm as the changes go on undetected.

To correct this, hearing instruments are programmed with your personal settings (Rx). This gives you back what you are missing just like glasses or contacts adjust the signals from your eyes to your individual needs. The biggest challenge for hearing instruments is noise and how it’s handled. That is why there are many different technologies available. The greater the amount of noise and the more environments you are in on a regular basis increase the technology required to help you.

The best hearing professionals follow the protocols of auditory rehabilitation. It should never be about buying something. It should be all about correcting your brain’s ability to understand speech. This should be done in steps so your brain can acclimate with each step toward what you need. This is similar to strengthening any other part of your body. If you haven’t exercised in a very long time, you can’t just immediately run 10 miles. You have to acclimate your body to running again by starting with shorter distances and gradually making increases. Additionally, verification of improvement and adjustments must be made regularly to reach the optimum goal for each patient. If your improvement plateaus, it may be possible to change technologies so you can continue reaching higher levels of speech understanding.

Hearing loss is a disability that for most can be successfully corrected and maintained for the rest of their lives. Delayed treatment can have adverse effects on your health physically and emotionally. Plus, some of your loss can become irreversible over time. Early detection and correction can save your ability to understand and enjoy life!

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