Dr. Holly Eischens can diagnose, provide treatment options for those with hearing loss

Harry Hughes, of Osakis, has been slowly losing his hearing over the years.

“It was a gradual loss so I didn’t really realize how bad it had gotten,” he said. “It has been a problem for a long time, but I decided it was time to do something about it.”

He went to a hearing clinic for testing but wasn’t satisfied with the service he was receiving.

Holly Eischens, Au.D., has been treating patients at Sanford Health Audiology in Alexandria for about a year. Photo by Jim Palmer

Holly Eischens, Au.D., has been treating patients at Sanford Health Audiology in Alexandria for about a year. Photo by Jim Palmer

“A friend of mine who has hearing aids told me it was very important to find someone I could get along with,” said Hughes, who switched to Sanford Health Audiology with Holly Eischens, Au.D., in Alexandria. “I came here in March and met with Dr. Eischens. When my wife and I got back in our truck after the first appointment, we said, “This is the person we are going to buy our hearing aids from. We had a good connection from the very beginning.”

After the initial visit, Dr. Eischens was able to treat Hughes with a set of hearing aids that are now customized for his hearing loss. Hughes is now enjoying sounds he hasn’t heard in years.

“I had forgotten that the birds chirped as much as they do,” he said. “I asked my wife if they chirped like that every day. I probably missed a lot of things over the years. I had no idea it had gotten so bad.”

Hughes also turned their TV “way down,” and also turned down the volume of his own voice.

“My son-in-law said, ‘well, there is one thing for sure… you don’t talk so loud anymore,’” said Hughes. I didn’t realize I had been talking loud at all. Apparently I was talking really loud.”

Hughes said his experience at Sanford Health Audiology was very positive.

“It was great,” he said. “I would encourage people thinking about doing this to make sure to go someplace where you get along with the audiologist and feel comfortable coming back to ask questions. Dr. Eischens was great to work with.”

Dr. Eischens has been the audiologist at Sanford Health in Alexandria for about a year, and she has many success stories similar to the story shared by Hughes.

“It is very rewarding to help patients improve their hearing which helps them to have a better quality of life. It’s important for me as an audiologist to listen to my patients’ needs and understand their frustrations, and getting to know them on a more personal level is an added bonus,” said Eischens.

Sanford Health Audiology has state-of-the-art technology, and Dr. Eischens walks her patients through each step of the process. She will check the ears to rule out wax build-up or signs of infection and test the middle ear to rule out the need for medical intervention.  If a hearing loss is detected, she will go over the options to treat the loss.

“There are different parts of our auditory system that allow us to hear. If one of those parts is not working correctly, it can lead to hearing loss. Understanding how the ear operates is essential to treating each patient correctly. One of the most common forms of hearing loss is a result of damage to tiny hair cells found in the inner ear. If the hair cells are damaged they can no longer pick up sounds as they once did, and thus, the auditory nerve cannot carry the sound up to the brain. This has the potential to result in auditory deprivation, which means the brain has a difficult time understanding sound because of a lack of auditory stimulation over time. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Another common ear-related symptom people may experience is tinnitus, or ringing/buzzing in the ears. “This can also be the result of damaged hair cells in the inner ear,” she said.

“If tinnitus is bothersome, we can treat the patient with hearing aids,” said Eischens. “Making diet changes can help some, but it doesn’t always make a difference for everyone.” Tinnitus is very subjective, and it is experienced differently by each patient. For some it is intermittent and may sound like a hissing sound. For others it is constant buzzing.  “In some cases tinnitus can be a sign of a larger, more serious problem. Therefore, if a patient is experiencing tinnitus, it is best to have your hearing evaluated.”

Dr. Holly Eischens examines the ears of Harry Hughes, of Osakis, during a recent appointment. Hughes had been experiencing a gradual hearing loss over the years. Dr. Eischens fitted Hughes with a new pair of hearing aids, and he is now hearing far better than he has in many years. Photo by Jim Palmer

Dr. Holly Eischens examines the ears of Harry Hughes, of Osakis, during a recent appointment. Hughes had been experiencing a gradual hearing loss over the years. Dr. Eischens fitted Hughes with a new pair of hearing aids, and he is now hearing far better than he has in many years. Photo by Jim Palmer

One of the biggest complaints reported from patients with hearing loss is difficulty hearing in a room with background noise, like a restaurant or dinner party. “When this complaint is reported there is a hearing-in-noise test we can perform to better understand their difficulties. This is a valuable test as it helps me understand how a patient can process sound in noise, as well as determine which technology would be most beneficial for them. These hearing aids are like little computers, and they can be programmed to suppress certain sounds and amplify others.”

The final test is done once the hearing aids are fit, which is called real-ear measurement testing. In this test, probes are placed in the ear along with the hearing aids to record the incoming sound as the patient is hearing it through the hearing aids. “This test allows me to set the hearing aid specifically for each pitch of their loss to the appropriate level,” said Eischens. “It is a very important part of fitting the hearing aids and customizing it to their loss.”

Patients are encouraged to come back for follow-up appointments to determine if the aids need fine tuning.

“If we do all the steps from the booth, to the fitting, to the real-ear measurements, to the follow-up and counseling, patients do really well with hearing aids. If any of those steps are missed, in many cases patients do not do as well,” she said.

Dr. Eischens said there are a wide variety of hearing aids available. Some hearing aids work better for certain losses, so it is important for patients to have time with the hearing aids to determine if the aids are most appropriate for their loss. “The testing along with my knowledge and experience are important pieces in determining the best treatment option for the patient. The patient has 45 days of trial period with the hearing aids, so they never have to worry about making an investment in something that won’t work for them.”

“Hearing aids have dramatically changed over the years,” she said. “Some people don’t know how far they have come. Often people think of the person at church whose hearing aid started to squeal, and they had to quickly turn it down to get it to stop. That doesn’t happen anymore. Feedback is controlled, hearing aids are discrete, and we can make more fine tuning adjustments than ever before. One of the newer features in current hearing aids is that they can be recharged. Patients can now insert their hearing aids on a charger rather than changing tiny batteries on a weekly basis.”

Oftentimes, the hardest part of the process is getting an individual to come through the doors and get checked.

“The average wait time from when an individual is affected by hearing loss to when they are fitted for a hearing device is about seven years,” said Dr. Eischens. “Hearing loss usually comes on gradually, so people don’t realize it until it gets bad enough. Seven years is a long time period for them to be struggling and go that long missing important sounds for everyday communication. “In many cases, family members or friends will tell the patient to get their hearing checked before they themselves decide to do it. Some patients don’t realize how much they are missing. Others likely have an awareness they have a loss, but it may be hard to accept or they are fearful to know how bad it is so it prevents them from coming in. The best thing is to come in and get it checked. It doesn’t always mean they will need a hearing aid, but it does allow me to gain a baseline hearing test which is valuable information.”

One more reason to have your hearing checked has less to do with clearer hearing and more to do with clearer thinking.

“There are research studies that have found a link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline,” said Eischens. “The thought is that your body is exhausting so much energy trying to hear that it is pulling energy and resources from other areas of the brain to make up for it. This doesn’t mean that everyone with hearing loss is going to experience cognitive decline, but the studies have found a correlation between the two. The evidence supports someone coming in sooner rather than later to seek treatment.”

Dr. Eischens encourages people of all ages to get their hearing checked, but strongly encourages those in their 50s and 60s to get a baseline hearing test if they have not done so already. “In some cases obtaining a hearing test even earlier is valuable if an individual has been or is consistently exposed to loud noises.” For people who work in loud settings the use of hearing protection may be recommended, and Sanford Health Audiology has a wide range of these products.

“There are many different styles to choose from,” she said. “We have some made by manufacturers, and others we can make custom to their ear right in the office. For people who are around a lot of noise on a consistent basis, it is very important to protect the hearing you have.”

Sanford Health Audiology is located at Sanford Health Easton Place Clinic, 510 22nd Avenue East, #602 in Alexandria. Also located at this location is Sanford’s Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) department led by Dr. William Richards, D.O.

“A nice feature about coming to our clinic is the patient has access to both Dr. Richards and myself,” said Eischens. “We work closely together when it comes to the ears, so to have us both here is not only convenient for our patients, but also ensures we are working together to determine the best treatment outcomes for each individual’s needs.”

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Eischens, call 320-763-0144.