All About Protecting Our Hearing- episode 23 w/ Cornelius Maxwell
Welcome back to the All About Audiology podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Lilach Saperstein and today we’re going to be talking about all about protecting your hearing. What are some of the ways we can protect our hearing and what happens when we’re exposed to a lot of noise. Before we jump in, I’d like to remind you that you can download the FREE Five Step Guide to Navigating Your Child’s Hearing Loss over on my website.
In my work as an educational audiologist, I saw that one of the biggest problems was trying to stay on top of all the overwhelming questions that come up when someone’s child gets a diagnosis. There are so many questions and all different things that need to get done and having a five-step guide that takes you through it has helped a lot of you. I’m really grateful for the feedback I’ve gotten on it and I hope that it continues to help more people. You can download it for free at allaboutaudiology.com/guide and you can also send that guide over to someone you know who might benefit from it. Someone you know who has a new or recent diagnosis of a hearing loss in their family and it’s a really useful tool for helping to navigate and figure out what are the next steps and that’s over at allaboutaudiology.com/guide.
And now, on to today’s topic.
What are some of the causes of hearing loss?
We know that hearing loss can be hereditary or genetic. It can be present from birth or it can be something that happens or develops during life that can be acquired. In general when it comes to hearing loss, there isn’t a lot we can control. But there is one cause of hearing loss that we might have some control over and that’s noise induced hearing loss, hearing loss that’s caused by being exposed to very loud sounds. When it comes to noise exposure, we always talk about dose. And when we talk about dose, we talk about two things: how loud the sound is and that’s measured in decibels, in db, and how long, what’s the duration of the noise exposure.
It can be complicated to measure the amount of noise exposure and when we put it into this measurement of dose, we can get the average decibel level over a certain amount of time. So for example, the OSHA recommendations for occupational safety for work standards, are 85 Db for 8 hours. If someone is exposed to 85 Db for eight hours, then at that point there needs to be hearing protection, there needs to be monitoring of the hearing, hearing tests and so on. So when we think about our exposure to noise, we can think about the dosage and think about trying to reduce: a, how loud the sounds are that we are exposed to and b, how long we are getting exposed to them for.
So for example, the other day on Instagram, someone sent me a message and asked me, “I’m going to the dentist and I’m actually a little worried. There’s all these loud drills and is that going to affect my hearing?” I responded to them by saying, “That was a great question. The drills are pretty loud and are very close to your ears and your face, so that’s a wonderful question to ask, but if you are going to the dentist once a year for half an hour and you are exposed to that sound, it’s not likely to have such a significant effect on your hearing. And also because it’s such a short amount of time, your ears and hair cells have a chance to recuperate. It’s unlikely to leave a great, permanent kind of damage for such a short amount of time.” But the dentist and the dental hygienist and the staff who are working with those drills for eight hours or however many hours each day, day after day, week after week, for many years, that’s where we start to see occupational noise induced hearing loss, when someone is exposed to this kind of noise for very long periods of time, at very high volumes.
Back in episode 3 when we talked all about hearing and how our ears work, you can go back and listen to that and take a dive with me through the question of how we hear. In that episode, I talked about the little hair cells within our cochlea. So if we pretend that the little hair cells that are running all along the cochlea are kind of like a big luscious lawn of grass, we can follow the metaphor where everyone keeps taking the same shortcut and walking along a little path in the lawn. So if two or three people go on the lawn, that’s okay. Those little grassy, hairs will come and pop right back up and they won’t take too much damage. But if everyone, every single day continues to take the same shortcut on the lawn, you know what’s going to happen. It’s going to make tread marks on those little plates of grass. It’s going to bend them, over and over again so much so that they won’t be able to come back and recover and so you’ll have a tread mark in the lawn from all the people who keep stepping on it. That’s kind of a metaphor for what happens with the hair cells when there’s a repeated exposure to noise. If it’s just a bit of noise and there’s time to recover, then the hair cells might be okay. But if it keeps happening over and over again, then that’s where we can see the permanent damage and the threshold shift, meaning the hearing is getting worse because of the noise.
We’re talking musicians and DJs, and not only musicians, but the other staff at some of these venues. Waiters and other people who are working in a place where they are being exposed to very loud levels of sound over many hours. There’s also people in different industries like gardening, or using power tools, any kind of machinery, factories, construction work, all of these people, generally have an awareness that there’s a lot of noise that they’re being exposed to and there should definitely be safety standards in place to protect them. Meaning they are using hearing protection like ear plugs and ear muffs and monitoring their hearing. It’s not only occupational, there are also recreational, every day use of things that make a lot of sound or places that we go where we are exposed to very loud sounds. So think of using a jet-ski or a snowmobile, or using lawn mowers, power tools, any of these things that can be really loud. So in addition to limiting the volume and the time that we are exposed to noise, we can also use hearing protection. And although it might feel weird or be a little bit out of the ordinary to wear ear plugs when you’re at a concert, you can still have a great amount of enjoyment and hear plenty of music. You’re just dampening some of the sound so that it isn’t quite so loud.
We also have to think about some of those times you go to the gym or you go to exercise class and they really crank up the music in an effort to invigorate your workout. You have to really take into account that that kind of exposure day after day, hour after hour for the trainers and staff at the gym, can really be problematic and lead to permanent hearing loss. But also for any of the gym goers, this is something that audiologists really do focus on a lot. And we see that when people come in with a history of noise exposure, there’s a characteristic way that the hearing loss looks. It doesn’t always look like this but there is a typical configuration of the hearing loss which is called a noise notch. It may look like hearing within the normal range across the frequencies, except for at 4,000 hertz and around 4,000 hertz. So 3,000 and 6,000 kind of going into a little notch. If you can imagine an audio-gram, the results will be up at the top as a straight line from the lower frequencies to the mid-frequencies and then take a dip around 3-4,000 and then come back up rising at 6-8,000. So that is a characteristic noise notch and when we see that, it’s very common that that is a result of noise exposure.
There’s another major kind of noise exposure that doesn’t happen over a long span of time but can happen very quickly over a short period of time or instantaneously, and at extremely loud levels. This is called a transient burst and it can lead to an acoustic trauma. We’re talking gun shots and explosion blasts. That kind of exposure to very loud sounds in an instant or a short period of time, can really leave a lasting and dramatic impact on hearing. Which brings us to the military and people who are exposed to gun shots and other kinds of explosions and very loud blasts. And in those situations, many times hearing protection is not an option. Those kinds of gun shots or explosions can come with no warning and therefore, there isn’t time to put safeguards in place for the hearing. Not only can it lead to hearing loss, any kind of noise exposure but especially the transient burst loud gunshot or explosion type, can lead also to other symptoms like tinnitus, a ringing in the ears or any kind of bothersome sounds. Tinnitus and hearing loss are the most prevalent service related disabilities. We’re going to come back to the military and to veterans later on in the episode with a really interesting interview.
But before that, I want to answer a question that must be on some of your minds which is, what can we do? How can we protect our hearing and how can we protect our children’s hearing? So like I said before, an important thing to do is limit the dose. If you are going to a concert, a wedding, or an event where there is going to be very loud music, you can take some precautions like staying as far away from the speaker systems as much as you can. So that’s reducing the sound, instead of being right next to the speaker where it’s going to be the loudest. You can wear ear plugs. For kids there are these ear muffs that can be worn over the head. And in general to remember when we are talking about a once-a-year event or something that is happening really out of the blue, it’s different than something that will happen regularly and over time.
One of the things we really have to look out for for our kids, is in school. There can be pep rallies or celebrations, assemblies, all these different events that can happen in a school day where music can be played very, very loudly. And in the spirit of fun and in the spirit of the celebration of whatever event is happening, everyone is well meaning. But there needs to be some people who come forward and speak to the administration, to whoever is running the event, to make sure that the sound levels are not too high to be damaging. Now that any person can download an app on their phone that’g going to serve as a decimeter, that can measure the noise levels in a room and can tell you how loud it is, there’s really no reason why it can’t be monitored throughout the day. Now, I also don’t mean that you should go and spoil every party and turn off the music everywhere you go, but there is some kind of awareness that really needs to be increased, especially around young children. But for all of us, if things are too loud, you are allowed to step to the back of the room or leave, or you are allowed to ask for it to be made softer. There are different things we can do but most importantly when things are in our control. Meaning, how loud we play our own music, how loud we listen to headphones or devices off of our own things, those are things we can control.
Welcome back to the All About Audiology podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Lilach Saperstein, I’m an audiologist, passionate about spreading information advocacy and awareness about hearing loss and your role with whatever is going on with you relating to your hearing or hearing loss. With us today is a very special guest, US Army Veteran, who served three tours in Iraq, Mr. Cornelius Maxwell. He’s going to tell us all about his philanthropy and his work with veterans. We’re so happy to have you on our show.
Dr. Lilach Saperstein: “Welcome, Cornelius.”
Mr. Maxwell: “Thank you for having me. And I’d like to thank your audience as well for listening to me and I hope that they really get something out of this conversation that we’re about to have.”
LS: “That’s the goal. That’s what we’re doing on the podcast. So tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.”
CM: “Okay, I’ll start things off by saying that I’m an Army brat, my dad served in the United States Army (laughing). “
LS: “You started out itty, bitty, you were like born into it.”
CM: “That’s right, it’s full speed ahead. As a matter of a fact, it’s crazy, when my parents met, my mother worked at the recruiters station as a secretary and they met when my dad came to enlist. So my mother helped put him into the army and they ended up getting married like three years later. So that’s pretty funny. So yes, I started off as an army brat myself and I’ll also speak up for people with special needs. I have an older brother who has autism. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t sense danger so we always had to keep eyes on him. As far as myself, I started serving in the United States Army. I served three tours on Operation Iraqi Freedom. I have a couple of college degrees under my belt after I got out of the military. And I do philanthropy work, as well as I’m an entrepreneur.
So with my philanthropy work, I’m on the board of directors of two non-profits. One of them is called Honor House which we are helping veterans with PTSD and then I also work for an organization called Wings for Warriors in which the founder himself, named Anthony “DOC” Ameen was blown up by an IED in Afghanistan as a marine medic. He had to have thirty something surgeries in San Antonio Texas, and his family is from Phoenix, Arizona so they had to take a flight back and forth between Phoenix and San Antonio and it became really expensive. It took the VA (Veterans Affairs) like two years or so to pay him the back pay for his compensation. So he started this organization, Wings for Warriors, with his compensation money, instead of doing something else with it, he decided to help other vets.
So that’s what we’re doing at Wings for Warriors, we’re helping veterans and we give them funding so that family members can see each other, to see the injured veterans. That’s what I’m doing on that side. On the business side of things, on my personal business side, I do public speaking. I speak on leadership and motivation and inspiration. I love seeing people become inspired. King Solomon once said that, “A wise man’s words are a wellspring of life.” I love that and I love being able to say they see life after I speak to them, they feel inspired about life and they feel motivated about life. I feel that I’m blessed with that and I truly enjoy that.”
LS: “Wow, that’s a lot going on for you. So first of all, I do want to thank you for your services and tell you that you’re telling us about an inspirational leader to you who has turned around his experience to help others and it sounds like you’re doing the same. You went through that difficult transition from serving and then coming back to being a civilian. What are the issues when you hear about hearing? Because I know that hearing I think, is the first or second most common reason that vets get compensation when they get back. A lot of hearing loss from all those explosions and gunshots and all that. What kind of work are you involved in that?”
CM: “What I’m doing is I’m working on what is titled as the Transition Units Theory Bill. It’s a concept designed to help veterans lower PTSD suicide rates or homelessness or unemployment as well as increase entrepreneurship as well as help veterans acquire their benefits quicker. Like I talked about my buddy who started the non-profit and it took him two years, this concept is designed to help veterans get their benefits within six months, not in two years. I want to make sure that they get these benefits, even like hearing loss, a lot of my buddies have trouble with hearing because of the explosions and gunfire. Sometimes when we go to the gun range, some guys will forget to wear their hearing protection and now they have hearing loss.”
LS: “At least where it’s a protected environment like that, everyone should be on top of the safety measures. Of course I can understand in the field that’s a totally different story. That hurts me right there. If you are in a place where there are signs everywhere, you gotta have your protection on.”
CM: “Well there are always some people, you can watch them, you can monitor them but there’s always some people who find a way to go around those things. But for the most part, the range is a safe place. That’s an uncommon thing but what is common though is the actual potential of getting into a gunfight when you are overseas. You’re looking at a gunfight for like two hours or thirty minutes. Some of my soldiers have been in gun fights for like six hours and that constant banging can definitely destroy your hearing. And so especially if you are in the artillery unit, even with the hearing protection, you can still lose your hearing because it’s constant banging with the artillery rounds. As far as marines, you do a lot of swimming and under water activities, because you know the pressure of the water can also hurt your ears if you are in the water too long, it’s too much pressure. So there are many factors that make veterans have hearing loss. Currently, there is a lawsuit out because the hearing protection that we were given, the earplugs, they weren’t made well and I’m still researching that as well. But the lawsuit is up because they didn’t block off sounds as they were supposed to.”
LS: “I worked at the Brooklyn, VA in New York. I did one of my placements there during my training and I met so many great men and ladies, but mostly men. (Haha) There was so much hearing loss from the noise exposure but also a lot of tinnitus. For those of you who don’t know, tinnitus is ringing in the ear, buzzing in the ear or any kind of noises that aren’t actually there. They can be really bothersome and disrupt sleep, just the sound is really bothersome. We had a training program together with a psychologist. She had a support group and a lot of strategies of how to deal with tinnitus because it’s something that’s very challenging and overlaps with some of the anxiety and things like that. We are definitely aware of this outcome and it’s a big issue with the vets.
I think the greatest thing about the VA is that all of the hearing aids are covered, which to the general public, are out of the pocket, expenses of thousands of dollars. The VA covered top of the line hearing aids and all of the accessories and everything for vets. It was a pleasure working there. It was off the table. We didn’t have to discuss or have any struggles to access the technology. They were able to get the best things. And I got to meet some very impressive and interesting people. I have a lot of respect and a lot of education about what you guys go through.”
CM: “Okay, that’s good. Yes, like I said a lot of stuff is there, I know that through the prosthetic department, you can get those hearing aids as well and canes and things like that. They’re really good. If you have sleep-apnea, they provide you this sleep machine that you need for your sleep, your mask and stuff like that. They are very good in that avenue, I believe, I like that part about the VA. A lot of veterans do have a lot of complaints about the VA, the cycle and timing which they maneuver patients and stuff like that and patient care but as far as providing those things once you have been diagnosed with something, I think that the VA is on top of that. I agree that the VA is doing a great job and I thank you for your service working with the VA and serving the vets as well. There tends to be a language barrier between us and the veteran world. It takes patience as well, it just takes time to learn the veteran language and characteristics and mannerisms and it takes us as well to learn the civilian side. So that’s a combined effort which we’re both working together to communicate for a common cause.”
LS: “You know, one of the funny things about audiology in the equipment, is that you have the right ear and left ear. The right ear is red so anything that goes in the right ear is red and anything in the left ear is blue. I had a marine tell me that it’s pretty similar to the way that there is navigation (in the army). Everything to the right is red and everything to the left is blue so he was like, “Wow, we got the same technology and the same symbols going on here.” I thought that that was very funny. But yeah it’s definitely a very unique population for sure that has such a heavy experience. Something that’s a real struggle and we have to address that. So tell me a little bit more about this transition bill. We talked about what’s helpful in the VA and what they are good at. So what’s missing in what you’re trying to bring in?”
CM: “Well I believe that guys getting their benefits is missing. So I met people who had been fighting for benefits for twenty years now…
LS: “And that’s separate from the health care?”
CM: “Yes, separate from the health care, that’s correct. They’ve been trying to get compensations and stuff like that and to get diagnosed properly. These guys have had back injuries since they were in the service and twenty years later, they still have back injuries and there’s no treatment for it and stuff like that. So what I want to do is to help these guys do that ahead of time, instead of waiting for after the fact. There are guys who have gotten out, let’s say in the 90s, and they didn’t know how to document their paperwork properly. So now you really have to fight because you didn’t document your paperwork correctly and part of my presentation on this bill was the fact that the DOD did a case study back in 2017 and they had a case of over a million people that were enlisted. 80% of these guys had a high school diploma, 10% had an Associates Degree and 7% had a bachelors degree. Only 80% had a high school diploma, so these guys don’t have the credibility of maneuvering through government systems. So that being said, I want to be able to help these guys go through the system with the assistance because if all you know is the military, you graduated high school, you’re a kid, you’re 18/19 or even 21/22 years old, you really don’t understand government systems like you think you do at that age, you know.”
LS: “Honestly, there are a lot of people in their forties and fifties who don’t understand government systems. “
CM: “That’s right, haha.”
LS: “It is like a different language.”
CM: “Yeah, that’s right. So you tell a guy who has been training for combat and stuff like that and training for survival skills in the dessert or jungle habitat and you tell them to come back to the civilian urban population and figure out how to maneuver through the system. These guys are clueless for good reason, so I want to be able to provide the opportunities for these guys to not be so clueless because they didn’t have education or training or just the skills to do so. So we want to provide the opportunities for these guys to have those skills and training and stuff like that. So this bill is very beneficial, because I started a petition on it three weeks ago and it’s almost at 750 signatures already. It’s not saying that the military doesn’t attempt to take care of veterans, because there is a system in which they do utilize and try to help veterans and they have VA representatives on different bases and stuff like that, but there is a bottle neck in the system and the numbers are showing with the PTSD suicide rates and homelessness of veterans and unemployment of veterans.
There’s a bottle neck there so what the transition units theory bill is a solution to the bottle neck in the system. So in doing so, like I said, we can help these veterans. The way we are doing it is because the current system now is set up to where you are out-processed from the military, veterans are still a part of the union, which means you are still held accountable for your soldiering responsibilities. Well when you come out to the civilian world, you don’t have those soldiering responsibilities so you need to completely focus on making connections and networking and you need to work on getting certifications and stuff like that so you have proper credibility in the civilian market because you have to know your audience. And you are going to a civilian audience so you need to know that.
For example, there’s a course I took, it’s called a combat lifesaving course, with that in the combat zone, I’m able to treat gunshot victims and people who have been blown up with IEDs, which is another reason why people have hearing loss. From IED blasts and roadside bombs, or being shot with rockets and anti-tank weapons and stuff like that when you are in a vehicle, that causes hearing loss. So if we can really help these individuals plan while they are still in the military, and that’s what this system does, it helps them plan while they are still in the military. So that way, the transition units theory bill is based upon taking all these soldiers, these men and women, out of their military units and so they can focus on their transition to being civilians in their last 3-6 months of service.”
LS: “So you were saying about that course that you took…?”
CM: “Now that combat lifesaving course, that helps us treat gunshot victims and stuff like that so you know, that’s how we know how to put the T for a tourniquet on their forehead in the time, so it’s an actual training course. I believe it’s equivalent to an EMT training course, but at the same time you aren’t given the same credits. So what I want to do is poll for these guys to use those skills when they come in and be a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) or EMT and just get the certification and training to go with it so you can have the credibility. So I want to do things like that where these guys will have the credibility. These guys have skills that can be leveraged. It’s just a matter of leveraging those skills.”
LS: “So you’re taking some of the training that you have done within the military and making it relate-able to what they can do outside in the civilian world?”
LS: “Such an admirable goal. We will definitely have the link to the petition in the show notes. Is there anywhere else that our listeners can find you or learn more about your work?”
CM: “Sure, I’m on LinkedIn as Cornelius J. Maxwell. I’m also on Facebook where I have a motivational speakers page, which is also Mr. Cornelius J. Maxwell. (You can also check me out here at https://www.globalinspirationalspeakers.com/cornelius-maxwell ) as well as my mother’s art website which is www.lornarenefineart.com. I initially pushed this concept out in her art exhibition, it’s the “Honor Our Heroes” series in which the series is designed to honor veterans from her perspective as a wife and mother of veterans, because my dad is retired from the army and I served three tours in Iraq and my younger brother served a tour in Iraq.”
LS: “She’s got a unique perspective for sure.”
CM: “Yes, yes she does. She does have an interesting perspective seeing her husband going into the military and her two sons. And on top of that we have a very strong military background. I have uncles who have served and I think a great grandfather of mine served. We just have a strong army background, a strong military background. So she does have a strong perspective from that. She has made a lot of sacrifices herself in her perspective. I think it was in 1988, my dad had to deploy to Korea for a year and my older brother has autism so she had to watch him, and at that time, they had four children. So my mother is watching four children while my dad was gone to complete his military service. He was gone for a year but I still remember some of the stress that my mother had.”
LS: “A whole family of heroes!”
LS: “Thank you so much Cornelius. It was so cool to meet you and I’ll definitely put all your links in your show notes. Thank you for your work and your service and thanks for coming on the show. “
CM: “Great, thank you. And I thank you for your audience for listening and I thank you for having me.”
Thank you so much to Mr. Maxwell for sharing all of that with us. It’s so wonderful to learn about all of the services that are being offered to our veterans and to learn more about how hearing protection is something that’s very important for all of us. Now is when I open up the podcast to all of you guys, the listeners. I’m very interested in your comments and all your questions that you’re going to have based on today’s episode about protecting our hearing. So head on over to the Facebook group and share your questions and share your experiences with all of us. That’s All About Audiology Podcast on Facebook. Also, you can always DM me through Facebook or Instagram @allaboutaudiology podcast and I’m really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on all the things we talked about today.
I’m Dr. Lilach Saperstein and you’ve been listening to the All About Audiology podcast.