Last April, something strange and unexpected happened to me. I noticed that my left ear felt clogged up, as if water was trapped in my ear canal, which was entirely possible from bathing or swimming. I went around for a week or two shaking my head wildly left and right, tugging on my ear lobe and repeatedly Googling terms such as “my ear feels clogged up” and “how to remove water trapped in your ear.” All to no avail. After a few more weeks of waiting for this mysterious symptom to resolve, I made an appointment with an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (AKA an otolaryngologist, but try saying that three times with your mouth full!), who, after a thorough examination, referred me for a hearing test with an audiologist.

At this point I was a little confused but not at all concerned. It did seem weird that even after having impacted ear wax removed at the ENT’s office, the strange muffled sensation in my ear persisted. The hearing test, my first as an adult, revealed that I have a moderately-severe high frequency loss in my left ear, as well as mild loss in the right ear. Further testing revealed my hearing loss was permanent, unexplained, and that I would need hearing aids for both ears! Trust me when I tell you, I was in complete shock.

I was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). What does this mean? Well, there are three main types of hearing loss: SNHL, conductive, or mixed. SNHL is the most common type of hearing loss. It’s caused by damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathway from the inner ear to the brain. When SSNL occurs over the course of just a day or two, it is known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss. Some possible causes of SNHL include genetics, aging, head trauma, exposure to loud music, or even certain ototoxic medications that have a deleterious effect on hearing. The truth is, though, like in my case, often a cause can not be determined.

Conductive hearing loss involves the middle or outer ear, and can be caused by things such as colds, allergies, ear infections, Eustachian tube dysfunction, impacted ear wax, or the presence of a foreign body, to name a few. In contrast to SNHL, conductive loss is more frequently treatable and reversible. A mixed hearing loss involves having both sensorineural and conductive loss at the same time.

As soon as I found out that I had partial but irreversible hearing loss that is likely to only get worse over time, I wanted to make sure that I was doing everything in my power to mitigate the communication difficulties that accompany hearing loss. I wasted no time in getting fitted for high quality hearing aids. Hearing aids have come a long way from the “ear trumpets” of days gone by. The latest hearing aids are state of the art, programmable, and designed to be comfortable and unobtrusive. An audiologist works with the patient over time to tweak the settings for optimal effectiveness.

In addition to wearing hearing aids, I am planning on taking a speech/lip reading class, as this skill can be important to help fill in the blanks when in noisy environments such as restaurants. I have only just started to explore assistive listening technologies such as hearing loops and captioning in public venues, as well as personal listening devices. Finally, I have found many organizations online that offer advocacy, education, and support for those affected by hearing loss and related conditions. Having hearing loss is a highly individual experience, but it can be isolating, so it is wonderful to connect with others who understand what it is like and who can offer advice and support.

Sadly, a stigma still surrounds hearing loss in our society. This is part of the reason I wanted to share my personal experience. Stigma makes people feel ashamed and so they keep information to themselves that may actually benefit others also experiencing the same problem. Silence perpetuates stigma, stereotypes, and misinformation. I have decided that even though I may sometimes feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, it is in my best interest to advocate for myself and to be honest about my hearing loss.

My personal advice to anyone experiencing a change in your hearing is to see your doctor ASAP. Even if you think you just have a cold or a clogged up ear, do not delay seeking treatment because some types of sudden hearing loss may be reversible if treated immediately. However, even if you have been avoiding getting treatment for a long-standing problem, please stop burying your head in the sand – there is help! I recently read a statistic that the average hard of hearing person waits seven years before seeking treatment for their hearing loss. People will suffer in silence because of fear or shame rather than admit to a problem that can be effectively treated and managed, leading to an enhanced quality of life.

Depending upon severity and individual circumstances, the effects of hearing loss upon an individual can range from mildly inconvenient to completely life altering, but by addressing your particular situation head on, you can minimize further negative consequences and take control of your life.

There is life after hearing loss!

Andrea L. Dowling has been with HCLS since 2006, and is currently an Assistant Customer Service Supervisor at the HCLS East Columbia Branch. Andrea’s interests include genealogy, travel, reading banned books, and collecting vintage cook books.

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Jeniah Simpson wearing a red hat from the American Heart Association's Little Hats, Big Hearts for heat disease awareness.

Jeniah Simpson wearing a red hat from the American Heart Association’s Little Hats, Big Hearts. Supporters knit and crochet red hats to give to thousands of babies at participating hospitals during American Heart Month.

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. But despite great advances in screening and diagnosis, congenital heart disease can go unnoticed for a long period of time until heart damage has progressed enough to cause detectable symptoms.

While we celebrate Valentine’s Day this week, it also marks Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week. The pediatric cardiologists at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and elsewhere remind both parents and their pediatricians to watch for any subtle signs that could signal the presence of congenital heart disease.

What Is a Congenital Heart Defect?

When the heart or blood vessels around it do not develop properly or develop abnormally before birth, a condition called congenital heart defect occurs (congenital means “existing at birth”). Congenital heart defects occur in close to one percent of all babies born, affecting some 40 thousand infants annually in the U.S. That’s about eight babies for every one thousand children born in the U.S. Most young people with congenital heart defects live into adulthood now, but may require more than one intervention or surgery to treat their condition.

Types of Congenital Heart Defects

  • A hole between two chambers of the heart (common defect)
  •  The right or left side of the heart is not formed completely (hypoplastic)
  • Only one ventricle is present
  • Both the pulmonary artery and the aorta arise from the same ventricle
  • The pulmonary artery and the aorta arise from the “wrong” ventricles

Signs and Diagnosis of Congenital Heart Disease

In infants, the classic signs include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Sweating around the baby’s head during feeding
  • Slow growth
  • Breathing fast while at rest and/or asleep
  • Irritability
  • Bluish or pale skin, a sign of abnormally low oxygen levels

In older children, typical signs of congenital heart defects include:

  • Complaints of heart palpitations
  • Feelings of dizziness
  • Getting tired very easily with physical exertion
  • Inability to keep up with other kids

Cause of Congenital Heart Defects

In most cases, the cause is unknown. Sometimes a viral infection in the mother causes the condition. The condition can be genetic (hereditary). Most heart defects either cause an abnormal blood flow through the heart, or obstruct blood flow in the heart or vessels.

Treatment for Congenital Heart Problems

As children grow, some minor heart defects such as small holes may repair themselves. But when a defect requires correction, there are both non-surgical and surgical treatments available today which are less invasive and involve cardiac catheterization, medical device insertion, and minimally invasive heart surgery. In rare cases, a heart transplant may be needed.

Learn more about congenital heart defects from Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Pediatric Cardiology.


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Primary care physicians (PCPs) hold the key to better health for you and your family. These physicians are on the front lines of health care and they get to know you, your family and medical history. It’s important to have a PCP that you like and have a good relationship with to get the best care possible.

Your PCP is like the quarterback on a football team calling the plays, or in this case, making the plans to address your health concerns and guiding your plan of care. Primary care can handle 85 percent of the problems that patients have, and can coordinate care needed for other problems as well.

It’s so important to get good primary care that many health care systems, including Johns Hopkins Medicine, are creating a new approach to primary care called “medical homes.”

Vice President of Population Health and Advancement at Howard County General Hospital, Elizabeth Edsall Kromm, Ph.D., offers some important insights on the benefits of primary care.

Broad Knowledge and Skills
While PCPs are not specialists, they have a special skill set, which allows them to be adept at spotting a broad, underlying condition responsible for a range of symptoms. Depression or a chronic inflammatory disorder, for example, can manifest in any number of ways: stomach discomfort, joint pain or problems with multiple organs.

There is a growing emphasis today on preventive medicine and maintaining overall wellness to ward off problems before they occur, if possible. Helping preserve and protect your health helps you save money on health care costs and also reduces costs for the health system overall.

For example, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions are preventable. The effect of healthy habits on a person’s life can be enormous. Recent preliminary evidence shows a 5 percent reduction in weight in an overweight person can reduce their risk of diabetes by 65 percent.

Your Primary Care Team
To help ensure care is delivered most effectively and efficiently, health care systems are creating the “patient-centered medical home.” In short, the medical home transforms a primary care clinic or other facility into a home base, where most of what a person needs for better health is located and available.

Though the primary care physician remains at the center of providing care, emphasis on a team is paramount. These teams typically include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, health coaches, community health workers and more.

Technology Makes It More Personal
Electronic medical records are another component of the medical home that seamlessly weave together detailed notes from every care provider who sees the person, lab and imaging results, and the like. This way the primary care team can get reports on which patients are facing gaps in their care.

For more information about the benefits of primary care and selecting the best physician for you and your family, read Four Reasons Why You Should Have a Primary Care Physician.


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Think of what you want to experience in your life. Build a life around healthy living to open up opportunities and possibilities. Instead of looking at weight loss as your purpose for exercise and eating healthy, shift your thought process to a lifetime of wellness. Moving your body matters, here’s why:

Do you feel sluggish? Do you feel fatigue late in the day?
Movement for as little at 20 minutes, three times a week can increase your energy level. This improves your focus and helps you get more done in a day. Even better news, movement can be anything you enjoy and at a moderate level. If you experience a busy, stressful week- high intensity exercise can often leave you feeling more exhausted. This shows that more is not always better. That is, exercise smarter, not necessarily harder in this case.



Are you one of those people who lays in bed at night and can’t fall asleep?

Or do you fall asleep for a few hours only to wake up and and stay up? Well, exercising for 10-20 minutes most days of the week improves your quality of sleep. Pay attention to those days you exercise and see how your sleep patterns change. Since sleep impacts several things, monitor your energy level and mood the next day as well. Speaking of mood, we know that exercise improves our mood and even helps with depression. While exercise is the last thing you feel like doing when you’re sad or tired, it could be the best thing for you. Exercise releases chemicals and endorphins that impact your brain causing an improvement in mood. Again, the good news here, any physical activity such as gardening, walking, bike riding, and even dancing helps.

Does your back feel stiff in the morning?
Do your knees creak going up and down stairs? Do you find it increasingly difficult to get up off the floor? Appropriate movement can help you feel better. All this movement in turn helps develop stronger muscle and bone resulting in a decrease in aches and pains. Remember your heart counts as a muscle so it gets stronger too! Imagine the positive impact on blood pressure and heart disease.

Be active. Move! Strive to be the healthiest version of yourself possible; one step at a time and one day at a time. You’re worth every minute!

Lisa Martin founded the Girls on the Run program in Howard County in 2009. Lisa is AFAA & NSCA certified, has more than 15 years of personal training experience, and practices a multidimensional wellness approach at her studio, Salvere Health & Fitness. Lisa says that one of the best things about being in the health and fitness industry is watching people accomplish things they never thought possible.

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Measure your health scale.

Measure your health scale. [Credit: Iqoncept] / [Dreamstime]

A healthy weight is an important contributing factor in your overall health. It can help you prevent and control many diseases and conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers.

Determining a Healthy Weight
How much you should weigh is not as simple as looking at a height-weight chart. You need to consider the amount of bone, muscle and fat in your body’s composition.

The amount of fat your body carries is a critical measurement, and can be measured using the Body Mass Index (BMI). Our Adult BMI Calculator helps you determine if you are at a healthy weight, overweight or obese.

If your results indicate you are overweight, having extra body weight from muscle, bone, fat and/or water; or obese, having a high amount of extra body fat; you should consider speaking to your health care provider. While BMI provides a fairly accurate assessment, it’s not a perfect measure.

You may also find it helpful to attend our Wellness Screening for Your Health, which provides a free weight risk assessment.

Achieving a Healthy Weight
Many factors can contribute to your weight, and while you may not be able to control factors like family history, the environment, genetics and metabolism, you can change your behaviors and habits.

The service providers of our Journey to Better Health program, a program that provides health monitoring and support services to Howard County residents and faith community members, recommend the following when trying to lose weight to achieve a healthy weight:

  • Set a goal
    Your weight loss goal should be a realistic goal that you can accomplish. You should start slow and change only one habit at a time.
  • Conduct a needs assessment
    Identify what you need to accomplish your goal. Make a checklist of supplies/tools and resources you need to support your goal. For example, identify the amount of healthy food options in your pantry. If you have little to none, you will need to stock up on your healthy food supply.
  • Start immediately
    In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Empower yourself to make small efforts that can be repeated to make your goal come to fruition. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator or include a fruit or salad with your meal.
  • Track your progress
    Whether it be on paper or a mobile app, recording your activity informs you of how you are progressing towards completing your goal. You may find you are on target or need to make improvements. It may seem mundane, but tracking your progress is critical towards achieving success.
  • Celebrate your success
    Find healthy ways to reward your accomplishments. For example, schedule a massage or go line dancing with friends.

For more information on losing weight, read our Five Step Weight Loss Guide for the New Year.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Continuing the healthy lifestyle changes you adopt, including eating a healthy diet and engaging in 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, are key to maintaining a healthy weight.

Successful weight maintenance is considered to be regaining less than six to seven pounds in two years and sustaining a reduced waist circumference of at least two inches.

For long-term motivation, ask your friends, family and health care provider(s) for encouragement, consider joining a support group and attend health screenings that assess your weight. Our Journey to Better Health program offers such screenings in the community for free. For a schedule of dates and locations, call 410-720-8788 or send an email to hcgh-j2bh@jhmi.edu.

The longer you can maintain a healthy weight, the more likely you will achieve long-term success.

For more healthy weight information, view Aim for a Healthy Weight from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


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Just after Thanksgiving, I came across a 30 day fitness challenge designed to get anyone, at any fitness level moving: 30 minutes of walking for 30 days. I figured that committing to something as simple as walking could only be a good thing. I was right!

My doctor has often said that walking is the best kind of exercise I can get. Walking regularly is one of the best things you can do for your wellness. It can help prevent heart disease, mitigate blood sugars, and combats obesity and depression while strengthening your body. Just speak with your family doctor and follow their suggestions on how you might begin a walking program. If you need materials to help get you started, Leslie Sansone is a big advocate of fitness walking. You can find many of her book and DVD titles at hclibrary.org. Until then, I’ll share with you what I did.

#1 COMMIT
In order for me to complete this challenge, I had to have a plan. I made walking a priority in my day. I set aside enough time for warming up, walking, and cooling down. My shoes and clothing to walk in were always ready no matter the weather. My water bottle, cell phone, and inhaler (I’m asthmatic) were always with me. When I walked alone, I told someone when and where I was going for my walk. I did everything I could to ensure I would be able to achieve my goal. After all, 30 days of walking 30 minutes was a healthy, attainable goal.

#2 GET SUPPORT
Support meant letting people know this was a goal of mine. I asked friends to walk with me and check-in to ensure I completed my daily walk. This was great because I was building a network of support and accountability. Let’s just say, I leaned on my husband a lot. I essentially told him that no matter what excuse I came up with would only hurt me in the end. That is, not completing this challenge wasn’t an option. Thanks to him and others, I was able to do it!

#3 DO IT
Finally, I just started walking. Without judgment or additional pressure. I warmed up by walking to my starting point on my planned route; set my timer for 15 minutes and started walking. When the time was up I would turn around and start my timer for 15 minutes back. At the end of the 30 minutes I walked from my starting point to my front porch to cool down and I did some easy stretching. I varied my route daily so it would never get boring and I’d have some hill variations in my walk too. I have gotten to the point where I can walk a good while at a decent pace where I can’t hold a long conversation, but can answer with a word or two.

Some days were easier than others. Believe me, the days that were miserable were the greatest when I got back to my house. My reward was that feeling of accomplishment- never giving up. My results are not that surprising. I feel better, my clothes fit better, and my posture has definitely improved. Now that my 30 days are up, I’m pretty proud of myself.  I’m going to do what I can to ensure a minimum of 30 minutes of walking daily because it’s the easiest and best thing I can do, 30 days at a time.

JP is the HCLS Editor & Blog Coordinator for Well & Wise. She is also a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch & STEM Education Center. She is a storyteller, wannabe triathlete, KPOP-addict, baker of cupcakes, cancer survivor, and liver transplant recipient.

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Family caregiver serving food to loved one. [Credit: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz] / [Dreamstime]

Dementia touches most everyone, whether they have it or know someone who does.

Dementia is the gradual loss of cognitive functioning (thinking, remembering and reasoning), which eventually interferes with a person’s daily life. Dementia is a set of symptoms, not a disease. Memory loss is a common dementia symptom and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

As dementia progresses, people cannot manage their lives on their own and depend more on others for help. Their caregivers are often family.

When caring for a loved one with dementia, caregivers should:

  1. Make decisions in advance. Have conversations about finances, health care, transportation and living arrangements, while it is still possible for the loved one to participate in the decision making process.
  2. Research resources. The Alzheimer’s Association is a great place to start—offering a 24-hour hotline and local support groups.
  3. Stay active. Encourage the loved one to remain socially active and continue to pursue activities he/she enjoys.
  4. Play music. Dementia patients often respond to music from an era when they were active, and music is a great way to involve a younger generation in caregiving and connecting with the loved one.
  5. Make safety a priority. Keeping the loved one safe becomes a big issue as dementia progresses. It may be necessary to schedule additional in-home help or move the loved one into a care facility.
  6. Manage medications. Keep a current medication list and seek medical assistance in eliminating drugs that might cause or add to your loved one’s confusion. Use pill boxes to manage medications and seek pharmacies that can prepackage medications in daily doses.
  7. Stay calm. Personality and behavior changes, especially agitation and depression, are all common symptoms of dementia. Try to be agreeable in your conversations and do not argue, unless there is imminent danger.
  8. Keep to a routine. Maintain regular routines in a calm, familiar environment to help reduce the stress and anxiety that often occurs in people with dementia.
  9. Take care of yourself. Caregiving can be extremely stressful and comes at great cost, often including a loss of the relationship with the loved one.

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