Dr. Kristen Weinbaum, of Winter Garden, helps many understand and manage hearing loss in Harmony Hearing Centers Clermont.
CLERMONT Although a hearing aid specialist and a doctoral audiologist both require certification, only one takes years of schooling and digs deeper to the roots of hearing loss in all forms.
This practice hits home for Dr. Kristen Weinbaum, of Winter Garden, who became an audiologist at Harmony Hearing Centers Clermont after growing up with hearing loss.
“Hearing loss runs in my mom’s side of the family,” Weinbaum said. “My parents didn’t know anything about it, and then when I was going into kindergarten, they did your eye checks, your vaccines, all these things, and one of those things is a hearing test. They found out I had hearing loss in my left ear.”
Because Weinbaum’s right ear hears normally and she did not show difficulties, nobody suspected any hearing problems. Nowadays, babies born in U.S. hospitals undergo hearing tests so parents know right away, she said.
Once Weinbaum knew of her hearing loss, her family took her to an audiologist each year for checkups.
In middle school, Weinbaum needed to volunteer for 40 hours at a science-related facility for a science project, so her mother suggested an audiologist.
“That audiologist was very passionate about teaching, so she didn’t just have me doing busy work,” Weinbaum said. “She taught me, let me sit in on visits with patients and things like that. That’s when I decided this is what I wanted to do.”
Now Weinbaum has been on the other side of that relationship with a mother shadowing her based on a son with hearing loss.
“She almost cried three times, and it was just a regular day for me,” Weinbaum said. “She was like, ‘This is amazing — you’re changing people’s lives!’ … Sometimes I have to remind myself this is a big deal for every single person.”
Although eyes sometimes can be strengthened when they are weak, nothing can be done to restore ears’ power to hear. For some, hearing aids can be a great benefit.
But unlike most of her mother’s family, Weinbaum does not use a hearing aid, because some types of hearing abnormalities are not helped by hearing aids. In Weinbaum’s case, her left ear does not hear sounds past a particular point — it cannot detect certain noises to the point it is beyond the threshold hearing aids could amplify.
“An audiogram … is how we plot hearing loss,” she said. “Normal hearing is at the top of the graph … and this is set up like a piano: from low pitches to high pitches. My right ear is totally normal all the way across. My left ear is normal, normal, profound (hearing loss). It’s a really strange hearing loss.”
Still, for those whom hearing aids can benefit, technology has profoundly progressed in her lifetime, she said.
“When I was born, hearing aids were big, ugly analog devices, and now they’re digital and small,” Weinbaum said. “My receptionist wears them; you probably wouldn’t even notice she has hearing aids.”
Nowadays, inventors have enabled wireless connectivity to phones and computers to the point audio with this technology can be like listening with headphones, without background noise.
This might not help Weinbaum’s ear, but it helps her patients, and sometimes there can be a silver lining. For example, at a long table during a dinner, Weinbaum was able to comprehend what someone was saying at the other end better than the man next to her, she said. And anytime the crickets are chirping at night, she can roll onto her right side to tune them out.
“I sleep really well,” she said with a laugh. “I just roll over.”
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].