Audiologist Nicole Anzalone is lending her ear to aid patients on their journey to better hearing.
By Courtney Rae Kasper | Photography by Kimberly Cook
Taped to a cabinet door in Dr. Nicole Anzalone’s office hangs a paper sign that reads, “I am an Audiologist or a Super ‘HEAR’O!” This ingenious sign was crafted by an 8 year old for hero day at school. She later gave it to the doctor who had inspired her — the same doctor whose super (albeit medically trained) powers helped her find sound again.
“It makes me proud. She’s so clever; she should do my marketing,” Dr. Anzalone said with a laugh. “Her mom called me up and asked if she could borrow some audiology type things because her daughter had hero day at school and she wanted to be an audiologist for hero day so she made that sign. [Her daughter] got hearing aids through us and is doing really well.”
This little girl is just one of the many patients Dr. Anzalone has guided to an improved quality of life through better hearing since opening up her patient-oriented practice, Preferred Audiology Care, three years ago. Her base of operations is housed inside the Center for Sinus and Allergy Care in Camillus, where she previously worked for Dr. Parker. While tending to his patients who expressed sudden hearing loss or dizziness, Dr. Anzalone became concerned with sending people elsewhere for further hearing assistance, so she decided to provide a solution. “I was sending [patients] here and there, and then I didn’t know what came out of it,” she said. “I was worried that some of them were having bad experiences, so I decided to open up shop here and it was a great opportunity for me to help people directly.”
The ability to nurture patients directly throughout their care and beyond is what prompted Dr. Anzalone to steer her career toward audiology in the first place — a passion she discovered during her collegiate career at Syracuse University’s Institute for Sensory Research. “I worked with Dr. Zwislocki and Dr. Smith who are pretty famous auditory engineers. I was doing auditory physiology, studying the hearing nerves first, and then we started seeing patients with cochlear implants — people whose hearing is so bad that aids can’t help them much,” she said, noting that she was a neuroscience graduate student at the time. “There was this one woman who gradually lost her hearing and she had two little boys and she couldn’t communicate with them or hear them crying at night. It made her very nervous; basically, they started talking to daddy instead. She was fit with a cochlear implant; her story struck me, and that’s what made me realize I wanted to be in the clinic setting.”
Along the way to discovering her calling in life she met her husband, Michael, a systems engineer, who actually proposed to his future bride in the laboratory
sound booth they shared as students in the engineering school. “He said, ‘Go in the sound booth and I’ll test you.’ So he did these sentences with speech and noise and there was one recorded sentence and it said, ‘Will you marry me?’ and I said, ‘What? That’s not part of the sentence,’” she said, all smiles. “He finally came into the booth and the first thing that he said was, ‘It took you three dB signal-to-noise ratio to get that right — that’s bad for normal hearing,’ and then he got down on one knee and asked if I would marry him!”
Although having quickly built a praise worthy business practice since getting married and settling down in the area (the National Association of Professional Women named her ‘Woman of the Year’ and the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York awarded her practice with the Torch Award for Marketplace Excellence), Dr. Anzalone admitted that it’s been quite a learning curve starting everything from scratch. The biggest challenge: wearing the many hats needed to run a successful operation. In addition to serving as head audiologist, the job also requires the Bronx native to function as counselor, engineer, accountant and marketing and sales representative. The work never stops even when she gets home, she said.
But when time allows, the mother of two little girls (Evelyn, 5; Megan, 9 months) releases some steam by shedding her white lab coat and trading her otoscope for a pair of drumsticks — a hobby she’s been perfecting since seventh grade band class, so you can bet she knows a thing or two from a personal standpoint about protecting your ears. And she’s committed to challenging the many misconceptions surrounding hearing loss. “A lot of people don’t understand hearing at all, not like they understand vision,” she said. “People need to know more. Many consumers don’t know who or what can truly help them. You can damage your hearing even more if not medically diagnosed and treated. We never think about hearing until it starts to dwindle; it’s invisible — we don’t realize what we’re missing.” While breaking the bad news to patients can be difficult, she is comforted knowing that she can help provide some means of hearing again (she cited the case of a woman she fitted with hearing aids who mistook rain pitter-pattering on the roof for a mechanical defect because she had forgotten that rain made a sound) and she frequently hosts community lunch and learn events at area restaurants to help educate the public about hearing loss.
Whether it’s infants born with hearing defects, teenagers with tinnitus issues, musicians seeking custom ear plugs and monitors or dementia-ridden elderly with permanent loss, Dr. Anzalone possesses the extraordinary drive and dedication — one deserving of super hero status — to offering patients the best individualized care to better hearing. “My goal is to make everyone successful with how we’re treating them,” she said, “finding out what’s wrong and solving the problem.”
10 Ways to Prevent Hearing Loss Now
Hearing loss is the third most prevalent health problem affecting people over age 40.
Potential hearing damage can occur from noise as a function of the level or volume of the noise and time. The louder the noise, the less exposure time it takes to potentially cause damage to our hearing. We know that noise exposure of more than 85 dB SPL (sound pressure level) over a long period of time can be potentially damaging or a noise measured at around 140 dB SPL (like a gun shot) can be damaging in an instant. May is National Better Hearing Month, so here are a few pointers on how to save your hearing now:
1. Wear earplugs or earmuffs when in high-level noise environments — mowing your lawn, rock concerts, etc. The higher the NRR (noise reduction rating) on ear protective devices the better.
2. Keep high-level noise exposure times to a minimum, and give your ears a rest.
3. Buy quieter products.
4. Limit the number of noisy appliances going on simultaneously.
5. Turn the television and radio volume down. If the person next to you can feel your car radio blasting, it is too loud.
6. If you use personal audio devices, keep the volume about half-way or less and wear good-fitting insert earphones that can block out more surrounding noise.
7. Smart phones have apps that mimic sound level meters that can be used to roughly measure your surrounding noise levels like “dB Volume Meter”,
“Too loud?” or “decibel.”
8. If you use a Bluetooth device for long-term phone use or for work, try to get one that is binaural (the sound is in both ears). People tend to keep the volume down if the sound is in both. Do not use a binaural set while driving.
9. Protect your hearing while playing instruments. You can obtain customized ear protection that allows you to hear the instruments at lower, safer levels, while being able to hear well enough.
10. If you experience constant ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) for more than a week past exposure, see an audiologist. Constant tinnitus can indicate a possible permanent hearing damage.