GULFPORT – Mississippi`s only hearing aid manufacturer has been in business here since 1987 and has drawn patients from 37 states, Canada and Jamaica. Owned and operated by Carl Schulz, national board certified in hearing instrument sciences, the lab bills itself as a one-stop shop for hearing aids.
“The buck stops here. You’re dealing with the horse`s mouth, so to speak,” Carl Schulz said. “We give thorough tests, make impressions, build the hearing aid and follow up with repairs if necessary. We do not have to send it off to be manufactured. People like that.”
When he was looking for a mid-life career change after hurting his back in heavy industrial work, Schulz became state licensed to test hearing and dispense hearing aids. He worked in an ear, nose and throat clinic in Gulfport, then wanted to do more and used his interest in electronics to learn how to make hearing aids. He says it took a good six months of reading and regional examinations before he could take the national board exam.
“There never had been a board-certified hearing aid lab in the state so it was perplexing to the Board of Health,” he said. “They had nothing to base it on, but we passed our Food and Drug Administration unannounced inspection with no complaints or findings.”
Part of his training enables him to identify hearing problems that need medical attention and refer those patients to physicians. Schulz says his lab had the first video otoscope in the state. That`s a camera that looks inside ears, makes photos and prints them out and helps Schulz detect medical problems for a patient`s hearing loss. These photos are sent along with patients to physicians.
“A patient can not be fitted with a hearing aid until the medical problem is taken care of by a medical doctor,” Schulz said. “I do not do pediatrics because hearing loss is more medical with children and they often need speech therapy.”
Schulz says he spends a lot of time going over everything about hearing aids when he gives them to his patients, using tips he`s developed.
“Only half is dealing with the ears, the other half is the brain, and it`s a big adjustment,” he said.
Hearing loss greatly affects communication and can cause social retraction, depression, friction and stress, he points out.
Tiffany Schulz, who`s worked with her dad since 1990, agrees. “Not being able to hear is especially stressful on marriages,” she said. “I think we’ve saved some marriages with our hearing aids. We see happier people leaving here.”
According to the Schulzes, the most common reasons for loss of hearing are noise exposure and the natural deterioration of age. Seventy percent to 80% is related to noise exposure with damage showing up years later. That includes noise from music, guns, industrial sources and others that can affect people in professions such as dentists and train conductors who are exposed to steady noise on a daily basis.
“Although there are some government safety regulations now, men are more exposed to noise in work and hobbies than women are,” Carl Schulz said. “The majority of patients we see are men, but that`s changing.”
Most noise-induced hearing loss is in the treble range, he said, and since most women and children speak in that range, he often is told that hard-of-hearing men can hear male buddies who speak in the bass range but not females and children. Also, most consonant sounds are in the treble range and that greatly affects hearing. Schulz compares this hearing loss to taking away one-third of what a person reads in a newspaper.
He says that of the adult population that has hearing loss, over 90% can be helped only with hearing aids. Noting that hearing aids are basically electronics, Schulz builds the devices as custom amplifiers.
The Schulz Lab`s comprehensive testing, on-site manufacturing and repair of hearing aids draws patients from in and out of state. Some come for the Lab`s one-day service, which promises that a patient who is in the office by 9 a.m. will receive a hearing aid that same afternoon.
The patient who traveled the greatest distance was a man from Alaska who heard of the Schulz Lab through relatives in Jackson. According to Carl Schulz, the cost of a hearing aid in Alaska was more than $6,000 and this patient saved money even with the expense of airfare.
Tiffany is certified in hearing aid manufacture and repair and also runs the office. She says it`s neat meeting people from other places.
“I have several thousand grandparents now,” she said. “They send us gifts, and we always have offers from clients in North Mississippi of places to stay during hurricanes.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.