Think About Your Hearing This Month

October is not only the month of Halloween. It’s also National Audiology Awareness Month.

As the seasons shift, it’s a good time to consider your hearing — and maybe schedule an exam. Hearing loss is sometimes sudden and dramatic, but more often than not it is gradual and adapted to without conscious thought. Hearing loss may have already happened and you haven’t “noticed” it yet, though once tested it will become apparent that some of the sound spectra has been “turned off.”

Approximately 40 million people in the United States have some degree of hearing impairment. And the loudness of modern life — leaf blowers, traffic, high-volume music (especially listened to via earbuds), and any number of other activities that include exposure to high-decibel noise — will mean that number is sure to continue growing.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has found that the average amount of time between the first onset of hearing loss and when someone actually seeks treatment is 7 to 10 years. That’s a long time to hear less than is possible and is also a long stretch of time in which further complications — such as mental health issues and cognitive impairment — can take root.

The first Audiology Awareness Month was in 2008. The event is sponsored by the American Academy of Audiology.

For older people, hearing loss is the third most common health issue after heart disease and diabetes. But only 20 percent of people with hearing loss seek treatment. And with more and more evidence that untreated hearing loss is associated with the onset of dementia and other cognitive issues, it should be part of every older American’s basic health screening.

October is a great month to get started on taking care of your hearing health.

Hearing in the Workplace

A myriad of potential hazards falls under the category of workplace safety — including hearing loss.
The fact is that untreated hearing loss is now a management issue. With hearing loss becoming more common in younger people — at the same time that the retirement age is creeping up — hearing issues are just more likely to happen in the workplace today and moving forward.

The majority of the 40 million Americans with hearing issues are actually still in the workforce. It is estimated that more than 10 percent of the full-time workforce has a diagnosed hearing issue.

Since most jobs depend on good communication between workers and, in retail, with customers — it is inherent that the listening skills of workers be prioritized. And it’s hard to be a good listener with untreated hearing loss.

This is not only a management issue but also one for workers. A Better Hearing Institute (BHI) survey found that people with untreated hearing loss were likely to see a decrease in their income. In addition, people with significant untreated hearing issues were unemployed at double the rate of that of their fellow job seekers.

Efforts by employers to have their employees screened for hearing problems — as part of basic workplace health programs — are an obvious first step. BHI found that the use of hearing aids (which 8 out of 10 users report better their lives) found that income loss for those with mild hearing loss was reduced 90 to 100 percent after getting hearing aids. For those with severe to moderate hearing loss, income decline was reduced 65 to 77 percent.

As older workers become more and more a part of the employment landscape, hearing loss and corrective measures will have to become a greater emphasis for both employers and employees.

The Sound Facts of Commuting

Modern life is loud. We’ve grown accustomed to it, but the fact is the everyday environment that many of us live in is not very good for our hearing health.

This includes a daily fact — times two — for many: commuting.

The common car honking, subway clatter, bus engine roar, and general mayhem that is part of getting from Point A to Point B every morning and evening can take a toll.

A recent Canadian study, which used Toronto as its laboratory, found that commuters are regularly exposed to short bursts of sound that exceed safe limits. It’s known that ears can be damaged by that kind of repetitive contact to loud, jarring sounds.

Researchers fitted a number of commuters with noise dosimeters — small devices that measured sounds in the A-weighted decibels (dBAs), a methodology for gauging sounds that humans are especially sensitive to.

Measurements were taken in a myriad of settings — including inside cars and mass transit vehicles — as well as walking and bicycle-riding situations. What they found was that all commuters are subject to bursts of extreme sound, but that those riding the subway and streetcars were subject to the most frequent “peak” noise events.

About 20 percent of the time, this exposure included bursts in excess of World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety standards. Four-second bursts above 114 dBA on subways and one-second bursts above 120 dBA on streetcars were 20 percent of the “peak” sound events that commuters experienced.

Long-term exposure to sound bursts in excess of WHO/EPA recommendations can lead to hearing loss. If this sounds familiar, consider the use of earplugs on your commute.

Luggage

Avoid the Dreaded “I Forgot That” Summer Vacation

What’s the best part of summer? The summer vacation of course!

Unless of course, you do something to ruin it. Like ending up far from home and having a hearing aid emergency.

It may not sound like much fun to go through a hearing aid checklist before vacating, but it might save the vacation. Here’s a checklist of the things to think about before hitting the road.

  • Have a rechargeable hearing aid? Don’t forget the charger. Needless to say, it’s been done before. Don’t be one of those people.
  • And if your hearing aid runs on batteries, don’t forget to bring extra batteries. Running around in a new place frantically looking for the batteries that fit your unit should not be on the vacation itinerary.
  • Don’t get so wrapped up in the fun that you forget to do your normal cleaning routine at the end of the day. Bring along your cleaning kit and use it, since your hearing aid may be getting put through more of a workout than it does at home — exposed to sand and seawater and longer hours of use.
  • Summer vacations often mean time near — or even on — the water. That means moisture. And hearing aids don’t like moisture. Bring your dryer or dehumidifier and put your hearing aid in it for the night after you’ve cleaned it (you did remember to clean it, right?).
  • If you use them, spare domes and wax guards should be packed.

If you use a remote mic or any other Bluetooth accessory, don’t forget

Woman wearing sun glasses

Ear Infections Will Ruin a Summer

For many people, summer means getting in the water after months of it being too cold for comfort. But if you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the water — especially if you’ll be popping your hearing aid back in when you get out — then you should know about swimmer’s ear.

And you don’t have to be a swimmer to get it.

Swimmer’s ear is a not uncommon type of infection of the ear canal’s skin layer. Caused by water collecting in the inner and outer ear canal, it is a bacterial infection that, in its early stages, can cause itching and discomfort.

The discomfort is more pronounced when that little thingamabob at the opening of your ear — the tragus — is pushed. Or when your earlobe is pulled.

Another early sign is a clear fluid draining out of your ear.

If you notice early signs of swimmer’s ear, then take action — because things can escalate. Eventually, that clear fluid turns to pus, you notice hearing loss due to swelling, pain starts spreading down into your neck and face, your lymph nodes are effected, and a fever comes on. Not sounding much like summer fun.

Eardrops are the best treatment for swimmer’s ear. They help dry out your ear while also providing treatment against bacteria and fungus.

The best way to prevent swimmer’s ear in the first place is to wear earplugs when you’re in the water for an extended amount of time.

Not putting your hearing aid back in immediately will help too. Give your ear a little time to air out before sealing it off with your hearing aid.

Also, be careful about cleaning your ears when you’re doing a lot of water activities. Small abrasions to the ear canal’s walls make for a more-friendly environment for the bacteria that causes swimmer’s ear.

Athlete Jogging

Athletics and Hearing Aids Are Not Mutually Exclusive

The lifestyle of an active athlete and the need to use a hearing aid can indeed coexist. There are a few basic things to take into consideration, but your hearing aid shouldn’t hold you back from pursuing your fitness goals.

Moisture is the most common issue that needs to be addressed. Exercising means sweating and sweating means moisture. Cleaning and completely drying your hearing aid after a workout is important.

If you’re exercising outdoors in a wet environment, then that too will require taking care of your hearing aid. If you use a BTE (behind-the-ear) model you may want to be more proactive and devise a strategy for covering your hearing aid with a plastic bag, though take care make sure there’s some airflow around the unit. A tight wrapping may do more harm than good.

The other main issue is when your hearing aid — and probably your head too — takes a blow. It might be best when participating in contact sports to wear a head guard or helmet. It’ll not only protect your noggin, but your hearing aid as well.

As far as specific models go, Phonak’s Lyric is a small, permanent hearing aid that — once inserted in your ear canal — is worn for up to four months. This takes the pressure off of maintaining your hearing aid after exercise, since the Lyric is designed to deal with moisture (you can even shower with it in) during its useful lifetime.

The Siemens’ line of Aquaris hearing aids is fully waterproof. It’s a rugged product that can be fully immersed in water. It’s also been tested in the NFL. Former safety Reed Doughty wore one during his playing days.

Phonak Audéo B-Direct

Some of the Best New Hearing Aid Products for 2018

The start of a new year is a good time to highlight some of the best new hearing aid products that were introduced last year. Now might be the time to see what’s available for “stepping up” your hearing experience.

Towards the end of 2017 Phonak brought to market their new Audéo B-Direct. This Bluetooth-equipped hearing aid features the propriety Sonova Wireless One Radio Digital (SWORD) computer chip. It’s one of the most powerful processers built into a hearing aid.

With SWORD, you can connect directly — with no additional streaming device required — to almost every cellphone, smartphone, and computer on the market, including older models using classic Bluetooth protocol. In addition, with the Phonak TV Connector, you can plug and play your hearing aid with TV or stereo systems. If connectivity is something important to you, then the Audéo B-Direct may be worth considering.

From Signia comes their new Nx line, featuring their OVP™ (Own Voice Processing) that uses the latest in digital technology to create the most natural sound of your own voice that a hearing aid can offer. A separate and independent computer processer is dedicated to dealing with the hearing aid user’s own voice, while the Sound Clarity processer excels at providing a normal sound experience in all locations by handling the sounds other than the user’s voice.

The Nx line also features long-lasting batteries due to their excellent energy efficiency, the myControl App for remote control, and the myHearing App that includes product support and the ability to create a direct virtual connection with your hearing care provider.

When More Than a Hearing Aid Is Needed

For most people, a modern hearing aid is enough to compensate for any hearing issues that are present. But for some people — or in some situations — additional assistive listening devices (ALDs) might be needed.

Here are some of the most common types of ALDs that may help you with hearing difficulties that your hearing aid can’t deal with on its own.

A personal amplifier is just what it sounds like. A small, easily transportable amplifier with a microphone and that boosts volume. They aren’t really for crowded situations, but rather work well for one-on-one conversations. Usually, the other person in the conversation clips the mic to themselves — like newscasters — and is able to speak in their normal voice, while the amplifier makes them easier to hear.

A more flexible device better suited for more complex situations is an FM system. It’s simply a transmitter system that uses the FM radio spectrum to bring sounds to the listener. As with an amplifier system, the speaker is “mic’d up” and what they’re saying — or playing on an instrument — is broadcast in a very localized area.

An infrared ALD works in much the same way, only instead of wavelengths in the radio spectrum transmitting sound the light wave spectrum is utilized. These systems tend to be used in very specific situations. Their weakness is that sunlight can interfere with them and infrared systems can’t pass through solid objects like walls. But that is also one of their strengths, since they provide a level of privacy that FM transmitters cannot.

Finally, induction loop systems use electromagnetic fields to get amplified sound to the end user. They are very versatile systems that are becoming more common in public spaces, such as schools, concert halls, and stadiums. Basically, a loop of wire is placed in an area and powered up, creating a magnetic field that any receiver — including many hearing aids — can pick up a signal from. They are slowly becoming common, much like wheelchair access ramps did years ago.

When Is It Time to Replace Your Hearing Aid?

Getting a new hearing aid — after having invested in one already — shouldn’t happen too often. But there are instances when “starting over” is the best course of action.

Other than the obvious situation that your hearing capabilities have changed enough to warrant a new hearing aid — most likely a more powerful unit to deal with more severe hearing loss — here are a few instances when upgrading may be called for.

One instance is that you got a great deal last time. Your hearing aid has had a few repairs over the years, but you’ve been satisfied with it over the years too. Unfortunately, if your hearing aid lasts long enough, then eventually there won’t be spare parts to fix it anymore. Most manufacturers make replacement parts for only about five years. Then it’s on to used parts. This can be effective for only so long.

Tapping into new technology is also a good reason to upgrade. Today’s “smart” hearing aids are part of the ever-expanding world of connectivity and the Internet of things (IoT). Direct wireless connections with smartphones, media devices, and even doorbells and washing machines are now possible. You can stream music and get “your laundry is done” notifications directly into your hearing aid.

Physical changes other than your hearing may also warrant a change in hearing aids. Arthritis can make changing batteries and other adjustments to your hearing aid slow and frustrating. Finding a new unit with longer battery life and more automated controls might make life a little more pleasant.
Then there’s always just the desire for something new. And that’s alright too.

Specialized Hearing Aids for Severe Hearing Loss

Of the people who use hearing aids, 70 percent have mild to moderate hearing loss. That leaves 30 percent of hearing aid users who fall within the severe to profound categories of hearing loss.

This level of hearing loss requires hearing aids that can powerfully amplify sound. In addition, more robust speech recognition capabilities are also essential.
Generally, these kinds of hearing aids will be BTE (behind-the-ear) units that provide more customization and wider microphone options than smaller ITE (in-the-ear) units can offer.
Here are some of leading hearing aids for severe hearing loss:

  • The Oticon Dynamo, Sensei SP, and BTE Plus Power lines provide increased gain and output, feedback control, and individualized control capabilities. Enhanced speech recognition and wireless connectivity are also features.
  • The Naida V is Phonak’s model for severe hearing loss. It features several speakers and is capable of amplifying the high-frequency sounds that are crucial to better hearing.
  • Siemens’ Nitro BTE features BestSound Technology, directional microphones, and improved speech recognition. It is strong in addressing both the high- and low-frequency needs of wearers.
  • The Signia Primax is designed for moderately severe hearing loss. It has superior noise reduction, speech recognition, and amplification options.