The Advantages of Bluetooth Technology

The full integration of Bluetooth tech into the routine functions of hearing aids has brought a wealth of new possibilities.

Due to the incorporation of higher computer functions into what used to be basically simple amplifiers, hearing aids are now yet another aspect of the Internet of Things (IoT). The interconnectivity that Bluetooth provides — by creating a small wireless network in which devices can communicate — allows hearing aids to connect to other machines nearby and, by extension, to the Internet via another device’s WiFi capabilities.

Bluetooth connections are stable and not dependent on a WiFi network’s strength. They work within only a small radius.

This is why it is now possible, using a dedicated app, to control a hearing aid’s functions with a smartphone or tablet. The ability Bluetooth affords for near-instantaneous interaction between the two devices means no more fumbling with tiny knobs or buttons on a hearing aid. It also allows for a far wider range of controls.

Likewise, sound can now be transmitted electronically directly to the hearing aid. The oh-so-annoying squeal that used to mark phone conversations with a hearing aid is a thing of the past. Anything one listens to from electronic sources — radios, televisions, listening devices — can now be streamed directly into hearing aids, resulting in much higher sound quality and the ability to avoid distractions from other sources of noise.

Finally, hearing aids can gather data on the sound dynamics of where you spend your time and how you use your hearing aids. This can then be uploaded — via the Bluetooth connection with your app, then from app to your hearing health provider via the Internet — and the data used to fine-tune your hearing aid for the future.

Managing Thanksgiving With Hearing Loss

Handling hearing issues, even with state-of-the-art hearing aids, can be an everyday challenge. On special days — like Thanksgiving — it can be even more of a trial.

Now, if the tradition for the big meal in your family is a descent into political trench warfare, maybe you’ll just want to turn your hearing aid down low and eat in blissful silence. It’s a known go-to strategy.

But if you want to communicate fully with your loved ones, here are some ideas on how to manage the hubbub of a boisterous Thanksgiving dinner with hearing loss.

First, be prepared to let anyone at the gathering who you don’t see very often know that you’re a little hard of hearing. The “new friend” being brought home to meet the family may not have been informed and letting them know will make things easier on everyone.

And remember the old maxim of location, location, location.  Sitting next to the TV with the big game blasting from it will make things much more difficult. Being away from sources of noise, with a wall behind you so that you’re dealing with 180° of sound — as opposed to a full 360° — will help immensely. At the dinner table, avoid sitting in the middle. Grab a seat on one end and converse with people nearby.

If it all becomes too much, take respite in a quiet room or outside. Like a work break, this will allow your ears and brain to relax and recharge.

And finally, if you have a hearing aid – then use it! No reason to be coy with loved ones. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about and your family is there to support you.

The Current State of Treating Hearing Loss

The science of gauging and treating hearing loss and auditory disorders is far advanced. Today’s technology — and decades of medical progress — now provide a wealth of options for anyone with hearing issues.

Ways to provide rehabilitation include hearing aids, cochlear implants, and therapeutic approaches. Methods employed will depend to some extent on the nature of the hearing loss being managed.

Profound hearing loss may require cochlear implants, which are complex devices that incorporate surgically inserted electrodes that send signals directly to the brain, bypassing the hearing apparatus of the inner ear. A significant amount of subsequent therapeutic training is necessary to make them a successful intervention.

Speech pathologists will be the frontline professional who works with those adapting to cochlear implants, but the kind of audiological rehabilitation they provide can also help a wide array of people with less profound issues learn to manage their hearing loss. This is especially true if it was not immediately treated and “bad habits” developed.

The therapeutic approaches these hearing professionals will manage include developing better hearing techniques, speechreading (based in part on lipreading), and strategies to create a better environment for hearing (including ways that speakers can communicate more clearly).

Ultimately, hearing aids are the most common form of treatment for auditory disorders, especially presbycusis (hearing loss due to age). Contemporary hearing aids are powerful tools. They incorporate significant computing powers that not only provide amplification of sound in the parts of the spectrum where it is needed, but also deliver a wide array of interconnectivity with other wireless devices. This provides access to streaming music, captioned devices, and supplemental assistive listening tools such as infrared and FM systems.

Preventive Maintenance for Summer Ears

Summertime brings its own rituals, pastimes, and challenges. As far as your hearing health goes, there are a few things to be particularly aware of during the hottest days of the year.

The most common one has to do with water.

Diving into swimming pools or natural bodies of water increases the likelihood of fungal or bacterial infections. Usually getting lumped under the term “swimmer’s ear,” what is commonly happening is some kind of irritation of the skin in your ear canal. Even if you don’t spend time in the water, perspiration from hot conditions can cause the same issues.

The key is to get your ears dried out without increasing the likelihood of infection. This is especially true if you use hearing aids, since putting them back in will trap moisture in the ear canal.

The first rule is to not be tempted to use a cotton swab to rub them dry. This can make things worse, since the swabs can scratch the skin in the ear and actually increase the likelihood of infection. The best things to do include letting gravity do some of the work by tilting your to either side (pulling on your earlobe at the same time helps too, since it flattens the ear canal), using a blow dryer on low heat, or drying drops that do the job via a chemical reaction.

Other summer issues to keep in mind include protecting ears from extreme sound environments (fireworks, concerts, vehicle races), fluid buildup in your ears due to allergies, and discomfort from the effects of flying (if a summer vacation is in the mix).

Take it easy on your ears this summer.

Alcohol and Hearing Function

The negative effects of drinking too much are pretty well advertised. Less obvious is that drinking too much over both the short-term and long-term can also cause hearing issues.

Believe it or not, too much alcohol in the bloodstream can cause stress on the tiny hairs inside the ears that send electronic signals to the brain. One of the reasons hearing loss is common in many older people is because these hairs stop regenerating. And alcohol can cause the same kind of damage.

On the other hand, this one is not so hard to believe — alcohol affects the brain. This includes the auditory cortex, where the sound transmitted from the ears is processed. Long-term drinking can shrink the auditory cortex.

Temporary or permanent tinnitus — an incessant ringing in the ears — can also result from alcohol consumption. This is due to the increased blood flow that drinking causes, which throws the inner ear mechanism awry. And since that blood is full of alcohol, the fluid within the ear that is an important part of its functioning is infused with alcohol. This has a number of repercussions, including altering one’s sense of balance — which is why the room starts to spin and “falling down drunk” is a thing.

And there’s a term for getting oblivious about how loud an environment is. It’s called “cocktail deafness.” Getting drunk at a concert or in a loud bar can result in basically forgetting to process how loud it really is. This leads to one of the worst things for hearing health — prolonged exposure to high-decibel sound that can do permanent damage.

Hearing health, another reason to be mindful of your alcohol consumption.

Better Hearing & Speech Month: Natural Ways to Promote Hearing Health

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, which provides a great opportunity to raise awareness about communication disorders and hearing health. Promoted annually by the American-Language-Hearing-Association, this year’s theme is “Communication Across the Lifespan.” What better way to spread awareness than understanding natural ways to promote hearing health?

Although natural remedies and diet-based strategies to improve or maintain hearing cannot replace professional treatment when facing pronounced hearing loss, there are things worth doing to maintain hearing health.

Certain minerals, herbs, and habits are known to be beneficial. Likewise, some things are to be avoided (and not just the obvious things like loud noise and not using ear protection).

For example, a number of medications are known to have adverse side effects on the hearing of some individuals; they are known as ototoxic drugs. Tinnitus is the most common side effect, though more serious complications are possible. There are lists of ototoxic drugs that can be referenced and, when needed, alternatives should be explored.

Heavy consumption of alcohol is also known to cause hearing issues — including possible long-term damage to the tiny hairs inside the ear that are crucial to hearing.

On a more positive note, brain games are a way to maintain or improve the ability to better understand sounds. Voices especially not only have to be heard, but ultimately processed efficiently. Websites like Lumosity and organizations like AARP have resources for exercising brain function.

Then there are certain herbs that humans have consumed for countless generations that are believed to have a positive impact on hearing health.

Blood circulation is vital to the operation of the ears and Ginkgo biloba is known to have a positive impact. Ginger is a strong antibiotic that will inhibit ear infections. Likewise, echinacea enhances the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties that can help ears get through bouts of sickness.

Many hearing issues demand medical attention, but maintaining general overall hearing health can be pursued outside of the medical office.

A Not Subtle Hearing Issue

Though rare, sudden hearing loss (SHL) is not unknown. And though the medical community does not fully understand the phenomena, any abrupt cessation of hearing in an ear is cause to seek urgent medical attention.

SHL can be temporary or permanent. Only time will tell. It can also affect one or both ears. Early intervention is key.

The cause of SHL is not clearly understood but there are a number of factors believed to be at play, either singly or in combination. These include the delayed effects of ear infections or spinal injuries; issues stemming from chronic blood circulation problems like obesity, blood clots, arteriosclerosis, and diabetes; and bouts of stress that curtail blood flow.

The “sudden” part of SHL is meaningful. Oftentimes hearing loss is clearly related to disease — meningitis, mumps, or chickenpox for example — or exposure to high-decibel sound that directly damages the inner ear. SHL happens suddenly, with no clear cause or even an earache of any kind.

A bout of tinnitus — an unremitting ringing sound that is heard but not produced by anything in the hearer’s environment — does sometimes happen as part of a SHL event. Fluctuating pressure in the ear and numbness also are accompanying symptoms.

As a first step, medical care providers will deliver treatment that produces better blood circulation to the head, since this sometimes clears up the problem. If this isn’t successful, then further testing will be required. An ear microscopy and/or MRI can find evidence of the underlying issue that has caused the SHL.

The key is to seek immediate medical care. SHL is a medical crisis and can be a sign of other underlying medical issues. Don’t wait for it to “clear up” on its own.

 

High-Tech Awards for Hearing Aids

Showing just how high-tech the hearing aid industry has become, Phonak was recently the recipient of two awards for innovation in New York at CES, which is the tech tradeshow sponsored by the Consumer Technology Association.

One of their two CES 2019 Innovation Awards was for the accessibility features of the Audéo Marvel. The other was for the 3D-printing technology that was part of the manufacturing process of the Virto B-Titanium.

The CES brings over 4,000 exhibitors — consumer-tech developers and manufacturers — and is attended by over 182,000 people from 160 countries. The Innovation Awards highlight innovative products that span 28 categories that are judged on design, functionality, consumer appeal, and engineering.

The rechargeable Phonak Audéo Marvel was recognized for its universal Bluetooth accessibility — including Bluetooth Classic — and its support of direct stereo streaming from Android smartphones and iPhones. The Marvel is also programmed to automatically recognize and make adjustments between streamed speech — newscasts, e-books, podcasts, etc. — and music streaming.

Cutting-edge 3D printing technology is used in the production of the Phonak Virto B-Titanium. Phonak claims it is “the world’s first 3D-printed titanium hearing aid.” This is not the only recognition this top-of-the-line hearing aid has received. It was also the recipient of a Red Dot Design Award for product design and a Gold Stevie (a business award) for Best New Product or Service of the Year in the Health and Pharmaceutical Industry.

“Our entire team is honored to have Phonak’s industry-leading hearing aids recognized for excellence in both Accessibility and 3D Printing,” proclaimed Phonak’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Thomas Lang. “These award-winning hearing solutions continue to illustrate Phonak’s boundless commitment to helping people live a life with no limitations.”

Things To Do For Healthier Hearing

Hearing loss can be an inevitability for some people. Only so much can be done about accidental exposure to extremely loud noise or a genetic predisposition for hearing loss. But for most people, hearing loss is not a sure thing and there are a number of activities that can actually help maintain hearing health.

The most obvious is exercise. The biological fact is that the inner ear and brain are very dependent on the healthy flow of oxygen-rich blood. The neurotransmitters in the brain that process sound can atrophy over time when blood flow is degraded. Likewise, the inner ear — especially the crucial cochlea — is a finely tuned part of the body that requires a base level of overall cardiovascular health. In long-term studies spanning decades, as little as two hours of exercise a week has been found to lower the risk of hearing loss.

This can include obvious exercising like walking, jogging, and swimming — but activities like yoga and meditation have also been found to have positive outcomes on hearing health. Yoga not only improves blood circulation, but research has shown that people suffering from tinnitus have used yoga as an effective means of reducing its severity. Stress is also a known risk factor for hearing loss, so meditation practices that lessen anxiety levels can help with some hearing issues.

Even just mindfully exercising your hearing in everyday situations can help. When standing in line or basically in any “just waiting” situation, concentrate on the particulars of the soundscape you’re stuck in. Focus on a specific sound, then move onto another distinct sound — rinse and repeat. This kind of listening calisthenics actually exercises the parts of your brain that process sound and can heighten the ability to follow conversations in noisy locations later on.

Some Myths About Hearing

There are any number of myths — widely held assumptions — about hearing issues. Here are a few of them.

Hearing Loss Is For the Oldsters

Actually, over 60 percent of the approximately 50 million people in the United States with hearing loss issues are under the age of 65. It’s obviously not an issue that you’ll only find at an AARP convention.

Currently, a number of factors seem to be making hearing loss an issue earlier in life. These include the widespread use of personal audio devices and the earbuds/headphones that come with them, the rising regularity of loud sound systems in public places, and the generally high volume of modern life (and increasing rarity of relative silence). It has been reported that in the 12- to 19-year-old age bracket, 1 in 5 already show signs of some kind of hearing loss issue.

Hearing Loss Is an Isolated Problem

Hearing is its own subdivision of overall health, right? Not really. There are now numerous studies linking hearing loss — especially when left untreated — with a series of negative outcomes, especially regarding mental health. Hearing loss can lead to social isolation and depression, which are directly linked to cognitive decline and dementia (which may also be linked to degraded brain activity due to the loss of sound inputs).

On the prevention of hearing loss side of the equation, there is also ample evidence that better overall cardiovascular health usually leads to healthier hearing. The inner ear is very dependent on good blood circulation and a degrading of overall physical health can lead to hearing issues.

Hearing Loss Is Inevitable

Not really. Like so much about one’s health, genetics plays a huge part. In some cases, hearing loss will happen. But in many cases, preventive strategies may make hearing loss far less likely. As mentioned above, good cardiovascular health will help (so, smoking is a clear risk factor for hearing loss). But the most obvious way to prevent hearing loss is to avoid exposure to high-decibel noise and, if you know you will be exposed, then to use ear protection. Loud noise damages the ear and avoiding it can mean avoiding hearing loss issues.