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.

You Really Want To Ignore Your Hearing Problem?

Ignoring the reality of hearing loss is not a good long-term strategy. Studies have found any number of bad outcomes stem from an unwillingness to treat hearing-related issues. These include not only health effects, but also emotional and economic repercussions.

One of the most troubling findings is that hearing loss correlates with higher incidences of Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are several working theories as to why this is the case.

One theory is that there is a long-term strain on the brain when having to interpret words that are not inputted clearly, causing it to have to overcompensate. Another possibility is that when much of the sound spectrum is no longer heard the brain is deprived of needed stimulation.

Studies have also found that general health is lower in people with untreated hearing loss, compared to those who have had their hearing issues treated.

In addition, it has been found that adults with hearing issues who use hearing aids report higher levels of happiness than those who refuse them. A whole host of issues — sadness, anxiety, insecurity, even paranoia — occur at higher rates in people not dealing directly with hearing loss. Social isolation is also unhealthy in and of itself.

And a study sponsored by the Better Hearing Institute showed that hearing loss could negatively impact household income by up to as much as $12,000 annually. The findings suggest that hard-of-hearing employees are apt to make more errors at work and thus miss out on promotion opportunities — or even end up losing their jobs.

Considering that treatment for hearing issues will ultimately cost only pennies per day, refusing to deal with hearing loss is not a good long-term financial strategy. That’s even before considering the health and emotional satisfaction aspects of such stubbornness.

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.

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.

Rock Musicians with Hearing Aids

It may come as a shock, but there are a number of rock music legends now in need of hearing aids. How long-term exposure to high-decibel amplified music — and an uncounted number of pyrotechnical explosions — led to this is anyone’s guess.

Recently announcing a year-long sabbatical at the age of 72, The Who’s Pete Townshend — for a solid decade his band held the Guinness Book of Records top mark for the loudest concert — is now almost deaf, suffering both partial deafness and tinnitus. In 1989 Townshend helped to found H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers), a non-profit hearing advocacy group, and has struggled to continue working due to his hearing loss over the last two decades.

One strategy Townshend has used in order to continue performing is thanks to another rocker with hearing issues. Neil Young introduced him to in-ear monitors (IEMs), which Young had started to use to deal with his tinnitus. They are basically hearing aids on steroids, specialized earpieces that are fed audio via the sound mixing board at concerts or in the studio. Young has said that some of his more acoustic works, including Harvest Moon, were made in part to give his ears a rest from his louder electric work.

Like Townshend, another English rock legend, Eric Clapton, also has both significant hearing loss and tinnitus in both ears. He says that these days he listens to classical music, in part so that he can keep his hearing.

And in a truly shocking development, Ozzy Osbourne — the lead singer of heavy metal icons Black Sabbath before his second life as a reality TV show star — suffers from serious hearing loss. He’s shared publicly (this is what the Osbourne’s do) his adventures with hearing aids.