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.

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.

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.