That Was Then, This Is Now

A few weeks ago, Better Hearing and Speech Month — annually recognized each May to heighten hearing-related issues — was to focus on “Communication at Work.” Seemed like a worthy and simple enough topic.

But that was then.

On April 30, the president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) announced that the month would instead be marked by outreach on a wide variety of hearing issues. This is a recognition that people — both hearing health customers and their healthcare providers —are now dealing with a wide variety of unexpected issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the month several topics will be explored by ASHA via updates at the organization’s website.

These include “Early Intervention and COVID-19: Advice for Parents of Children Whose Services Are Interrupted,” “Helping Children With Language Disorders Maintain Social Connection While at Home,” “Zoom Meetings and Stuttering: Tips to Make Virtual Interactions More Successful,” and “Augmentative and Alternative Communication and COVID-19: Enabling Communication for Acute Care Patients.”

First established in 1927 by ASHA and today fully supported by the federal National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) — which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — Better Hearing and Speech Month is meant to highlight hearing health issues.

But there’s only one overriding health issue this year.

“Our goal is to champion every person’s ability to communicate, including at this difficult time,” said ASHA President Theresa H. Rodgers when announcing the change.

From hearing loss research being disrupted to audiologists from coast-to-coast having to alter their visitation policies, COVID-19 is severely impacting not just individuals but an entire industry.

Tinnitus: Here Today, Maybe Here Tomorrow

If it becomes persistent, tinnitus can truly become one of life’s not so little annoyances.


There are some strategies for dealing with it—but no known permanent cure. It’s a perplexing syndrome that isn’t fully understood and, unfortunately, not as rare as one would hope. It is generally understood to be the manifestation of underlying damage to the auditory system, usually due to aging or exposure to excessive noise.


Simply put, tinnitus is the hearing of sound that’s not really “there.” There’s no doubt that those dealing with the condition hear “it,” but what they’re hearing is not a sound that’s coming from outside of their bodies. It’s coming from inside the hearer — and they can’t make the sound go away.
The American Tinnitus Association states on its webpage that it “can manifest many different perceptions of sound, including buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, and clicking. In some rare cases, tinnitus patients report hearing music.”


Studies show that well over 10 percent of Americans experience it at some point, though luckily in many cases it’s only temporary.


If one is not so lucky, then ways to manage it include shunning silent environments (since whatever sound is being heard is harder to ignore), protecting ears from loudness (which can make matters worse), and practicing relaxation techniques (to lessen the stress that can be caused by tinnitus). Some people have also found that certain foods or activities will consistently worsen the situation or bring on a new bout.


If a sound of unknown origin becomes persistent and bothersome, then visiting a hearing health professional is the first step to managing the situation.

Once Again, Oticon Is a Winner

For the fourth year running, Oticon has been honored by the Consumer Electronics Association (CTA) at its annual trade show for bringing some of the most innovative products to market.
Two Oticon brands won CES 2020 Innovation Awards. One was in the Health & Wellness category, where the Oticon Xceed — a hearing aid for those with severe-to-profound hearing loss — won. Meanwhile, the company’s soon-to-be-released e-health platform RemoteCare won in the Tech for a Better World category.


“We are extremely proud to have Oticon Xceed and Oticon RemoteCare honored by the Consumer Electronics Association,” announced the president of Oticon, Gary Rosenblum. “Our ability to consistently stand out in a competition that includes some of the world’s most cutting-edge consumer technology products and services underscores Oticon’s commitment to develop hearing technology that makes a real difference in people’s lives.”


The Xceed provides a powerful tool for people who’s hearing loss has traditionally been a challenge for the industry. The product provides formidable output without the feedback issues that often plague hearing aids that have to compensate for severe hearing issues. It delivers an auditory environment for users that is less stressful and enhances short-term recall of conversations.


The customer service that RemoteCare will provide is startling. Using Internet connectivity, hearing aids will be able to not only collect data in real time and transfer it to hearing health professionals — but any needed adjustments can then be made remotely. The scheduling of office visits and all the complications they generate will be lessened and users will see performance gains straightaway.


Both products build on Oticon’s long track record of adapting cutting-edge technology to the needs of the hearing impaired.

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.

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.

Hearing Loss and Hospital Readmission Rates

A recently released study for The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society by New York University researchers shows that, for individuals over the age of 65, hearing loss is an increased risk factor for hospital readmission.

These rates are a hotbed of current research, since Medicare will not pay for patient readmissions for certain conditions that occur within 30 days. Healthcare providers are working hard to curtail such situations.

The key issue with regards to hearing loss revolves around the ability of patients to communicate with healthcare workers. It was found that people who reported problems communicating with medical personnel  — after teasing out other factors — were 32 percent more likely to be readmitted within 30 days.

Since hospitals tend to be noisy, fast-paced environments, it’s not surprising that the hearing issues of patients might be a problem.

“Attending to hearing loss is a strategy that hospitals really have not tried, and if they tried it they might be able to reduce the risk of readmission for significant portion of their patients,” said NYU’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service researcher Jan Blustein to Reuters.

“Hospitals are noisy chaotic places, and people with hearing loss may have trouble understanding key information, such as what medicines they should take after discharge, or how they should watch for or manage exacerbation of their symptoms,” he added. “This puts them at risk for difficulties after they are discharged from hospital.”

Obviously, having had hearing loss issues treated prior to hospitalization would be of great benefit. There are also methods and technology that hospitals can put in place that could lessen the problem.

Anyone who’s been hospitalized, or their caregivers, should be aware of these issues.

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.