Exercise Is Even Good For Your Ears

There are many reasons to make an exercise routine a priority. Most everyone knows this. But aiding your hearing is probably a reason you’re not aware of.

There’s research to support this, including a long-term study conducted by Miami University in the early 2000s that spanned a decade. It found that people over the age of 50 who worked out for at least 20 minutes five times a week were more likely to maintain hearing analogous to people still in their 30s.

A more recent study carried out by John Hopkins University found similar results, with positive outcomes for seniors who exercised as little as three hours a week.

The gist of the findings is that better cardiovascular health means higher functioning ears. Crucial parts of the inner ear—especially the cochlear hair cells that are the transition point between sound waves and the electrical signals sent to the brain that are what we actually “hear”—depend on vigorous blood circulation.

A sedentary lifestyle inevitably leads to poorer cardiovascular performance. And unlike body hair, if cochlear hairs atrophy and die they are not replaced with new ones. This is one of the primary drivers of presbycusis—the fancy word for people becoming hard of hearing as they get older.

Also at risk from reduced circulatory function are spiral ganglions, which are the nerve cells that act as the “wiring” that carry electrical impulses from the cochlear to the brain. They too depend on a healthy body to stay in peak shape.

The gist is that exercise—walking, swimming, biking, weight training, or even just gardening and housework—will lessen inflammation throughout the body and increase the oxygen content of the bloodstream. And both these things will help your hearing.

Take Care This Summer

Now that COVID-19 restrictions have been eased and we’re making up for lost time, it’s time to remember that some summer activities come with a risk of damaging your hearing.

Loud, sudden noise is one of the easiest ways to damage your ears. Fireworks are a well-known source of temporary—and sometimes permanent—hearing damage. They can create sound at the 175-decibel level; damage to ears can be caused by anything over 120 decibels.

The farther away you are from an explosion, the better for your ears. And if you are responsible for a young child, be aware that a noise level that adults can handle may not be true for a youngster, since their ear canals are so much smaller (which will amplify the effects of a high-decibel incident).

The same dynamic holds true for car races, the firing of guns, power tools, and all the other loud things that are part of summer.

Getting in the water is a big part of summer too. The primary risk here is coming down with a case of swimmer’s ear—which is just a seasonal name for an ear infection—due to bacteria finding their way into tiny scrapes and scratches in the lining of your ear canal.

What’s a common way to cause such abrasions? Sticking things in your ear—fingers, swabs, towels—when trying to dry them out after swimming or sweating due to exercising.

So, try to just let your ears dry out on their own—tilting your head from side to side will help—or use drops or a hair dryer (on a low setting).

It’s good to be back out, but don’t forget to take care of your hearing.

The Threat of Hearing Loss

Did you know that hearing loss can lead to poorer brain function?

Along with more seasonable weather, and maybe the promise a few beach days, the month of June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. Since 1980, people have been going purple to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s support and to accelerate research.  The Alzheimer’s Association even points out that June 20th, the summer solstice and normally the longest day of the year, is our chance to “fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s.”

And if you, or anyone you know has been ignoring their hearing issues, then this is a good time to visit a hearing professional. This is because it has become clear that untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive brain performance issues, including Alzheimer’s.

Studies published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, The American Journal of Epidemiology, Archives of Neurology, and other peer-reviewed journals have all shown links between poor hearing and brain issues. And still others have shown that treating hearing loss effectively, especially with hearing aids, can lessen or eliminate the consequences.

Poor hearing can lead to social isolation, which heightens loneliness, which can lead to depression and dementia. More directly, the lack of activity in the part of the brain that interacts with the ears via the auditory nerve can atrophy due to lack of activity. This appears to be a process that is not necessarily localized.

“Brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain,” according to Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., a research director at Johns Hopkins. In fact, even mild hearing loss, when left untreated, doubled dementia risk, moderate loss tripled the risk, and those with severe hearing impairments were five times more likely to develop dementia.

There’s no reason to put off a hearing exam.

Hearing Loss Isn’t Just for the Old Folks

A patient recently asked us ‘Aren’t hearing aids only for older people? ‘. What a fantastic question! For those of us who’ve been watching, the trend of hearing loss issues moving down the age brackets has become increasingly clear over the last decade. It’s been estimated that as much as 15 percent of people under age 65 have hearing issues.

Putting aside genetic factors in hearing loss, the main drivers of this cultural dilemma are driven by lifestyle or occupation and usually in the control of the people who end up dealing with hearing loss.

The past year of social isolation has been a double-edged sword with regards to these issues.

One of the main drivers of noise induced hearing loss in younger adults has been the use of headphones and earbuds with personal listening devices – often referred to as leisure noise – that have flooded the market in recent years. With more people staying home during lockdown, activities like gaming, listening to music, watching streaming services, and even work-from-home culture complete with video conferencing with the volume turned up has exposed many to long-term, potentially damaging sounds.

On the other hand, not spending time in crowded bars or clubs where large sound systems blast out the volume (98dB on average!) has probably saved a great deal of wear and tear for many. But with vaccinations picking up steam and restrictions beginning to be dropped, such exposure may go into overdrive soon for many.

Both scenarios are the primary culprits in hearing damage sub-senior adults. The fact is, much of contemporary life is just louder than it used to be. And for many, that will mean an accumulation of damage to the inner ear.

The best countermeasure is being careful with the volume when at home and using noise-reducing earplugs when hitting the clubs and committing to regular hearing screenings to understand how, and if, your hobbies or your job might me impacting you hearing.

Are Allergies About to Affect Your Hearing?

Spring is on the way. It might still be lurking around the corner but it’ll be here soon.

Which, by and large, is a great thing. But for many folks, springtime is also allergy time. And if you’re really lucky, another aspect of seasonal allergies can be hearing issues.

By and large, this is about the fluids that the body produces in reaction to what’s floating in the springtime air. Things like pollen, mold, dander, and dust mites are taken as an invasive force and your body unleashes the dogs of the immune system—antibodies and histamines—against them. Unfortunately for you, this is a false flag operation, since allergens aren’t actually going to make you sick like germs and viruses do; your body just “thinks” they are.

And how do antibodies and histamines get around your body? In fluids, which can then overwhelm specific areas and produce bottlenecks, which results in swelling. If this happens in your ear canal, then you’ve got a hearing issue.

Several things can happen when fluid accumulates in your ears.

One, the already-narrow ear canal can get even slimmer, which throws off the auditory dynamics of the complex sound system deeper down in the middle and inner ear.

Fluid buildup in the inner ear will also degrade its functionality directly, including the calibration of the vestibular system. This is a crucial part of how we maintain our balance, based on maintaining equilibrium through the movement of fluid that sends signals, via tiny hairs and subsequent electrical impulses, to the brain. A buildup of excess fluid can throw the whole system off-kilter.

That’s why, for the allergy-prone, springtime can mean dizzy spells, along with hearing issues and ear-popping. Unless symptoms are severe or prolonged, it’s a matter of waiting things out, with over-the-counter antihistamines or decongestants serving as the best way to muddle through.

Giving the Gift of Hearing at the End of a Long Year

This past year—the 2020 lockdown—will always be remembered as one of sacrifice, loss, and determination. It’s demanded that we all adjust and recommit to charitable giving.

In December we once again sponsored our Gift of Hearing event. Our third annual giveaway, it features open nominations of people who—because of their public service or unique circumstances—are not only dealing with hearing issues but are also deserving of a free pair of premium hearing aids.

Like the United Way drop boxes that you’ll find at our office through the end of this month—ready for personal items like toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, soap, razors that will be directed to food pantries and community shelters—the “Gift of Hearing” event is a small way to support the community in these difficult times.

Given the realities of 2020, we couldn’t choose just one deserving recipient, so we picked two.

Our first beneficiary was Andres, known not only for his selfless service to the nation but also famous for helping those in need. After many years of giving he got to be on the receiving end of generosity.

Our second recipient was Nicole, a loving wife and mother of two who has struggled with significant hearing issues for years. We’re hoping her new hearing aids help her enjoy her family in what we all expect to be a fantastic 2021.

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.