Tinnitus Education

Tinnitus education starts early at REM! For children especially, early management of tinnitus can help prevent future issues, such as hearing loss due to noise exposure.

And while it’s very important to not draw undue attention to tinnitus in a child lest they over-focus on or invent its presence, it is likewise important for parents and physicians to pay attention to any unsolicited complaints of ringing, buzzing, or “foreign” sounds in their ears.

What Do We Propose?

The presence of tinnitus symptoms can be due to noise (maybe they’re listening to loud music through earbuds), certain medications, or even a past head injury. It can be harmless or require immediate attention. There are a lot of variables, and it’s important to figure out what’s what.

REM recommends that all school-aged children receive at least 1 hearing test in their elementary years. That might be the perfect time to not only talk about hearing loss — its risks, what it feels (and sounds) like — but also what to do if they experience any “hissing, buzzing, whistling, roaring or ringing” in their ears.

Again, you don’t want to overemphasize tinnitus, as a small amount of ringing in the ears can be both normal and — to the detriment of the child — hyper-focused on. But you may want to ask them to describe — in their own words — what sounds they normally hear. If they detail anything out of the ordinary, it may provide cause to investigate possible signs of tinnitus further and maybe even come up with a treatment or management plan for the future.

How Does Tinnitus Manifest in Children?

As in adults, every case is different. The most common symptoms, according to CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) are:

  • “Reports of ringing, buzzing, clicking, whistling, humming, hissing, or roaring sound
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Poor attention and restlessness in a very young child
  • Tantrums, irritability, and your child holding his head or ears
  • Severe fatigue
  • Anxiety or depression”

CHOP also breaks down why tinnitus in children is something that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. It may be temporary (a side effect of exposure to a loud noise), but tinnitus could also signal “damage to the inner ear,” which can cause hearing impairment and affect concentration, learning, and development in the classroom.

It’s Up To Us

“About one-third of children suffer from tinnitus at some point, but the condition often goes unnoticed. In many cases, the child is too young to describe what they’re hearing, has come to think of it as normal, or is not troubled by the experience enough to mention it,” CHOP also writes.

It’s a tricky situation, trying to diagnose something you don’t necessarily want to draw attention to. But since a lot of children don’t notice tinnitus, or can’t articulate its symptoms if they do, it’s up to us to find a way to help.

Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. What can you do to help spread awareness?

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is “an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.” Given enough time, it can harm your ability to remember, hold conversation, or carry out simple tasks. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia, and ranks somewhere between third and sixth as the leading cause of death in older Americans.

Your Mind and Your Body

As audiologists, we naturally want to know how Alzheimer’s can influence your hearing health. The brain is your command center, and when it starts to change, so does your body. When a disorder like Alzheimer’s takes hold, your physical sense of self can be just as affected as your mind.

New research suggests a link between dementia, hearing loss, cognitive load, and social isolation, with hearing loss as the catalyst. Though hearing loss does not directly cause Alzheimer’s (or dementia), it can lead to lifestyle and medical changes that can sometimes, in a sense, “open the door.”

This is why getting an annual hearing assessment* — especially if you’re aged 55 or older — is important. If early identification and intervention can even slightly help prevent Alzheimer’s, then a hearing test is something every person needs to regularly receive.

Help Spread the Word

Check out the Alzheimer’s Association to see what you can do to help. Ideas include wearing (and turning your social media profiles) purple, sharing your story, and more.

For more information about the mind and hearing heath, check out past REM blogs on the relationship between hearing loss and dementia and brain aging & memory loss.

*See office for details

BHSM & Beyond

Now that Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) is coming to a close, you might find yourself wondering what else you can do to help raise awareness about communication disorders.

To Recap BHSM

Communication disorders in children are not as uncommon as some may believe. Their prevalence as well as their lower than ideal treatment numbers makes them an increasingly pervasive issue, and similar numbers are seen in adults. “At least 20 percent of U.S. adults, at some point in their lives, have a significant problem with hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, or language,” according to the NIDCD.

If left untreated, communication disorders — which may or may not be developmental, but which can always affect a child’s development — can negatively influence one’s life for the worse. What ASHA and other organizations have undertaken with BHSM is a month aimed to help spread awareness about the importance of early intervention, no matter what stage of life you find yourself or your kids at.

For The Future

So, you’ve already shared all you could on your facebook and twitter feeds. You’ve used the #bhsm hashtag to connect with others. Maybe you even donated some money. What now?

* Just because BHSM is almost over, doesn’t mean your awareness campaign has to stop. Continue visiting the ASHA, the ASHA Leader, the NIDCD websites, which are always being updated with new and crucal information to share. If you’re not already, be sure to also follow their social media accounts. You can find similar speech and hearing resources through google, as well, and do the same.

* Get creative! Creativity is the best way to reach those who might not know about a certain topic. Take a peek at ASHA’s new children’s book, for example, aimed at helping siblings of kids with communication disorders.

* Talk to your congresspeople. If you want to reach a wider audience, this may be a great way forward. ASHA outlines the basics of what you should know about approaching your local governing body or representatives.

* Talk to your medical community. Local hospitals and clinics probably have the best ideas on how to approach spreading the news.

* Talk to your schools. Does your school system offer regular hearing screenings? How well do they manage to monitor for any developmental or comprehension issues their students may face? How well do they implement their IEP’s or 504 plans? It never hurts to ask. Maybe you can even inspire the board to be more proactive if they aren’t already.

There is a lot you can do, and the best part is — if you want to help make communication disorders into a more approachable and known topic of conversation — you don’t have to spend too much time doing it.

Shopping with Hearing Loss

We all know that hearing loss — whether mild or severe — can affect everyday life in significant ways. Trying to hold a conversation, listen to a lecture, or spend time in public can seem daunting, especially if your hearing once functioned at an ideal level. That’s why shopping with hearing loss is a big issue for many, as well as one that a lot of people — and a few establishments — might not give a second thought.

What is easy and taken for granted by some, can be a challenge for others.

The best thing you can do is make sure you have a hearing aid with a good signal-to-noise ratio, a device designed to process speech and sound at an optimum level. Such aids will assist your awareness of speech in space and conversation around you. If you’re interested, ask your audiologist for more info. They might even be able to offer suggestions on how to better adjust or tweak the settings on your current pair.

Above and beyond that, it never hurts to call the store you plan on visiting, especially if you’re still concerned. Management or customer service will often be more than happy to give you a run down of their services, and maybe even a quick description of their layout. Knowing what to expect before you arrive is a big part of facing the challenge in front of you. Anxiety won’t affect your hearing, but it can severely limit your interactions.

Although there are no federal or local ADA requirements retail establishments must follow in regards to hearing issues, some shops will still offer hearing loss amenities. A telecoil (or T-loop), if available, can help in busier locations if you need to understand any announcements or information broadcast throughout the store, and if you’re looking for more personal service, some locations might devote time to one-on-one assistance.

The most important thing you want to ask yourself before shopping is, “what kind of store will I be visiting?” — a grocery store, for instance, is a mostly visual buying experience. A computer shop, on the other hand, or place where you have questions about replacement or repair, might require that personal assistance (maybe a fair bit more than others). But that’s ok! Don’t be embarrassed to broach your concerns when you arrive (or call). If you’re upfront about your hearing loss, most places will be more than happy to help you however they can with whatever you need.

New smart phone apps on the market can also help. Google Live Transcribe, for example, is a new feature you can access if you have an android. This app “automatically transcribes speech in near-real time”. If you have an iPhone and AirPods, you can also easily take advantage of their sound amplifier technology.

For more of REM’s practical hearing loss advice guides, be sure to check out our Seeing Movies with Hearing Loss and Summertime Hearing Tips blogs.

Better Hearing & Speech Month 2019

Better Hearing & Speech Month is an important yearly campaign designed to help raise awareness about communication disorders, and every year we at REM do our best to help spread its message. The more people know about their child’s and their own communication norms and deviations — the more information they have — the greater control they can have over their own future.

Communication Across the Lifespan” is this month’s theme, which ASHA breaks up by age. Week 1 (May 5 — 11), is all about communication disorders in infants, while week 2 (May 12 — 18) focuses on toddlers. Week 3 (May 19 – 25) highlights school-aged children, and week 4 (May 26 — 31) centers on adults.

Communication disorders are “wide ranging and can affect everything from comprehension to speech and language development,” we wrote in a previous blog. How well your child receives and processes information partly influences their education and mental progress. If something isn’t working properly, if the signals are getting mixed somewhere, help is needed as soon as possible.

This is why Better Hearing & Speech Month is important, especially when you consider that not only have “1 in 4 parents of U.S. children ages 0-8…had concerns about their child’s ability to communicate,” but that more than one quarter of these same parents — for a myriad of reasons — “have not sought treatment for their child.” This is something we want to fix. With early intervention and help by speech-language pathologists and audiologists, noticeable improvement over time is often more than possible.

Keep your eyes on our blog and webpage for more BHSM updates. We have a lot planned for this month.

Bananas and Hearing

Can bananas help your hearing? Maybe!

“In the same way that we are told to drink milk to keep our bones strong we are now being encouraged to eat bananas to protect our hearing.”

Why? It all has to do with potassium (and aldosterone).

Potassium is an important mineral for the “fluid in your inner ear”, where the noises you hear are translated into “electrical impulses the brain interprets as sound.” Aldosterone, on the other hand, is a steroid hormone “produced in the adrenal cortex”, which can drop and affect your sodium and potassium benchmarks.

Though eating foods rich in potassium will not affect your aldosterone levels, some say they can help your overall health, and possibly your hearing health as well. If your potassium levels are low — which can affect your hearing — it only makes sense to increase your potassium intake. It certainly won’t hurt (though we always recommend talking to a doctor before any major increase in mineral or supplement consumption).

So eat that banana. Eat a couple. And consider, maybe, keeping your ears open for future developments in aldosterone treatment, which have been shown by some to slow the “progression of age-related hearing loss.”

Custom Ear Plugs

The final blog in our earplug series is all about custom protection. These types of ear plugs are made with the help of an audiologist, and offer the most personalized sound attenuation and fit.

What Makes a Custom Earplug

Customs are created just for you. An audiologist will make an earmold to send to a manufacturer, where it will then be crafted to your specifications and needs. Though the specifics depend on the consumer, most earplugs are made from a silicon, semi-flexible material that fits perfectly into your ear. If you opt for musician’s plugs, each will contain a specialized filter, designed to block out a predetermined amount of noise.

Types

Like reusable plugs, customs come in a few different varieties:

1. Sleep earplugs. These are your everyday types, designed to attenuate a level of noise to help you sleep at night, or travel during the day.

2. Musician’s earplugs. The main difference between these and your baseline plugs are the attenuation levels. Musician’s earplugs tend to preserve the relationship between high and low frequencies, to help you distinguish between different tones.

3. Sport earplugs. Varieties include:

Price and Upkeep

Costs usually range from $100.00 – $200.00*, so a pair is a bit of an investment. Keep in mind, though, that a good pair of custom earplugs can last anywhere from 3 to 5 years, much longer than disposables (single use) and reusables (2-3 months).

To get the most out of your money, you want to be sure to clean your plugs as often as possible. Use a little bit of water and a microfiber cloth or a specialized wipe your audiologist can provide. It’s best not to use alcohol or alcohol swabs.

Process of Making Customs

As we stated above, an audiologist will make an earmold. They will first examine your canal for wax, which they will clear out if necessary. Then they will inject a soft putty into your ear, which will take the shape of your canal as it hardens. Once the putty is removed, a history is taken, questions about specifications are asked, and then everything is sent to the manufacturer who will make the plugs and mail them back to your audiologist, who will make sure the fit is perfect.

For specifics and questions, don’t hesitate to ask your audiologist. They will be more than happy to walk you through your choices.

*Plugs for hunters, due to the mix of amplification technology and noise protection, will run a lot more.

 

Over The Ear (OTE) Ear Plugs

This week we’re continuing our tech spotlight blog series by talking about something a little more niche: over-the-ear (OTE) protection. OTE protection, more commonly known as “ear muffs”, is not something everyone is going to use. They’re big, bulky, and not practical for a lot of daily or social actives. However, for those who work in particularly noisy or messy surroundings, or for those who need a level of professional customization, these are possibly some of the best the tools on the market to help protect your hearing.

OTE Protection

OTE hearing protection can be found online or at your local hardware store. They resemble earphones, and fit completely over your ear. No matter the brand, you can adjust the tightness to your level of comfort.

The rims are cushioned and comfortable, some are sweat resistant, and you can wear them for hours at a time. One popular type is even collapsable for easy storage.

Uses and Advantages

Ear muffs are commonly used by construction workers, hunters, and (with some upgrades) airline pilots. They are portable, require less maintenance than, and have similar NRR ratings to*, reusable in-the-ear plugs.

They are ideal for constant use, and can be easily removed, replaced, and stored. You don’t have to worry about irritation or introducing dirt or debris into your ear canal. Earmuffs are also one size fits all (though some brands offer a range of sizes).

Every now and then, it’s recommended you wipe down the inside with some water (though you won’t need to do this nearly as much as you would with reusable ear protection). Compressed air also helps to clear out any skin flakes that may have gotten trapped inside.

At $10.00 – $20.00 for a standard pair on Amazon, they are relatively inexpensive.

Using with Other Protection

Some people double up and wear ear muffs in addition to disposable or reusable plugs. This can help if you find yourself in an extremely noisy or harsh accoustic environment. Coopersafety.com breaks down how this works in regards to NRR ratings:

“When hearing protectors are worn in combination (i.e. earplugs AND earmuffs), rather than adding the two NRR numbers together, you simply add five more decibels of protection to the device with the higher NRR. For example, using 3M™ E-A-R™ Classic Earplugs (NRR 29) with 3M™ Peltor™ H7 Deluxe Earmuffs (NRR 27) would provide a Noise Reduction Rating of approximately 34 decibels.”

Most people opt for a single set of ear protection, however, whether that’s disposable, reusable, over-the-ear, or custom varieties. Each have their strengths.

Next up: custom ear plugs. (This is where your audiologist comes in to help.)

*Regarding NRR ratings: your base level ear muffs will typically have a lower score than your run of the mill disposable or reusable plug. You can purchase brands, however, with comparable noise valuations.

 

Reusable Ear Plugs

Last week — to coincide with our new technology spotlight — we wrote about the uses and benefits of disposable earplugs. This week we’re focusing on reusable protection, similar to the disposables, but different in some very key ways.

Similarities

Like disposable plugs, you can purchase reusables from your local pharmacy or online, for around the same price. They, too, are inserted into your ear canal, where they help attenuate the noise around you to a more comfortable level. With either product, it’s up to the consumer to decide on the best fit.

The noise reduction rating*, or NRR, are similarly scaled for each.

Differences and Non-Moldable vs. Moldable

The main difference is right there in the name. You can reuse multiple-use plugs without worry, though it’s recommended you wash them in non-chlorinated water after each use.

The material is also different. While disposable protection is often made of memory foam, most non-moldable reusable varieties are made from “pre-molded silicone rubber, vinyl, and other hypoallergenic synthetic rubbers.” Moldable plugs are often a softer silicone or plastic.

Moldable plugs resemble a putty, and are used similarly to single-use ear protection (pinch, roll, and insert). Non-moldable plugs, on the other hand, have a set shape, and are simply inserted into the ear canal.

Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Putty Ear Plugs is a good example of a reusable, moldable plug. For non-moldables, 3M offers several — some that even come with a cord — that are very popular.

Maintenance

Though these plugs can be used multiple times, they should be thrown away if you notice any visible wear and tear, including any small fissures or discoloration. As we mentioned above, a daily wash is recommended for non-moldable protection.

Moldables, generally, will not last as long non-moldables, and shouldn’t be washed (they will break apart in water). These you should treat carefully. Be sure to keep them clean and dry, and wash your hands before taking them in and out of their case.

Types and Their Uses

Reusable ear plugs are useful for those who know what they need protection for, and for those who need protection often. There are reusable plugs made for musicians, for the workplace, for outdoor activities (like hunting, skeet shooting, or swimming), and for casual use (such as sleeping or city living). Much like the single use foam plugs, its best to try out a few brands to see which best suits your lifestyle.

Some resources to help you decide:

1. Musicianonamission.com has a helpful list of their favorite earplugs from 2018 for the music lover.
2. Tuck’s “Best Earplugs for Sleeping”, a list for 2019 (9)
3. Everydayhearing.com has an impressive breakdown of all their favorite non-custom brands of earplugs, disposables included.

Reusable plugs can help protect your hearing and can help make the world a little more comfortable.

Next up: over-the-ear protection.

*The noise reduction rating is the “unit of measurement used to determine the effectiveness of hearing protection devices to decrease sound exposure within a given working environment”. Earplugs reach up to 33, while ear-muffs (or over-the-ear protection) reach up to 30 or 31. The NRR ratings help you determine how much noise is being reduced, and is a good thing to keep in mind when purchasing earplugs.

Disposable Ear Plugs

The most popular types of ear plugs, arguably, are the disposable varieties. These are the inexpensive plugs you can find in the drugstore or online, the kind of protection you can pinch, twist, and insert into your canal. Usually they expand completely to fill the space inside, and you’ll toss them after a single use. Most disposable plugs are made of memory foam to match the contours of your ear.

Disposable Plug Uses

Disposable ear protection is ideal for those trying out earplugs for the first time, as backups for more permanent plugs, or for those who are more comfortable sleeping and working with that memory foam-feeling.

Sleepers, especially, gravitate towards the disposables. They tend to block out loud neighbors or ambient noise just enough to allow for rest. While they’re also good for attenuating the noise levels around you, making sure your inner ear isn’t exposed to any loud or constant noise, they also bring down the overall volume of the world to more peaceful levels.

Loud work sites also tend to give out disposable ear plugs to their employees. OSHA outlines the circumstances when ear protection must be used (anything over 85 dBA), and how effective these types of earplugs can be in those situations.

Different Types

There are dozens of brands. Some have a more comfortable fit than others, but most will offer similar levels of protection.

For workplaces or industrial areas, the most popular plug might be the 3M classic pillow pack, which you can find online. These are effective, comfortable, and easy-to-use. Just be careful on insertion. There’s no lip for easy removal, so don’t place too far into your ear canal.

As we get into the other earplug categories in later blogs, we’ll have more specifics and recommendations. For disposables, it’s really up to you and whatever you find the most comfortable.

Earplug Tests

Because there are so many disposable varieties, you can often inadvertently purchase cheap knock-off or defective plugs. So before you settle on a type, buy a few small packs and give them each a test run. If they block out or attenuate to a perceived acceptable level of sound, and you find them comfortable and not painful, then you’re good to go.

If you’re using disposables primarily as protection, it’s also a good idea to get a decibel reader, which you can download for little or no cost to your smart phone. Remember what OSHA says — anything above 85 dB is a potential hazard.

Also be sure that after each use, you throw out your plugs; you don’t want to re-introduce dirt into your canal. Don’t wear them for too long, either. Moisture can easily get trapped in your ear, potentially leading to ear infections.

Disposable earplugs are just the tip of the ear protection iceberg, but they’re an incredibly useful day-to-day tool. Try out a few brands, see what suits your lifestyle, and later on, maybe consider some reusable or custom varieties.