Winter Exercising With Hearing Aids

When exercising, how can you best keep your hearing aid dry? Should you even wear them in the first place? Is there gear that offers protection? Exercising with hearing aids can be tricky. Exercising with hearing aids in the winter can be even trickier.

Should I Wear Hearing Aids?

Yes, despite the temperature and season, your hearing aids are crucial for outdoor activities. You want to be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you’re with a group, you want to be able to hear them. If alone, it’s important to be able to place yourself in space, to hear what’s around you.

You do want to make sure your aids don’t get wet, though. Moisture is your aid’s number one enemy.

What Gear Should I Get?

Sweatbands can help prevent water from dripping down and pooling into your ears. Used on your wrist or forehead, these easily allow you to wipe away or help stop any perspiration that could potentially damage your device.

Ear Gear products — spandex sleeves that fit over whatever hearing device you have — also offer a convenient solution. According to their website: “Ear Gear has a unique double wall of spandex that provides protection against sweat, rain, and moisture of all kinds….preventing it from reaching the hearing instrument’s microphone port, battery door, and sensitive interior circuitry.” They even have customizable products and sleeves for cochlear devices.

It’s not a bad idea to look into a hearing aid dehumidifier, either. A nightly drying in one of these portable containers can help keep your aid looking and working as good as new.

What Should I Do If My Aid Gets Wet?

Don’t panic! Take out the batteries and wipe down everything with a clean cloth. Use a Q-tip® to clean out the battery compartment. If you have a dehumidifier, place your aid in overnight, and if you don’t, try a ziplock bag with a silica gel packet. If after all these steps you feel your aid’s functionality has decreased, call your audiologist whenever you’re able.

What Exercise Is Best?

Any exercise is good, and frankly, we believe that with the right precautions, those with hearing loss can participate in any activity or sport. When it’s cold, running, jogging or walking are probably the most manageable. But even if you’re skiing or snowboarding, just keep your aids dry (or covered with Ear Gear or similar protections), use your dehumidifiers, and make sure you don’t lose them on the slopes (and always check any warranty information beforehand, just in case).

Happy Trails!

Holiday Hearing Around the Table

Whatever your December may involve, we can all agree that it probably includes a lot of sitting around the table and talking to your friends and family. If you have problems hearing, this can often be frustrating.

Though it may be difficult, we recommend telling anyone who might not be familiar with your hearing loss about your needs up front. It will be a lot easier for you and them in the long run. But we also understand that this may be difficult, especially if you find yourself in a bigger group than usual, or if you’re around people you don’t know. In these situations, don’t get frustrated. Pick up what you can, and respond when you’re able. A couple “pardon me”s and your companions might get the idea without your ever having to tell them.

For smaller gatherings, try to place yourself at the center (location-wise) of any conversation you want to hear. Too far at one end of the table or room, and you may run into difficulty. Quiet backgrounds are always best, though even in the most muted surroundings, there’s always the risk of too much ambient noise. The hardest part about social gatherings are the unknowns.

The Better Hearing Institute has a good, practical list for those persons without hearing loss, and it’s all about accommodation. If you know a guest has a hearing issue, be attentive, speak clearly, and face the person when talking or addressing him or her. If the event is at your house, “keep the room well lit. Providing good lighting will make it easier for those with hearing loss to see facial expressions and the mouths of those speaking.”

Like we said up top, there’s no shame in telling everyone that you need to hear clearly and comfortably. If people know, they’ll often be more than happy to create an accessible atmosphere for both you and your family. And remember, if you have them, always wear your hearing aids. Be sure they’re working and clean before any holiday party, and bring extra batteries just in case.

REM’s Holiday Season

The holiday season is all about family, fun, and cold weather get-togethers. For us at REM, the next few months are also about seasonal hearing health tips.

Coming up in December and January, we’re getting the word out with our holiday-themed Tips and Sips events and new open houses, free to anyone who wants to attend. And for those who stop by our offices, we’ll have seasonal sweet treats available in all our waiting rooms. Come on by, grab a snack, and ask some questions!

On the healthcare side of things, keep your eyes open for our winter newsletter, which will address in greater detail what you can do to keep your hearing in top shape during the winter months, and check out our past blogs on holiday hearing loss and cold weather ear protection. Outside of our website, we also have a patient handout in the upcoming January issue of the Hearing Journal titled, “Tips for Managing Hearing Health During the Season.” We’ll let you know when that’s available.

Finally, and we’ve been beating this drum for a while now, we want to let you know the importance of socializing, of getting outside the house, going to different places and talking to different people. Socialization, as always, equals brain training, and the more you practice hearing speech amid noise, the more your comprehension will benefit.

The holiday season is the perfect time to strengthen your hearing.

The Problem with Earwax

Did you know that earwax increases — and thickens — with age? That as you get older, it can accumulate, get impacted, and cause problems with everything from hearing to balance?

First things first

What is it?

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, earwax (also known as cerumen), is a “mixture of…fatty acids, alcohols, cholesterol, and…squalene…secreted by glands in the outer ear” to keep out dust, bacteria, and other foreign particles. It is your ear’s gatekeeper and natural cleanser.

Think of it like a secure door, one that’s almost always half-shut, that just happens to increase in size over time. Earwax moves from the rear part of your ear canal (near the eardrum), outwards (to the outer portion, the part you can see).

Problems

Without earwax, your ears wouldn’t be nearly as effective as they are. Problems only arise when you have too much. Give it enough time and your earwax doesn’t just “grow,” but it also bonds with the debris it’s there to block. Your wax grows stronger, more compact. It becomes, as Harvard Health writes, “hard and dry.”

Hard and dry earwax can be tough and difficult to manage. Sometimes, it can lead to blockages in the ear canal. Common cerumen blockage symptoms include earaches, feelings of fullness, sudden dizziness, and hearing difficulties / tinnitus.

Treatment

It’s always a good idea to keep your ears clean, but you never want to stick anything inside your ear canal to do so. Q-tips™ are not safe (nothing that small around your eardrum is), and you don’t want to keep removing earwax until there’s not enough there to do its job.

Oftentimes, you don’t have to get it cleared until absolutely necessary. If you’re experiencing any problems, or notice any symptoms a blockage might cause, your primary care physician or audiologist will be able to clean out your ears quickly and safely.

Attention and Hearing

Why isn’t my child paying attention? Why is she getting frustrated listening in class? How come he isn’t following directions?

As any parent will tell you, these are questions with no easy answers. For some children, however, attention issues may be the direct result of hearing difficulty.

On the most basic level, it’s easy to see how hearing difficulties can affect concentration and performance. If you can’t hear, you can’t learn. ASHA writes: “Hearing sounds and words helps children learn to talk and understand. A child with hearing loss misses out on these sounds. This can cause problems with speaking, reading, school success, and social skills.” The ability to hear is tied directly to a child’s development. There are even links between hearing problems and ADHD.

If you notice your child struggling to hear, it’s important to get tested. But don’t jump to conclusions. Even if they’re displaying difficulty comprehending speech in noise, their hearing may be fine; they might have something called an Auditory Processing Disorder (APD or CAPD), which can affect up to 5% of school-aged children. APD is sometimes mistaken for ADHD and can be understood as a “glitch in the brain’s ability to filter and process sounds and words.”

What can you do?

Early intervention is crucial. Visit your PCP or audiologist if you notice prolonged attention problems or any warning signs of hearing loss. Depending on the reason behind and the severity of a child’s hearing difficulty, treatment and management can help him or her stay on course with their peers.

Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease

Hearing loss doesn’t always have to be from noise. Exposure to high levels of sound over an extended period of time may be a leading cause, but there are many others. Aging, genetics, and head injury can all lead to hearing difficulty, as can autoimmune inner ear disease.

Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED) “occurs when the body’s immune system attacks cells in the inner ear.” These cells are often mistaken for a virus, bacteria, or foreign object. AIED is rare, but not unheard of.

Symptoms include progressive, sudden hearing loss over a period of a couple months. Hearing is often replaced by tinnitus, and dizziness and balance issues are not uncommon. Loss can start in one ear, then move to both. Although AIED can happen to anyone, a high incidence of cases are seen in people with Meniere’s disease, which is an inner ear disorder marked by “recurring episodes of vertigo.”

Diagnosis is often a challenge, as there are no specific tests. Underlying causes can include lupus, multiple sclerosis, and even gout, all autoimmune diseases that can relate to AIED. Treatment sometimes includes steroids and the use of hearing aids.

Always talk to your doctor and audiologist if you notice any increase in hearing difficulty.

The Dog Who Helped Her Hear

Whenever the doorbell rang, Spike would run up to Beverly, barking, bothering her, until she answered the door. Every morning, after hearing the alarm, Spike would put his paw on his owner, waking her up. At restaurants, he would sit under the table, quiet and polite, never begging for food.

Spike was a good dog, a black lab, friendly and loyal. He was also a service animal trained to help the hard of hearing.

* * *

According to Assistance Dogs International, Hearing Dogs are service animals trained to “make physical contact” and lead or alert their owners to a sound or event. Often they’re mixed breeds, acquired at shelters and then trained with the help of specialized handlers.

Hearing-ear dogs have been around for a while. A New York Times article from 1982 wrote about ~2,000 dogs who were trained to assist the hard of hearing: “The animals communicate through eye contact, body language, and touch. Or they simply run between a person and the source of the sound. Tales of canine heroism abound, but the animals help most simply by enabling their guardians to overcome every day problems.”

Meeting Spike

Beverly Medenbach first started looking for a hearing-ear dog years ago. At first, she was hesitant, realizing the process included a 6-month-long bonding process with no guarantee of success. But after some searching, she ended up at a local certified dog trainer, a friend of her mother’s. She recommended Beverly see a colleague of hers, a Westminster Dog Show judge, who bred Labrador retrievers.

The breeder had a 6-month-old black Lab she could not breed because of elbow dysplasia, and she asked Beverly if she wanted him. Approaching the enclosure where Jolly Muff Spiker Driver Blue (AKA Spike) rested, Bev immediately felt a connection.

He went home with her soon after.

Training Spike

Beverly brought Spike back to the trainer and signed him up for obedience school, where he progressed through kindergarten, pre-novice, and novice levels. After “graduation,” they enlisted the help of an acquaintance, a certified trainer of service dogs.

The trainer taught Spike specific behaviors, such as notifying Beverley of several sound-specific events, like a doorbell ring, a teapot whistle, the sound of someone coming down the driveway, or the cry of a newborn child. They also trained Spike to get Bev’s attention if she dropped something, or left anything behind.

After his service training, Spike even learned to recognize some sign language. He understood “going to the store,” “play with the kids,” “come,” and “sit.”

* * *

Training a hearing dog is about finding the right fit. “A hearing ear dog and their deaf recipient need to be carefully matched to ensure the partnership will work well,” says Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, a UK-based service.

There is no one way to get a hearing service dog. Some companies and charities offer to do the legwork, or you can go the route Beverly took, who found the dog on her own and hired a certified service animal trainer afterwards.

Life with Spike

Spike was a dominant, but not aggressive, dog. Kids loved him. Everyone he met was excited to get to know him a little bit better.

As a service animal, he had special permissions, and would go everywhere with Bev. He kept her company in restaurants, he visited her in the hospital after the birth of her child, and he hiked along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive — where he would woo the park rangers — with Beverley and her husband.

One time, well into his service years, the Self Help for Hard of Hearing People convention in Arkansas invited Spike to their conference, where he immediately became their unofficial mascot.

Beverly had Spike for 14 years. They shared a life together. His family loved him, and he loved them back. He was good at his job.

 

TBI and Hearing Loss

Brain Injury Symptoms

The past couple of years have seen a rise in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) awareness, perhaps due to their prevalence in both professional and junior-league sports. But did you know, brain injuries can also affect hearing?

Though hearing difficulties after a head injury are not a given (and can’t be relied on to definitively diagnose TBI), any occurrence or increase in hearing loss should be noted and treated. TBI hearing loss can affect the outer, middle, or inner ears, and range in length (short vs. long term) and severity. Tinnitus sometimes results, as does hyperacusis (sensitivity to sound), or Meniere’s syndrome (an incurable and “excessive pressure in the chambers of the inner ear”).

Other TBI symptoms can be moderate or severe, and can include everything from problems with attention, concentration, and vision to “difficulties with interpretation of touch, temperature, [and] movement.” Recognizing warning signs of head injuries is something every parent or teacher should be able to do

Hearing Loss Treatment

Treatment of hearing loss concurrent with that of brain injuries can be tough, as symptoms can overlap. According to the Hearing Review, these symptoms can be “mistaken for PTSD, mental health issues, and cognitive deficits.” If serious enough, long-term management may include hearing aids or auditory processing therapy.

If you notice any instance of hearing loss, you should always check with your primary care physician, who will refer you to an audiologist. With their help, you can come up with a plan to help manage your loss.

If you suffer any blow to the head, or play regular contact sports, its always a good idea to talk with your doctor, as well — even if you don’t have any symptoms. The long-term effects from both TBI and CTE (a degenerative brain disease seen in those with a history of repetitive brain trauma) can be debilitating.

REM has written about TBI before. Don’t hesitate to check out our past blogs, such as TBI and tinnitus and Going Back to School with TBI.

Seeing Movies with Hearing Loss

It’s movie time, with or without hearing loss. With October’s scary flicks and winter’s Oscar® contenders on the horizon, fall is the perfect time to find yourself at the theater.

For those worried about their hearing difficulty, here are some REM-approved tips that may help you maximize your moviegoing experience.

Tips For You

1. Movie theaters are pretty loud to begin with.

Being able to hear the movie will be a lot easier than trying to understand a conversation with a friend out in the lobby.

2. Pick your seat wisely!

The best seat, according to some experts, is in the center of the row, about 2/3 of the way back from the screen. You’re farther away from the speakers, but you’re also where the sound mix is the clearest.

3. Assistive listening devices can be very useful.

Not only that, but as of this year, theaters must offer them to anyone who needs them: “Under new rules that took effect in the summer, movie theaters must now provide closed captioning and audio description for any digital movie that includes such accessibility features. The services must be provided upon request at a person’s seat.”

If you’re curious about specifics, theater websites often have more information. AMC, for example, has everything from devices to amplify sound to caption readers to audio description/assistive listening technology. Some theaters may even have T-coil connections, allowing your hearing aid to pick up your theater’s audio stream.

Whatever the theater offers, it’s always a good idea to call before you leave to verify availability. Specific devices may differ per location and chain.

4. Watch movies at home!

Some new releases are released on-demand simultaneously to their theatrical window. Most are released shortly thereafter. Gone are the days when you had to wait 8 months to watch a new movie at home.

Home theaters are also getting better and better. There are devices available you may already have that help transmit sound from your system to your aids.

5. Plan your trip for off hours!

Movie theater audiences can be noisy, their sound cutting into the sounds you want to hear. Simply put, fewer people = less distraction.

6. Try not to worry!

Test out different theaters and different times of day, and before you know it, you’ll find your ideal combination.

If you want to make day of it, be sure to check out our blog about hearing in noisy restaurants. Enjoy the movies!

National Audiology Awareness Month

October is National Audiology Awareness Month. What does that mean? What can you do? How can you help spread awareness?

Do a Google search, and you’ll find half a dozen calls to action from a variety of different hearing education resources. The American Academy of Audiology, for example, asks hearing professionals to take charge locally and dedicate time during October 1-5 (“Public Awareness Week”) to “rally with your colleagues,” while Cochlear Americas seeks stories from the experts, hoping to inspire and teach.

Healthy Hearing, on the other hand, lays out the facts for the non-professional. They highlight the importance of not only hearing tests, but the importance of audiology assessments:

“Audiologists have a valuable and varied role in treating the hearing health of people of all ages, from the very young to the very old. They not only perform hearing evaluations and fit hearing aids, but also treat noise induced hearing loss, ear infections, trauma and damage to inner ear and eardrum due to illness or ototoxic medications.”

In line with Healthy Hearing, the NIDCD has a dedicated website to help inform the consumer, especially concerning adolescent hearing loss. This is a great resource for parents and teachers.

Finally, REM has some tips for how you can help with National Audiology Awareness Month:

  1. Spread the news about hearing loss prevention, which is a big part of any audiologist’s job.
  2. Find your favorite resources. In addition to the websites listed above, REM’s own blog — covering a variety of topics over the course of several years — might prove helpful.
  3. Encourage ear protection when exposed to loud noises.
  4. Get an app that monitors noise levels in the world around you.
  5. Realize that everyone over 55 deserves a hearing assessment*.

There’s lots you can do to help this coming October!

*The purpose of this hearing assessment and/or demonstration is for hearing wellness to determine if the patient(s) may benefit from using hearing aids. Products demonstrated may differ from products sold. Test conclusion may not be a medical diagnosis. The use of any hearing aid may not fully restore normal hearing and does not prevent future hearing loss. Testing is to evaluate your hearing wellness, which may include selling and fitting hearing aids. Hearing instruments may not meet the needs of all hearing-impaired individuals.