Listening To Music With Hearing Loss

Can you enjoy music as much as you did before your hearing loss? That depends on your level of hearing loss. It also depends on how your aid processes music.

Healthy Hearing gets right to the heart of the issue: “The problem with hearing aids is that they were designed to amplify speech, not listen to music. They were not made to handle music’s diverse tonal quality and wide dynamic range.” Because of this, many hearing aid wearers often describe the process of listening to music as “unpleasant.”

While more and more aids are being shipped with premium connectivity features and complex “feedback reduction systems”, Healthy Hearing continues, the more complicated the compression system, the more processed the music will often sound. Thankfully, many aids can be configured with a music setting that temporarily disables the features that can inhibit how one can listen to and enjoy their favorite music.

But simpler might not always be better, and there is a lot of dedicated hearing technology on the market specifically designed to overcome this problem. Phonak devices such as the Phonak Sky V and Roger Pen, which can connect to your “music player, amp, or keyboard” and stream directly to your hearing aids, are popular and well regarded. Starkey’s Muse line of hearing aids, on the other hand, come built with a specific circuit designed for music receptiveness.

Outside of these options, many hearing aids also come with premium connectivity features. Oticon Opn technology, for instance, couples directly to your iPhone. Most other aids also have bluetooth streaming for a seamless music listening experience.

When considering buying an aid that’ll help you listen to music, there are many different aids and systems to consider. An audiologist can walk you through your options and offer demonstrations and trials. Most importantly – don’t get discouraged if you can’t find something right away that suits you. It may take some time to ultimately decide what sounds and works best for your needs.

Interview Tips For Those With Hearing Loss

So you finally landed that job interview you were hoping to get. It’s the night before and you prepared your notes, polished your resume, studied the history of the company. Only one problem – you have hearing loss, and you’re unsure how your potential employer will treat you. You’re unsure how to act.

What can you do?

Whether it’s a first job or you’re looking to change careers later in life, those hard of hearing often feel at a disadvantage when it comes to the employment field.

Job Hunt

Mark Bernard, in the Hearing Like Me blog, wrote about his struggle finding a job with hearing loss: “In order to make yourself marketable with your hearing loss, the question you have to ask yourself is this: ‘What would make me able to survive and be invaluable in a zombie apocalypse?’”

The very next sentence he confesses that this might be a strange conflation of circumstances, but he hits on an important point. “In society [there are certain things] that people will always need. And I think that makes a good starting point to look at your own skills and passions and see what needs you can cover for others.”

Bernard asks you to consider not only what benefits you can bring to a new job, but also what strengths your hearing loss has enabled. Turn what others might view as a disadvantage into an invaluable part of what you can bring to the table.

Interview Tips

Traditional interview advice certainly applies to all applicants — know the company you want to work for inside and out, practice answering questions in the mirror, prepare a good interview outfit, and take extra copies of your resume. For those with hearing problems though, Nail Bauman, Ph.D. – relaying advice – takes it one step further.

“You don’t want to approach your prospective employer with an attitude of ‘this is what I need because I have hearing loss… Rather approach your prospective employer from the opposite perspective.” This is in line with Bernard’s thinking. To repeat – what special skills and perspectives has your life afforded you? What, in turn, can you offer your employer?

Work Place Hearing Requirements

Though its true you want to focus on your own skills and what you can offer, not what you need, it’s also important to know your rights.

The ADA protects employees and potential employees from discrimination. This means an employer may “not take action against you (or refuse to hire you in the first place) because you have a disability, you have a history of a disability, or the employer perceives you — even incorrectly — as having a disability.” To be protected, “you must be qualified for the job and able to perform its essential functions.” The ADA also promises that the employer will provide reasonable accommodation.

The Hearing Loss Association of America lays out a few links and even an Employment Toolkit, to help those with hearing loss search for a job.

Holiday Hearing Loss

A few weeks ago we wrote about hearing issues during the winter months, and though we touched on it briefly, we wanted to devote a little more time to an issue that many will face over the next few weeks: hearing loss during the holidays.

Parties

The audiologists at REM have said this a lot: if you have a hearing impairment, it’s crucial to continue to socialize. This is true for those new to hearing aids, or for those who have been wearing hearing aids their entire lives.

Socializing = brain training. The more you practice hearing speech in noise, the better your comprehension will become over time.

AARP provides some good tips about how to best approach parties with a hearing impairment. These tips include focusing on one speaker at a time, strategic seating, and breaks.

“If you miss a word, or a sentence, or even the gist of a conversation, examine your reaction. Do you panic? Get depressed or angry? None of these reactions is going to improve things. Stay calm and focused, and move on.”

Travel

The holiday season also means a lot of travel. When traveling, it’s important to make sure your aids and devices are working properly and in good shape. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries, as well.

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, it’s also important to know your rights while traveling. The article has a lot of important info, but perhaps the most pressing concern is your right as a passenger. According to the HLAA, “the airline is responsible to provide information to individuals with hearing loss,” but only if the passenger has alerted them to their impairment.

Be sure to check out the entire piece for information about security and ADA requirements.

Stress

Most importantly – and this is something we’ve said a lot as well – be sure to enjoy the holiday season. The next month is stressful under the best of circumstances, and if you’re struggling with your hearing, that stress is likely to be compounded. Though it is important to socialize, take the advice from that AARP article. Don’t be ashamed to take a step back and simply enjoy the world around you.

So You Think You Have Hearing Loss

So you think you have hearing loss. What are the first steps you should take? What can you expect?

The first step is probably a visit to a clinic or your family physician’s office, where you’ll most likely receive a hearing screening. A hearing screening is the initial test for hearing loss, and it has simple pass / fail results. Once you’re tested, if further action is needed, you may be referred to an audiologist.

Once you’re at the audiologist’s office, you’ll go through another, more in depth test called a hearing evaluation. A hearing evaluation is a “complete hearing test” and will determine the type, severity, possible cause of, and treatment options for your hearing loss.

After the evaluation, your audiologist will discuss options. These options could include a referral back to your physician, the removal of wax, recommendations for assistive technology such as TV or telephone amplifiers, or hearing aids. If it turns out you do need hearing aids, don’t worry — the aids of today probably aren’t what you’re imagining. Hearing technology has evolved temendously over the past decade. Some of the options you’ll be offered will be as varied as invisible in-the-ear aids, rechargeable aids, as well as aids that can connect and stream via bluetooth to the everyday technologies around you.

If you decide to purchase a hearing device, you’ll be walked through cleaning and maintenance tips. If you’re hearing loss doesn’t necessitate an aid just yet, you will most likely be scheduled for a hearing evaluation yearly, so your audiologist can monitor your hearing.

If you believe you have a hearing loss, talk to your physician immediately. Early intervention and care are important.

Hear the Weather Changing

Summer is officially over. We’re smack in the middle of fall. Cold weather is right around the corner. For those with hearing loss, what does that mean?

Wintertime weather means bulky clothing like jackets, hats, and scarves. Protecting against the cold is important, but bundling up can also cause problems with speech and conversation. Hearing what your friend is saying can be difficult while walking side by side, both of you talking through your scarves.

For those escaping the cold by staying indoors, understanding speech in noise might not be any easier. The more crowded it is inside, the more ambient noise you have to compete with.

Cold weather can also cause physical problems. Because of the decreased blood flow and greater risk of “irritation, trapped moisture, or bacteria”, winter is the season most associated with ear infections. Middle ear inflammation is not uncommon in these months, and could result in an increase in hearing difficulty. For those with pre-existing hearing problems, this probably isn’t the most welcome news.

In cases of extreme cold, there is even a condition called exostosis. This is an abnormal grown of bone within the ear canal caused by “repeated exposure to cold wind and water.” Signs and symptoms include “temporary and ongoing hearing loss” and “increased prevalence of ear infections.”

So what can you do?

Be sure to still attend all those holiday parties! Though it may be harder to hear, don’t stay at home. Constant exposure to speech in noise is the best way to re-train / re-adapt your brain. Those with hearing loss know that conversation comprehension is not easy, but it can get easier.

Physically, wear ear muffs and scarves. Don’t let your ears get too cold or wet in the winter months. If you get an ear infection, see a physician or audiologist immediately. Cold weather hearing loss is often temporary, though it is definitely an unwanted nuisance.

The next few months are busy for everybody, but they’re also full of family, friends, and fun. Don’t worry about your hearing loss anymore than you need to.

4 Halloween Hearing Aid Safety Tips

It’s Halloween season, and with Halloween season comes candy, costumes, and – you guessed it – hearing aid safety. Every parent knows the basics of safe trick or treating (look both ways before crossing the street, travel in groups, wear bright and reflective clothing) but for parents with hard of hearing children, there’s more to consider.

These extra tips may come in handy.

1. According to Starkey: check hearing aids before leaving the house.

“If your child wears hearing aids, make sure the hearing aids are functioning properly before you leave the house. Confirm the volume level is comfortable for your child, and be sure to remove any debris from the ear mold, tubing and hearing aid casing.”

Since trick or treating is a long, outside event, parents should be sure hearing aids are working to their full potential. It’s also a good idea to check batteries before leaving and bring a few extra ones for the road.

2. Plan out costumes well in advance.

Costumes are often the best part of the season, but they can also cause difficulties with hearing devices. Masks and face coverings can cover or dislodge hearing aids. Facepaint may be a better option for unobstructed hearing.

3. Consider decorating your hearing aids.

Make them a part of your costume, or decorate just to show off! Just be sure to use easily removable material and keep the microphone ports clear.

Phonak’s Hearing Like Me blog has a tutorial video about how to safely decorate hearing aids.

4. Most importantly – have a good time!

If you have a child with hearing loss, make sure to let them know that while following a few simple Halloween safety tips, they can still participate in all the Halloween fun.

Surprising Levels of Everyday Sounds

So you don’t go to any loud concerts, you don’t work around heavy machinery without proper ear protection, and you always keep your tv and music at a reasonable volume — can you still lose your hearing from the everyday sounds around you?

Absolutely.

ASHA provides a breakdown of sound decibel levels. Though the effect of day to day noise on your hearing is dependent not only on sound level but also on the length of exposure to that sound, some items you might not think twice about can have a noticeable effect on your hearing. An average blow dryer, kitchen blender, or food processor can be measured between 80 – 90 dBA (decibels), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Healthy (NIOSH) recommends anyone exposed to noises “85 dBA or louder for more than 8 hours a day” should make efforts to limit their exposure at that level.

A blow-dryer, of course, is not a jet engine, but if you’re exposed to it’s noise level for a long enough time, the effects on your hearing can be comparable.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorder (NIDCD) rates anything above 85 dBA as the level – after 8 hours – at which hearing damage begins to occur. Anything below 85 dB (washing machines, city traffic, vacuum cleaner, normal conversation) is considered safe and exposure for up to 24 hours will not cause any hearing loss.

Pretty self explanatory, though there are still some sounds louder than you might realize.

1.) Driving in a convertible – 85 – 91 db at 55 mph or more.

2.) Electric drill / consumer power tools. Many tools won’t reach over 90 dBa, but some might sneak up to ~115, which means safe level of exposure is dropped from 2 hours to 15 minutes. When using tools, always play it safe and wear ear protection.

3.) Noisy restaurants. They’re not quite on the level of a club or concert, but restaurants can be unexpectedly noisy. According to Noisy Planet, restaurant “reviewers have noted noise level averages of 80 decibels or higher in restaurants around the country.”

For a safety regarding length of exposure, be sure to check out our past blog on sound and decibel levels.

Most sounds you hear day in and day out won’t harm your hearing, and you don’t have to go around carrying a decibel meter or anything (though there are handy measuring apps you can get on your phone). Just remember to wear ear protection while using tools, and avoid any prolonged sound that makes you uncomfortable.

Sign Language

Learning sign language can be as challenging as learning any language. But today, opportunities exist that make learning sign language seem less daunting. There are videos on youtube, apps that help you practice, and networks of people trying to learn the very same thing.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete, complex language” that is most often taught to kids with a heightened or complete hearing loss. “Parents should introduce a child who is deaf and hard of hearing to language as soon as possible. The earlier any child is exposed to and begins to acquire language, the better that child’s communication skills will become.” Depending on severity of hearing loss and the presence or not of a cochlear implant, parents can opt for sign language, verbal language, or a combination of verbal and sign language.

Why Should You Learn Sign Language

If you’re older, is there any reason for you to learn sign language? Of course. Especially if your child has a profound hearing loss. If you use ASL fluently around your child, he or she will pick up that language more naturally then if you’re both learning at the same time.

Sign language is also good to know if you’re a speech therapist or audiologist. Having an extra avenue of communication is always useful, and sign language is considered the “primary language of many North Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing.” Healthy Hearing estimates that 500,00 to 2 million people speak ASL.

Some researchers even say that learning sign language – indeed any second language – is good for your brain.

Learning ASL in Philadelphia

If you want to learn sign language, but are looking for something outside of online resources, where can you go? Colleges are often a good place to look. Many might offer continuing education classes where you can learn the basics and beyond.

Other options are just a google search away. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf offers classes, and will often set up “satellite sign language classes on site at local schools or businesses.” The Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre (DHCC) also lists info for community ASL classes, and you can sign up for their email list right on their website.

Hearing Aids and Cell Phones

Over the past decade, cell phones have quickly become indispensable parts of everyday life. From talking or texting to finding directions, your cell phone is always within reach. For those with hearing loss, this is no different. But for people with hearing difficulties or hearing aids, one’s choice in cell phone can be a more crucial decision than most.

For those with hearing aids, it is important to choose a cell phone with bluetooth capabilities. Hearing aids today are bluetooth compatible, and some brands offer hands free cell phone usage. In addition to hands free telephone communication, some devices – such as the Oticon Opn – also afford easy music streaming.

So what should you look out for in addition to bluetooth adaptability?

Even without bluetooth connectivity, thanks to new FCC rules, its now easier to find a phone that will work with your hearing aids (or cochlear implants) than ever before. These rules require phone manufacturers and service providers to provide “less static, less interference, and better telecoil connections.”

ASHA writes: “Cell phones that work well with hearing aids will have a microphone (M) rating of M3 or M4. This means the cell phone will work with the hearing aid in the microphone position. A higher M number means the phone will sound clearer.” Using your cell microphone with your hearing aid is known as acoustic coupling.

If the phone you’re looking at has a telecoil connection (small coil inside your aid that works as a receiver, bypassing the microphone), that’s even better. your phone – hearing aid connection will be even clearer. A T3 or T4 phone rating is ideal.

With bluetooth, however, both M and T ratings – having your hearing aid interact with your phone’s microphone or telecoil – may now apply more to landline phone systems.

What if you don’t have a hearing aid, but believe you have hearing loss?

First of all, if you believe you have hearing loss, you should get your hearing tested as soon as possible. The earlier you get a plan in place, the better.

If you’re using the phone without a hearing aid, or while you’re waiting to get one, check to see if the phone has any features for the hard of hearing, such as speech to text, easy volume controls, and easily manipulated displays.

Anyone with a documented hearing loss can also get a free CaptionCall phone with certification from an audiologist. CaptionCall provides amplification and superb sound quality while displaying smooth-scrolling captions on a large, easy-to-read screen. And using CaptionCall is easy – “you dial and answer calls just like you always have.”

As we said at the top, it’s never been a better time for phone – hearing aid interaction.

Tips for Going Back to School with Hearing Loss

Going back to school with hearing loss can be daunting. There is a lot to consider, especially in regards to responsibility. What should the school do? What should the state do? What should parents and children do?

Parents should not be afraid to ask their school questions. The Individuals with Disability Act (IDEA) “insures that all children with disabilities have a free and appropriate education.” The rights of an education – regardless of ability or disability – are protected, as are the rights of the children and their parents in seeing that education enacted.

Different schools have different equipment, and students with different levels of hearing loss are often assigned to different levels of support based on their needs. FM systems are a popular method that allow the student to hear and participate in class. Schools might also offer interpreters or classroom assistance based upon the child’s hearing loss, mode of communication and academic level. The education department websites for New Jersey and Pennsylvania have more info.

What is important to remember is that every child is unique and what they need may be very different from what their peers with hearing loss need. The family should sit down with their school professional and come up with a plan that tailors to their child’s specific needs at that time. As the child gets older, this approach may need to be updated.

Specifically, there are some helpful devices parents may want to look into. The Phonak Roger Products, for instance. The Roger products include wireless microphones that connect to the student’s hearing aid. Some may also have a sensor that allows them to lay on the student’s desk, enabling the child to participate in group learning.

Outside of devices, many audiologists recommend a school walk through at the beginning of the year to in-service the teachers and staff about a child’s hearing loss and academic needs. During the school year itself, they recommend encouraging students with hearing loss to join extracurricular activities and participate in as many day to day activities as possible. Socialization is important to allow them to feel and be part of a group.