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.

Testing Your Infant’s Hearing

We at REM stress the importance of early intervention quite a bit. That’s because the earlier a hearing problem is addressed, the greater the chance a child’s hearing and comprehension will develop naturally.

Put another way: “Your baby’s ability to hear is in large part the foundation of his ability to learn.”

The good news is that nowadays, many newborns will have their hearing tested before leaving the hospital. Hearing screenings shortly after birth are the standard of care in hospitals nationwide. These initial screenings will catch any major problems and provide a good baseline for future tests. The bad news is, they might not catch everything.

According to ASHA:

“Passing a screening does not mean that a child has normal hearing across the frequency range. Because minimal and frequency-specific hearing losses are not targeted by newborn hearing screening programs, newborns with these losses may pass a hearing screen. Because these losses have the potential to interfere with the speech and psychoeducational development of children…hearing, speech, and language milestones should receive ongoing surveillance and monitoring throughout childhood.”

It is then up to the parent to monitor their child’s hearing development, especially during the first three years of life. This is an important safeguard against late onset hearing loss. Not only might the initial tests fail to catch everything, but an infant with normal hearing at birth can lose hearing as they grow older.

Signs to look out for:

If your newborn to 3 month old is struggling with hearing loss, he or she might not respond or startle to sudden, loud sounds, be soothed by soft sounds, or become quiet (starting around the age of 2 months) among familiar voices.

4 to 8 months: seems to hear some sounds but not others, pays more attention to vibrating noises than spoken ones, and doesn’t try to imitate sounds.

9 to 12 months: doesn’t respond to name, doesn’t seem to understand or respond to single, commonly used household words.

Babycenter.com has a more complete list.

If you suspect your child has a hearing loss, schedule an appointment with your physician or an audiologist immediately.

MUSICIANS EARPLUGS

What are the benefits of musicians earplugs?

Musician’s earplugs are custom made. They fit better than conventional, over the counter earplugs, and they are easy to take in and out.

Also – and perhaps most noticeably important to the wearer – musicians earplugs help protect hearing without compromising music or sound. Flat attenuation preserves the fidelity of music — the relationship between the bass and high frequencies are not altered.

Can people who aren’t musicians benefit from musician’s earplugs?

Yes! Though specifically made for musicians and industry professionals, their custom design allows for wide use across many different fields. Keep in mind, though, that these earplugs are intended to keep sound at safe levels as well as preserve the sound’s quality. For earplugs that block out the most sound and frequencies, we recommend looking into other options.

Custom musician earplugs, however, are often safer than foam, disposable earplugs.

What type of musician’s earplugs are there?

There are many different types of musicians earplugs. Which version you opt for depends on your needs. Drummers, for instance, will opt for an earplug that has a higher rating of intensity reduction.

Ear monitors – while not quite earplugs – are also popular with musicians. Ear monitors block out the harmful levels of sound around you while also transmitting a softer, attenuated sound into your ears.

At REM Audiology we offer and fit for Etyomatic earplugs, and several brands of Ear monitors.

Our website has more info about both.

CHILDREN, MUSIC THROUGH HEADPHONES, AND HEARING LOSS

Many headphones marketed towards children highlight their safe hearing levels. Volume controls limiting audio intensity – anything above 85 dB is “blocked off” – are built in to avoid prolonged exposure to dangerous levels of sound. But Noisyplanet.gov asks, “Do their safety claims hold up?”

In a lot of cases, the sound emitted from earphones are dependent on not only the earphones themselves, but the device they’re being used with and the music they’re being asked to play. Unfortunately, many consumer devices were found to “bypass” the headphones’s restrictions. “Up to one-third of the headphones tested allowed volumes that exceeded 85 decibels,” concluded Noisy Planet.

That’s not to say these headphones shouldn’t be used. Some restrictions are better than none. But one should always research the product they’re planning to buy. More importantly, parents should also be prepared to monitor their children’s listening habits. It’s never too early to teach good hearing.

The louder something is, the greater the chance it can cause hearing loss. You add length of time into the equation, and you could have a potentially dangerous issue on your hands. Noise induced hearing loss can happen to anyone, and it happens in children and young adults frequently because of exposure to harmful levels of music.

A few tips to help prevent hearing loss in children via headphones include:

1. Don’t listen above 80 percent of the maximum volume, despite whatever claims your headphones makes. Some say 60 percent max is even better.
2. While listening to music, you should still be able to hear someone about an arm’s length away ask a question.
3. Limit your time. Or take a break at least every hour.

Widex also has a helpful blog on what type of headphones are the best: open, closed, or in ear.

Headphones are great. We all love them. Just be sure to talk to your kids about using them responsibly.