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Summertime Hearing Tips

Every summer, we write about how to protect your hearing and your hearing aids while outdoors, in the heat, or on vacation. This year we decided to do something a little different. After a couple protection tips, we get into the benefits of summer, and how the season can help improve your hearing health.

How to Protect Your Hearing

1. Swimmer’s ear can often lead to ear infections, caused by trapped water in the ear canal. If you notice water in your ear that’s not going away on its own, use over-the-counter ear drops to reduce moisture. If you’re already experiencing pain or discharge, a visit to the doctor is recommended.

2. Summer months often mean vacation, air travel, and unfortunately, airplane ear. Also called barotitis media, airplane ear is ear pain and a stuffed-up feeling due to the change in air pressure during the plane’s ascent and descent. Yawning, blowing your nose, swallowing, or chewing gum can help.

3. Be aware of how loud summer activities are, and how little it can take to damage your hearing. Do yourself a favor and get a phone app that monitors the sound levels around you. Many are free. You can find more info on our previous blog, Surprising Levels of Everyday Sounds.

How to Protect Your Hearing Aids

1. Do not keep your hearing aids in direct heat or sunlight (e.g., dashboard in your car).

2. Use hearing aid dehumidifiers to reduce moisture damage.

3. If going to the beach, protect your aid by putting it in a ziplock bag with a desiccant. If applying suntan lotion, be sure any doesn’t get on your device.

4. Always open the battery door at night, especially when it’s hot and humid. Humidity can have a devastating effect on your hearing device.

How the Summer Can Help You Hear

Summer is a great time to socialize with others, and if you’re a regular reader of these blogs, you know what we’re about to say — socialization is brain training and a crucial part of maintaining hearing health and wellness.

Check out some hard of hearing community events. The Hearing Loss Association of America, for example, promotes accessible theater groups that use assistive listening devices — such as captioned performances — for the hard of hearing.

Most importantly, have fun! Use the time to learn about all the hearing aids and technology you might not know about. Take advantage of the nice weather to experiment with ideal sound environments. Enjoy the improved communication skills offered by today’s devices. All of this is in the best interest of your cognitive and emotional well-being.

What Services Do Audiologists Offer?

Deciding to get your hearing tested is a big move for a lot of people. Whether it’s at the urging of a primary care physician or something you decide to pursue yourself, choosing an audiologist often comes with a whole list of unknowns. You may find yourself asking what an audiologist does and what services they’ll provide during the course of your visits. Maybe you’re wondering if you even need to see one in the first place (if you’re having difficulty hearing then probably, yes).

After the decision to meet, you’ll first be given a medical history form. You may also be asked to fill out questionnaires regarding balance and tinnitus. Medication and its potential implications on balance and hearing problems will also be discussed.

After the history? The hearing test. For more information about what to expect from a hearing evaluation, please check out our recent blog.

Once the test is complete, you’ll sit down with the audiologist for the consultation, often based on your COSI (client oriented scale of improvement) — your personal improvement benchmarks. Discussing your results, you and your audiologist will go over personalized communication problems, word recognition tests (comparing hearing speech in noise with hearing aids vs. no aids), and customized treatment recommendations.

If the audiologist decides you’ll need a hearing aid, this is when you’ll begin to talk about specific models. You’ll discuss what you want out of your hearing aid experience, whether you’d like to interface with Bluetooth® technology, and how often you plan to use your aids out in social settings.

After you choose your aid, the audiologist will then monitor the device’s results using real ear measurements. He or she will want to be sure the aid is working to its specifications and your needs. You’ll often meet for follow-up appointments at regular intervals, usually every 6 to 12 months, for maintenance and cleanings.

Other services audiologists often provide are:

  1. Earwax removal
  2. Auditory processing testing (if you have problems comprehending speech even though there is no indication of peripheral hearing loss)
  3. Balance testing or referral for balance consultation

Audiologists are also there to help with your tinnitus needs and can offer advice for any hearing-related questions you may have.

Noisy Restaurants and Hearing Loss

If you have hearing loss, you know how difficult noisy restaurants can be. Conversations you might have no problem comprehending one-on-one suddenly become a huge challenge. Maybe you find yourself nodding along, hoping to grab a few words here and there.

Online, there is no shortage of advice on how to deal with hearing difficulties in restaurants. An article on Starkey’s website has tips ranging from seat position (if possible, sit with your back to the noise) to seat selection (if possible, choose a booth). Oticon.com, on the other hand, stresses that the atmosphere of the restaurant matters just as much as where you choose to sit: “In trendy ‘industrial chic’ restaurants, the steel, granite, tile and other hard surfaces amplified sound, raising readings to nearly 85 decibels and creating uncomfortably high sound reverberation.”

The American Academy of Audiology takes a different approach and recommends anyone concerned about restaurant noise install a noise meter on their phone. “These are sound level meters that run on your phone and in one case incorporates a reporting function so you can inform the world about the acoustics of a restaurant.”

Perhaps most important in the hearing loss/restaurant issue is the stigma you may feel comes attached to your hearing difficulty. This should not be the case. There is nothing wrong with suggesting a different restaurant or — if you’re already there — asking if they wouldn’t mind moving to a less noisy area. Simply letting people know up front about your concerns is rarely a bad idea.

For more tips or ideas, or if you want to know which hearing devices best work to help you comprehend speech in noise (such as the the Oticon Opn™ hearing aid), reach on out! We’ll be happy to tell you all we know.

What Is It Like To Experience Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss has a sound.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have hearing loss, you’re not alone. You might even be interested to know about the many hearing loss simulators that can be found online. Experiencing what its like to struggle with speech in noise can be a powerful tool, and these simulators offer some first hand experience.

The Starkey simulator, in particular, is an eye opener. If you have headphones handy, plug them in and select what degree of loss you want to hear in which sound environment.

You can find other audible examples at the NDCS and Hear-the-world.com.

What It’s Like to Hear With Hearing Loss

Mild hearing loss might be one of the most underreported medical issues today. It can be easy to ignore. Many convince themselves that a slight hearing struggle is not worth going in for a checkup, or that it couldn’t possibly get worse.

So what does mild hearing loss sound like?

Though no two instances of hearing loss are the same, if you have mild hearing loss, “the most difficult sounds of speech – consonant sounds like ‘f’ and ‘th’ or ‘k’ and ‘p’ – can be lost during a conversation.” One on one, mild hearing loss might not pose any major difficulties, but in a noisy area or crowded room, even a small hearing deficit can prove challenging. Those with mild to moderate hearing loss also have more trouble understanding softer or higher pitched speech.

Severe hearing loss, on the other hand, is a problem no matter what environment you find yourself in. A severe hearing loss prevents the individual from hearing conversational speech. Audibility is negatively impacted and without audibility there is not comprehension.

Mild hearing loss impacts understanding, severe or profound hearing loss (without the use of hearing devices) limits it completely.

What It’s like to Live With Hearing Loss

Experiencing the sounds of hearing loss is one thing. Living with it is another. People with normal hearing or even mild difficulty can approximate what it’s like to hear with major hearing loss, but as Shari Eberts writes for the Living with Hearing Loss Blog, it’s “hard to explain to others what it is like…

It’s hard because of the “the lack of clarity in speech, the sensitivity to loud noise, and the exhaustion that comes with heavy bursts of communication. It is an invisible disability, so it is often misunderstood, downplayed or even ignored – sometimes even by those closest to you.”

All Hearing Loss is not Equal

As we wrote before, hearing loss does not manifest in identical ways. Depending on the person, severity, type and cause, a hearing difficulty will never be the same in any 2 people.

For more descriptive examples of types of hearing loss sound, please check out the Hearing Link website or Hear-it.org.

Mild Hearing Loss in Children

Mild hearing loss is often ignored and – especially in children – easily dismissed. Outside of health circles it is rarely talked about or considered a problem, but mild to moderate hearing loss can very easily lead to developmental or learning problems down the road.

“Mild and moderate hearing loss can often be overlooked because of a perception that it is not a serious condition or that children are ‘coping’ at home and at school. No child should have to struggle because of these misconceptions,” the National Deaf Children’s Society (a UK organization) says.

Putting aside for a second the issue that hearing loss can always get worse, it’s important to also remember that any hearing trouble can have serious consequences on a child’s development. With even a slight hearing difficulty, the extra struggle it takes to comprehend speech or listen in the classroom could alter the entire learning process.

“Children with mild hearing loss are at risk for academic, speech-language, and social-emotional difficulties,” writes Jane Madell of Hearing Health & Technology Matters. This makes early diagnosis and treatment – before children start demonstrating delays – very important. Parents and physicians need to be extra careful at this point, too, because low end hearing loss is sometimes not picked up during the newborn hearing screening.

Slight hearing loss is classified as falling between 16 to 25 on the dB HL scale, while mild loss finds itself in the 26 to 40 range. This scale determines your level of hearing loss by identifying the point at which you begin to hear sound. If you only pick up on sounds starting in the 26 to 40 territory, you may have mild rated hearing loss. This means you might not be able to hear sounds like a whisper or rustling leaves.

There are ways to treat and manage slight hearing loss, and the approach is often determined on a case by case basis. Common solutions are hearing aids and classroom speech delivery systems such as the Phoank Roger Pen or the Oticon Connect Clip. For other options, it’s important to talk to both your pediatrician and your audiologist.

Remember, always raise any concern you have to your family physician about your child’s hearing loss. Treat it early, manage it well.

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.

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.

APHASIA AND HEARING LOSS

June is Aphasia Awareness month, and we at REM want to do our part to help spread awareness.

Aphasia is a communication disorder stemming from damage to the part of the brain containing language. Those afflicted usually have difficulty with speech. Though aphasia does not directly affect one’s hearing, hearing loss in combination with aphasia can add to the “language deficits” that make comprehending speech in noise difficult.

How should I approach those with Aphasia and Hearing Loss?

It may not be a wide ranging issue, but for the person who has both, it’s a big one. Being understanding is always important. Be patient, avoid extra noise where possible, and keep your speech as simple as possible.

Though not hearing loss specific, ASHA has an article about a family coping with aphasia that may be a good starting point with those who are going through something similar.

How can an audiologist help with Hearing Loss and Aphasia?

Patients diagnosed with aphasia need to have a comprehensive diagnostic audiometric assessment performed by an audiologist. The audiologist’s test battery consists of objective measures of auditory function. When these objective measures are analyzed in conjunction with behavior testing, the audiologist can begin to help with the patient’s comprehension problems.

The best results would come from working closely with both an audiologist and a speech language pathologist.

What can you do for Aphasia Awareness Month?

The National Aphasia Asociation (Aphasia.org) is a great resource full of articles and helpful tips.

First step — to help spread the word about apahsia, it’s important to understand what aphasia is beyond its clinical definition.

Aphasia.org reports that the 2 million people in the US who have aphasia have “lost all or some ability to use words.” They often have trouble speaking and understanding the speech of others. Despite these difficulties, aphasia does not “affect a person’s intellect.”

Second step — tell as many people as you can. Close to 90 percent of people don’t know what Aphasia is. And the more people who know, the more they can help in turn.

Third step — if you have a few extra bucks, you can always donate to the National Aphasia Association (NAA).

June and Aphasia Awareness month are almost over, but even beyond, there’s still lots you can do and people you can tell.