Good Eating Means Good Hearing

There are a few obvious things you can do to maintain your hearing. Wear ear protection, avoid excessively noisy environments, and don’t crank up the volume when using earbuds or headphones. Basically, common sense.

But did you know that eating healthy can help your hearing, as well?

What food should you eat?

The key seems to be diets that are heart-healthy, since a strong cardiovascular system is crucial to good hearing. Strong blood flow feeds the cochlea, a key portion of the inner ear where tiny hair cells translate sound waves into the electrical signals that our brains decode as sound.

In a recent Washington Post story, the director of Boston’s Conservation of Hearing Study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Sharon Curhan, tried to make things as simple as possible: “To follow a hearing-healthy diet easily, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables … especially those rich in beta-carotene or folate: dark orange produce such as carrots or cantaloupe and leafy greens such as arugula, kale, and spinach.”

Protein should also be a regular part of the diet, especially if it comes from fish, because their omega-3 fatty acids also contribute to hearing health.

Much of this advice stems from a major study published in 2018 in The Journal of Nutrition. Entitled “Adherence to Healthful Dietary Patterns Is Associated with Lower Risk of Hearing Loss in Women,” it followed over 80,000 women from 1991 to 2013.

The consensus on diet and hearing has been building over the past decade from this study and several others that have shown what a powerful impact good eating can have on good hearing.

Spring Allergies and Your Hearing

Spring is here, and that means a lot of good things. But if you’re prone to spring allergies, there’s a little rain on your parade.

One aspect of that might be some temporary hearing issues.

How?

What happens in the spring is a whole host of things—pollen, mold, pet dander, dust—goes airborne. An allergic reaction is when your body decides any or all of those are hostile invaders that need to be fought. It does this by firing up your immune system and releasing antibodies.

But that process includes inflammation, as a host of chemicals are released into the bloodstream, like histamines and cytokines.

And given the narrow confines and delicate operations of the middle and inner ear, any swelling and fluid buildup can impact how well you hear during a bout of allergies.

A constricted ear canal can lead to the misalignment of other parts of the ear, causing hearing efficiency to decline.

The buildup of fluid likewise throws off the ears’ mechanisms, including the Eustachian tube (which connects the ears with the throat and is vital to keeping air pressure modulated) and vestibular system (crucial to maintaining balance).

Symptoms and Relief

Hence, spring allergies can come with dizziness and ear-popping as well as poor hearing. Spring weather (any weather) – and allergies – may also affect your tinnitus.

Generally speaking, any hearing or related issues will fade away as the allergic reactions do. Very rarely, allergies can lead to more serious outcomes. So, if symptoms seem to be protracted or severe, then go see your hearing health professional.

Winter Exercising With Hearing Aids

When exercising, how can you best keep your hearing aids dry? Is there gear that offers protection? If it’s raining, damp, or cold, should you even wear aids in the first place?

Should I Wear Hearing Aids?

Yes, absolutely. Despite the temperature and season, your hearing aids are crucial for outdoor activities. If you’re with friends, you want to be able to hear them; if alone, you want to be able to hear what’s nearby. It’s important to be able to place yourself in space, aware of your surroundings.

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 can easily allow you to wipe away or stop any perspiration that could potentially damage your device.

Ear Gear products — spandex sleeves that fit over whatever hearing device you have — can 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.

If you’d rather wear earmuffs, be careful. Traditional earmuffs may make hearing with your aids difficult. They will, however, keep them dry. Consider carrying around a set, just in case it gets a little too wet.

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.

If you’re in a particularly crowded location (say, inside a ski lodge before heading outside) and you’re worried about losing your aids while wearing a mask, there are mask extenders to help keep both safe and secure (patients of REM are provided these free of charge).

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. When it’s cold, running, jogging, or walking are probably the most manageable. But even if you’re skiing or snowboarding, just remember to keep your aids dry (or covered with Ear Gear or similar protections) and to use your dehumidifiers. And as always, make sure you don’t lose them out there on the slopes (always check any warranty information beforehand, just in case).

Happy Trails!

Blog update 2/10/22: We have recently updated this article with the most up-to-date information.

2022: Year of Hearing

With 2021 finished and done, we’re once again greeted with the promise of a new year. If you’re still searching for a resolution, how about approaching 2022 as your “Year of Hearing”?

2022: The year to finally make the most out of your hearing aids.

Hearing Goals

1. Catch up with new technology

Hearing technology is changing all the time, and it’s in your best interest to keep up with the latest advances.

Every month, REM holds DEMO DAYS, open to anyone who wants to participate, a good way to get hands-on access to the progress of the hearing aid industry. Want to know more about rechargeable hearing aids, for instance? Our Demo Days may be just what you’re looking for.

If your aid is old, if you’re curious about what features you may be missing, you can also schedule an appointment with your audiologist. Even if you simply have questions, it’s good to know what hearing healthcare tech is out there.

The more you know, the better you can approach your hearing path.

2. Expand your hearing aid’s reach

Assistive listening devices can help in day-to-day hearing, especially in office or classroom settings. One popular product is Oticon’s ConnectClip, an accessory that “turns your hearing aid into a wireless stereo headset.”

The ConnectClip is exciting remote-control technology, a go-between, a device that can transmit phone calls, virtual meetings, or digital audio directly to your aid. All you need is a smartphone.

There are also TV and music aid accessories, digital apps, and phone adaptors, all ready to make your digital hearing life easier. Always remember: hearing aids are a line to the world around you. Different devices can strengthen that connection.

3. Utilize all of your aid

If you’re happy with your hearing aid, be sure to talk to your audiologist about exploring all of its included features.

Take the Oticon More™, for example. The More line of aids offers you everything from smartphone connectivity to brain-like-learning programmable settings. Some aids even have tinnitus relief (utilizing Oticon’s own Tinnitus SoundSupport™ system) where you can control and adjust a range of sounds “until they give you the relief you need”.

4. Socialization

This is a big one here at REM, and something you can easily do on your own. Interaction with the people around you can help your ears and, in turn, your brain. Both are connected.

Think of your brain as a muscle, one that needs to be exercised. The stronger it gets, the more situations you allow it to work or to comprehend speech-in-noise, the more your hearing can potentially improve.

It’s not good to be all alone, and for those with hearing loss, social interaction is crucial.

REM’s resolutions

As for us at REM, we’re still here and committed to being by your side during your hearing journey. For those new to hearing loss, we want to make the transition as easy and productive as possible. For those who have been with us for years, we want to continue being of service, offering you the best in hearing healthcare.

Here’s to a healthy, hopeful, and terrific 2022!

Turn Your Hearing Aids Up to 11

Hearing aids are amazing tools that adequately improve hearing for the vast majority of people dealing with hearing loss. But in some situations, they need a little extra power or specificity, which is when assistive listening devices (ALDs) are handy. How can you turn your hearing aids up to 11?

Several unique, adaptive technologies are increasingly commonplace:

  • Induction Loop Systems: These harness the properties of electromagnetic fields to amplify sound. They are being incorporated into the design of modern public spaces like museums, churches, concert halls, and schools. Surprisingly simple, they’re based on a loop of wire surrounding a space that establishes a magnetic field that a receiver (such as a hearing aid or handheld device) can tap into. This allows sound that is being routed through an amplifier or transmitted for an audience—like a speaker, musicians, or audio tour—to be more prominent for a listener using a hearing aid than the ambient background noise that might otherwise make listening more difficult.
  • Localized FM Transmitters: Creating a very contained FM field—in other words, a radio station for a specific place—works on the same principle. Hearing aids or other devices can then be tuned into the proper frequency to hear the augmented sound (though interference from the crowded surrounding radio spectrum can be more of an issue). Oticon’s Amigo system is a good example of an FM transmitter for classroom hearing solutions.
  • Infrared ALD: This sounds complicated, but these systems use light waves to transmit sound by communicating with receivers via an infrared signal. Not suitable for outdoor use, since sunlight interferes with them, these systems are most often found in theaters and depend on specific receivers, not directly on hearing aids.
  • Personal Amplifiers: Popular for one-to-one communication. Basically, one person clips a microphone attached to an amplifier that allows the hard of hearing person to more easily hear. Oticon’s ConnectClip works well.

If your hearing aid can’t do it all, remember to speak to an audiologist to see what options you have.

Seasonal Tinnitus Spikes

Is there such a thing as seasonal tinnitus? Can the cold weather make that ringing, buzzing, or humming in your ears worse? Are you struggling with tinnitus spikes right now?

It’s not unusual for existing tinnitus to worsen or escalate in cold weather, even if the weather itself isn’t to blame. Cold and flu infections, added pressure on the ear, and increased rates of depression are all common occurrences during the winter months, and all can contribute to tinnitus symptoms.

Tinnitus Spikes

Any increase in the level of noise you’re familiar with can be a tinnitus spike, whether that’s in volume, intensity, “tone, pitch, or sound.” It may come and go, last for a short time, or increase (steadily or off and on) permanently.

What causes spikes? Just about anything that causes tinnitus: lack of sleep, additional or unexpected stress, certain foods and medications, maybe even sudden weather or temperature changes (from warm to cold, or from cold to warm).

Tinnitus and Cold Weather

Why does cold weather affect tinnitus so much? There’s no definitive answer. But lifestyle changes have a lot to do with it. In the winter, you may be more sedentary than usual. Maybe you drink more caffeine or alcohol (both common tinnitus triggers). Shorter days may mean heightened anxiety or depression.

A more direct consequence could be weather-caused congestion. Just as many physicians believe spring and summer allergies are a big influence on tinnitus, head and sinus congestion due to viral infections can also change the equilibrium in or pressure on your ears.

Tinnitus Management Techniques

Tinnitus spikes or not, there’s a lot you can do to help the ringing in your ears. At home, treatment can include:

1. Limiting known causes (caffeine, alcohol, aspirin, salt)
2. Managing stress and sleep. Sometimes a good night’s sleep is the best thing you can do.
3. Exercising, meditating, or yoga

For severe cases, hearing aids, sound and behavioral therapies, or medication all offer paths to relief. According to the American Tinnitus Association: “Tinnitus is overwhelmingly connected to some level of hearing loss. Augmenting the reception and perception of external noise can often provide relief from the internal sound of tinnitus.”

CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, has been known to be an effective treatment. CBT is a popular behavioral therapy that, in essence, encourages you to disassociate any tinnitus occurrences with negative thoughts or emotions. It’s a “gradual exposure to an uncomfortable situation,” allowing the sufferer to face, understand, and work with their affliction without letting it control their life.

There’s a lot of information out there about tinnitus. Trying to figure out the best treatment options — or even what kind of tinnitus you have — may at first seem overwhelming. But don’t worry! If you notice a buzzing, humming, or ringing in your ear, if your existing tinnitus spikes, or if your self-care techniques at home aren’t working, be sure to contact your audiologist as soon as you can. There’s a lot you — and others — can do to help.

Managing a Hearing Aid Thanksgiving

After last year’s COVID holiday wipeout, family get-togethers are coming back strong. For those with hearing issues or new hearing aids, that might mean—once again or for the first time—dealing with the challenge of a loud, crowded holiday. Though this can make family fun difficult, there are a few steps you can take to make this hearing-aid-Thanksgiving easier.

Where to Sit and Stand

Remember that old real estate cliché: location, location, location. Where you plant yourself in a room can be crucial. Try to avoid being in the center of things. At dinner, shoot for the end of the table. That will cut down on the amount of sound you’re dealing with on either side, which can be disorientating and overwhelming.

The same goes for the football game in the living room. Stay away from the TV—more specifically, its speakers—and aim for the edges of the gathering. Just be aware, the farther away from a conversation you are, the more difficultly you may have listening in. As we wrote in a past blog, the hardest part of new social situations is the unknown. You’ll often find yourself simply (pardon the expression) playing it by ear.

Go Easy on Yourself

All this can be tiring. So, another good strategy is taking a break from the hubbub. A walk around the block right before or after dinner will clear your head and give your ears a rest. If need be, you can also find a quiet room for some downtime. Give yourself a chance to recharge!

Others are There to Help

Your hearing aids are there to assist you! If new, they may take some getting used to, but remember not to get frustrated. Some aids may even come with programmable settings for different environments. These settings, if properly used, can be very helpful.

Also, there’s no shame in letting those around you know what’s going on! If you’re new to hearing aids, politely broach the topic, ask those present if they wouldn’t mind speaking to you a little slower and maybe away from the crowd. This will make things easier for everyone—especially you.

And most importantly, have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Enjoy the time with those around you.

Subjective and Objective Tinnitus

What is tinnitus? Tinnitus is noise (non-external) that you can hear in one or both of your ears. It often presents as a ringing or buzzing and may be constant or intermittent — coming and going — sometimes without cause. Professionals break down the affliction into 2 categories: subjective and objective tinnitus. An easy way to distinguish between the two is by determining who can hear the described noise. If it’s only the patient, then it’s subjective. If others can hear or measure the sound (often through hearing instruments), then it’s objective.

Effective management often depends on the type of tinnitus you have.

Subjective Tinnitus

The vast majority of tinnitus sufferers have subjective tinnitus, ringing in ears that can often be managed, but not fixed.

There are many treatment options for subjective tinnitus. Many doctors recommend limiting the intake of caffeine or alcohol and reducing stress. Auditory habituation or tinnitus retraining therapy is another method and involves a device or hearing aid that produces a low-level sound alongside the ringing in order to desensitize your own, possibly ingrained reactions to sound. This is similar to acoustic therapy, which – through the use of hearing aids or sound generators – masks any annoying tinnitus sounds.

Objective Tinnitus

Objective tinnitus is “usually produced by internal functions in the body’s circulatory (blood flow) and somatic (musculoskeletal movement) systems.” This type can both be heard by your hearing care specialist and can often be cured in its entirety. For those whose “buzzing, ringing, whistling” is caused by a buildup of earwax or a punctured eardrum, the path to clear sound is often as simple as fixing the underlying problem.

Objective tinnitus is rare, seen in less than a single percent of all recorded cases.

What To Do About Tinnitus

1. Don’t panic. Try not to get frustrated. Your reaction — and approach — to tinnitus can greatly affect how much it bothers you down the road. Mindset is important.

2. Talk to your audiologist. Especially if you notice a new or worsening ringing or buzzing. If it’s a symptom of another problem or not, whether it’s subjective or objective tinnitus, it’s best to get any symptoms checked by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Blog update: This was one of REM’s first blogs, published a few years ago, on the effective management of tinnitus. We have updated this article with the most up-to-date information.

 

COVID and Hearing

As has become clear, nothing is easy with COVID-19. Even with vaccines widely available, the current wave of infections will inevitably result in more cases of what is known as long-haul COVID. So, what’s the relationship between COVID and hearing?

Long COVID

What has become clear over the last year and a half is that a small minority of people who get infected do not simply “get over it” — no matter the treatment they receive. Instead of their symptoms wrapping up after the acute phase of the disease has run its course—usually, about two weeks—these unlucky folks, about 10 percent of those infected, have symptoms that linger.

For those who required hospitalization, a recent study published in The Lancet found that about half were still feeling the effects a year later. Fatigue, muscle weakness, and shortness of breath are the most common signs of long-haul COVID.

COVID and Hearing

For those affected, are further hearing issues a problem? Can those who contracted COVID and then recovered be plagued with issues that may include bouts of tinnitus and vertigo, and (for some) sudden onset hearing loss? According to Healthy Hearing, the jury’s still out. Maybe, but much more research is needed.

But some say it’s possible. One theory is that such ear-related problems are rooted in the havoc that COVID can wreak on the body’s circulatory system. There is now a syndrome identified as coronavirus blood clots, which can be especially problematic in the kind of tiny blood vessels that are crucial to ear function.

This may be the root cause of why tinnitus—a persistent ringing in the ears that is not associated with actual sounds—has (anecdotally) been reported to have gotten worse for many after getting COVID.

At this point COVID long haulers are the focus of a tremendous amount of medical research and, hopefully, treatments will eventually be developed. If you think your hearing loss has gotten worse – due to COVID or not – it’s best to speak with an audiologist or hearing specialist immediately.

Positivity, Aging, and Hearing Loss

As you grow older, it’s important to stay positive about hearing loss. Why? Because negative feelings – about aging, about health – can affect your hearing, says a recent article on Medicine News Today. Hearing and brain function go hand in hand. When one is affected, so is the other.

“People’s feelings about getting older influence their sensory and cognitive functions. Those feelings are often rooted in stereotypes about getting older and comments made by those around them that their hearing and memory are failing.” If negative feelings about growing older can influence how one hears in day-to-day life (and vice versa), it makes sense that a good attitude could have the opposite effect.

Why is that?

Because the clearer your thoughts – the more honest you are about your situation – the more likely you’ll take the proper steps to help your hearing.

What should you do?

When there is so much social stigma attached to aging, how can one maintain an optimistic view of the future?

  1. Don’t jump to the worst possible conclusions. Hearing loss is often a normal part of the aging process, and there has never been a better time than the present to optimize hearing function. Today’s sophisticated technology offers efficient and effective solutions to once problematic hearing difficulties. If you notice trouble hearing sound in noise, meet with an audiologist to discuss a plan.
  2. Eat healthily and try to maintain a healthy weight. Physical fitness is a big part of keeping your mind sharp.
  3. Realize that advances in hearing technology are always being made. Take the Oticon More™ hearing aid, for example. The More line comes with a deep neural network that learns and evolves over time.
  4. Socialize! Socialization is important! If you’re having trouble hearing or feeling down for any reason, don’t lock yourself away. Keep on talking to people, interacting with them. Isolation is the worst thing for your brain.

Keeping your mind occupied and your thoughts positive is a worthwhile, important, and attainable goal. The potential benefits can help make your future even brighter.