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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.

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.

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.

BHSM 2021

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, a yearly hearing healthcare event designed to help raise awareness about auditory health, wellness, and communication disorders. The BHSM 2021 theme is “Building Connections.”

What is BHSM?

BHSM is known primarily as a hearing industry affair, a time when audiology clinics and hearing specialists can focus their efforts on getting the word out about hearing technology advances, public health information, and more. BHSM has been around since 1927, and each year focuses on a different aspect of hearing care.

This year, ASHA breaks down the month into 4 weeks:

Week 1: Untreated hearing loss in adults
Week 2: Early intervention
Week 3: The role of Speech-Language Pathologists in COVID-19 recovery (1)
Week 4: Hearing protection for children

Why is BHSM important?

BHSM is all about recognition; not just recognition of the struggles of the hearing loss community, but also their triumphs. It offers hearing care practitioners ways to reach out while allowing patients and those with hearing loss ample opportunities to pursue treatment and show the world their progress.

The staff at REM have always been big boosters of Better Hearing & Speech Month. We strongly believe the best way to help people on their hearing loss journey is to make sure everyone has access to information about yearly advances in hearing technology and hearing help benefits.

If you agree with how important this month can be – to you, to the lives of many people with untreated hearing loss – there are even ways you can help extend a helping hand.

What Can You Do To Help?

ASHA has a comprehensive list of resources you can print out, share, or connect to on social media.

More importantly, you can use BHSM 2021 as an opportunity to talk to that special someone in your life who has hearing loss, one who might not be getting the help they need. Managing hearing loss can change lives for the better, and with care and attention, can help open up and revitalize the world.

Anxiety, Depression, and Hearing Loss

Anxiety and depression caused by untreated hearing loss is a subject not often discussed, but the effects of both on an aging person shouldn’t be ignored.

Depression and Anxiety

Healthy Hearing states that depression may be psychosocial in nature, that a persistent feeling of missed connections, or being out of the loop, can be disorienting and isolating. People not able to keep up in a conversation may even start to question the worth of their presence.

Anxiety is similarly affected. Like depression, stress and frustration can stem from struggling to hear in a world that may at times seem inaccessible.

What can you do?

The goal is to limit the amount of worry. Think of it this way: the more you agonize over your hearing, the more anxiety can grow into the corners of your life. Not that an anxiety-free existence is possible, mind you, but actively trying to reduce its influence can be more than beneficial to both you and your loved ones.

How to go about this? Don’t put off those hearing tests! Scheduling an appointment with your audiologist can be an important first step in your hearing recovery journey, and something as simple as showing up to your first hearing assessment can help manage your stress in a big way. To prepare, HearingLife has a very helpful list of what you can do before a routine hearing examination.

Mitigating measures are important because hearing loss can alter the brain, as can constant anxiety and depression. “The connection between depression and hearing loss may not be solely due to the damaging social effects that accompany having difficulty hearing… In other words, there are indications that the brain is actually rewired by hearing loss.”

You don’t want to fight a battle on two fronts.

Can hearing aids help?

The good news is, with new top-of-the-line hearing aids and devices (such as the Oticon More™), clarity in speech and sound can be achievable for many people. But the first step, as always, is to contact your primary care physician or audiologist to schedule a hearing test.

Auditory Training at Home

If you have hearing loss and find yourself alone during the winter months, the following tips could help with your auditory training at home.

What is auditory training?

Auditory training is not only learning how to distinguish between sounds but comprehending and interpreting the sounds you hear. In day-to-day life, this is usually done passively and — if you have difficulty hearing — with a hearing aid or audio device. Socializing with people and interacting with others around you helps strengthen your signal-to-noise ratio, clue you in on what’s going on and what you need to pay attention to. In young children, auditory training goes hand in hand with brain development.

How can auditory training be impaired?

If socialization is taken away or limited, if you find yourself alone more often than not, you may wear your hearing aids less. Your brain may stop working as hard as it’s used to, and its ability to decode the information your ears hear — like any muscle not in constant use — may atrophy.

What can you do?

1. Always wear your hearing aids during the day, whether you’re alone or not.
2. Read books while listening along to the audiobook (or read along out loud). In the long run, this visual + auditory combination can help strengthen your comprehension.
3. If you’re watching tv or a movie, turn on closed captions (in addition to keeping the volume at a comfortable level).
4. Talk to people! Current technology can often pair right to your hearing aid to help with video chats and digital get-togethers.

For other suggestions, don’t hesitate to call your audiologist, who will be able to answer any other questions you may have about auditory training at home. Historically, winter months are the toughest months, but today our aids and our knowledge can help bridge the isolation gap, help us continue to grow.

Hearing Aids and Masks

Wearing a mask outside the home has become a part of day-to-day life. From a public health perspective, it’s one of the most important things we can do. But for those with hearing loss, masks can pose extra hardships.

People with hearing challenges often rely on visual cues, especially when speaking to others. A mask obscuring someone’s mouth and face removes a much-needed avenue of understanding.

What can you do?

If you’re talking to someone you know has hearing loss, be sure — while practicing social distancing — to look directly at your companion and speak slowly and distinctly, but “do not shout.” If you’re the one with hearing loss, be upfront about your situation. Let whoever you’re talking to know that you need them to speak more clearly, directly. You can even gesture to your aids, to help get your point across.

Another concern is how to wear a mask with your device.

Oticon has a good graphic with tips on how to not only effectively wear a mask, but also how to adapt it to your device’s needs. These include creating extenders, tying long hair back into a bun, and using headbands and buttons to hold the mask to help “take the strain off your ears.”

Why is this important?

It’s not just about comfort. According to Starkey, “The over-the-ear face mask, often the most common style, puts hearing aid wearers at risk for misplacing their behind-the-ear devices when they become entangled upon removal.” The last thing we want to happen is someone to lose, drop, or break their aids.

Further tips

1. Know your device’s warranty and insurance info, just in case.
2. Ask your audiologist or doctor’s office for mask recommendations. They will know best what works best for your personal needs.
3. If you’re spending a lot of time talking or working virtually, see what options your device has with pairing to your computer or phone. Many aids have Bluetooth® accessibility.
4. You can purchase masks with a transparent front (called the “Clear Mask”), for lip-reading purposes.

Masks aren’t going anywhere, at least not for the foreseeable future, but with just a little bit of adjustment, they don’t have to create any extra trouble.

South Jersey Holiday Hearing Events

If you have hearing loss, you might spend a lot of time thinking about accessibility, about what options are available to you at various events and venues around town. Does a theater or museum have assistive listening devices or T-coil technology? Do they have reliable open/closed captions or maybe even ASL-compliant interpreters? What is available to help make listening easier? What holiday hearing events are for you?

These are important questions, and this holiday season, we have your back.

What is there to do?

Recently, we wrote about several seasonal activities and resources in Philadelphia. In this blog, we’re focusing on South Jersey.

1. December 12 – 22, the Ritz Theatre Company in Haddon Township has a Scrooge Musical production. December 16 – 21, they have a children’s Frosty the Snowman show. The theater is fully handicap accessible and has select ASL interpretation and assistive listening help. Always call before buying tickets to see what options are available.

2. If you have kids (and even if you don’t), the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ, has a festive Christmas Underwater event. Though they don’t offer assistive listening devices, a free-of-charge ASL interpreter can be provided with 2-weeks notice. They also have complimentary sound-reducing headphones for anyone sound sensitive that you can pick up at the front desk.

3. Though we at REM (understandably) urge caution around loud, sudden noises, the 2nd Annual Hanukkah Fireworks Celebration in Voorhees, NJ, might be worth a look. Here, you won’t have to worry about hearing at all. Just be sure to wear ear protection if needed!

4. There are also all the come-as-you-are holiday events you can choose from: mall Santas, light displays, holiday hayrides, and family farm activities. These might be the perfect places to try out different settings on your hearing aids or practice listening to speech-in-noise. Any new environment that forces you to hear under different-than-normal circumstances only helps your comprehension abilities in the end.

If you have any suggestions for holiday hearing events yourself, let us know! We’ll publish them here in this blog with your permission and attribution.

Resources

For more information about state disability requirements and some helpful suggestions, we suggest getting in contact with the state’s Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Also, be sure to check out our past blogs tips for hearing around the holiday dinner table and our popular holiday hearing guide.

Xceed Play

In addition to the Opn™ Play, Oticon’s line of pediatric hearing aids also includes the Xceed Play. Known as the “world’s most powerful pediatric hearing aid,” the Xceed is designed specifically for children with severe-to-profound hearing loss in mind.

Benefits

The goal of the Xceed Play is to preserve and enhance your child’s acoustic environment and help them learn through listening. It accomplishes this through access to 360-degree sound and speech, using — like the Opn Play — Oticon’s self developed BrainHearing™ technology. This technology helps preserve “the important details in speech, so your brain doesn’t have to strain to fill in the gaps.”

Why is this important? Being able to hear the world and distinguish speech and valuable information from noise is crucial for your brain’s development. The more your child can hear, the more your child can grow.

The Xceed also has tech included to help prevent interfering whistling sounds* and can easily connect to accessories and apps, improving the aids’s sound and signal.

Extras

The Xceed is similar to the Play in customization and durability. Though there aren’t as many behind-the-ear styles, your child can still pick from a variety of fun colors. And parents and caregivers can be sure of tamper-resistant battery doors, strong materials, and an LED indicator to help “monitor hearing aid & battery status.”

Check out our Tech Spotlight — all about Oticon’s line of pediatric hearing aids — for more info.

* “Groundbreaking technology in Oticon Xceed Play helps prevent feedback from happening so that your child can enjoy a clearer, stable speech signal*, and receive up to 20% more speech details,** which are essential to language development.”