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Airplane Ear

Ears in the air! We all know that air travel is stressful enough, but have you ever considered the strain flying puts on your hearing health?

Ear pain from extended pressure (airplane ear) can happen to anyone, whether you have hearing loss or not. According to the Mayo Clinic: “Airplane ear is the stress exerted on your eardrum and other middle ear tissues when the air pressure in your middle ear and the air pressure in the environment are out of balance. You may experience airplane ear at the beginning of a flight when the airplane is climbing or at the end of a flight when the airplane is descending.” Symptoms include moderate to severe pain, a “feeling of fullness or stuffiness,” and possible temporary hearing loss.

Also known as ear barotrauma, airplane ear will probably go away on its own. Depending on risk factors, though, a medical provider might prescribe nasal steroids or “antibiotics, if an infection develops.” Prevention tips include chewing gum and swallowing more than usual during takeoff and landing. EarPlanes™ filter products can also assist with any associated pain. These filters — made of “soft, cleanable, hypoallergenic silicone” — are inserted directly into the ear canal to help slow the shift in ear pressure.

If you have a middle ear infection, or otitis media, it might be prudent — if possible — to delay your trip. Fluid in your ear canal can make airplane ear more severe, and worst-case scenario, your eardrums could even burst. With an ear infection, your Eustachian tube has trouble equalizing, or “popping.”

Effects of airplane ear on those with hearing loss are similar, though it’s possible the pressure could make your hearing difficulty worse, if only for a short time. If you’re worried, talk to your audiologist, who will be more than happy to address any of your concerns.

TBI and Hearing Loss

Brain Injury Symptoms

The past couple of years have seen a rise in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) awareness, perhaps due to their prevalence in both professional and junior-league sports. But did you know, brain injuries can also affect hearing?

Though hearing difficulties after a head injury are not a given (and can’t be relied on to definitively diagnose TBI), any occurrence or increase in hearing loss should be noted and treated. TBI hearing loss can affect the outer, middle, or inner ears, and range in length (short vs. long term) and severity. Tinnitus sometimes results, as does hyperacusis (sensitivity to sound), or Meniere’s syndrome (an incurable and “excessive pressure in the chambers of the inner ear”).

Other TBI symptoms can be moderate or severe, and can include everything from problems with attention, concentration, and vision to “difficulties with interpretation of touch, temperature, [and] movement.” Recognizing warning signs of head injuries is something every parent or teacher should be able to do

Hearing Loss Treatment

Treatment of hearing loss concurrent with that of brain injuries can be tough, as symptoms can overlap. According to the Hearing Review, these symptoms can be “mistaken for PTSD, mental health issues, and cognitive deficits.” If serious enough, long-term management may include hearing aids or auditory processing therapy.

If you notice any instance of hearing loss, you should always check with your primary care physician, who will refer you to an audiologist. With their help, you can come up with a plan to help manage your loss.

If you suffer any blow to the head, or play regular contact sports, its always a good idea to talk with your doctor, as well — even if you don’t have any symptoms. The long-term effects from both TBI and CTE (a degenerative brain disease seen in those with a history of repetitive brain trauma) can be debilitating.

REM has written about TBI before. Don’t hesitate to check out our past blogs, such as TBI and tinnitus and Going Back to School with TBI.

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.