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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.

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.

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.

The Sounds of Summer Are Back

For many folks, the possibility of hitting the summer music festival scene—currently inching from longing to reality—is one great aspect of the COVID vaccine rollout. Gigs are being scheduled and artists and roadies are getting back in the saddle—or at least the tour bus.

But don’t let the era of Zoom meetings and binge-watching let you forget that live music can be loud—and thus a threat to your hearing.

If the bands you want to see are going to crank up the volume then there are a couple of things you can do. Not lingering too close to any speakers is an obvious one, while “stepping out” during extended exposure to noise—the kind that a summer music festival offers—is a good strategy. A little rest offers your ears the chance to recover.

The best strategy is to use some decent earplugs. There are plenty of cheap options—though you do get what you pay for.

Regular exposure to loud situations—because you’re an avid concertgoer or work in a loud environment—might make investing in some high-end earplugs a good idea. Hearing health professionals can create custom-made earmolds that are designed to drastically cut down on the decibel level your ears have to deal with while not ruining sound quality (all while being comfortable and unobtrusive).

Don’t assume this is an issue just for the boomers. The fact is that one-fourth of Americans ages 18 to 44 already report some hearing loss. And not protecting your ears from noise exposure is a perfect way to end up dealing with serious hearing issues in the not-too-distant future.

 

Hearing Aid Summer Accessories

The summer vacation is back! With lockdowns being lifted, it’s time to hit the road again. But if you depend on hearing aids to make your daily life—especially interactions with strangers—more positive and fulfilling, then you’ll want to make sure that everything stays in working order while you’re away from home (finally). So, what hearing aid summer accessories will you need?

There are the obvious things to remember, like spare batteries or the recharging unit—since a hearing aid without electricity is just an earplug. The obvious is easier to forget than you might think.

Hitting the beach, a national park, or any other outdoor activity will also mean that your hearing aid may be exposed to more dirt, grime, and moisture than usual. So don’t forget the cleaning kit for the end-of-the-day tune-up, the dehumidifier for the overnight drying out of a unit that’s been exposed to the elements, and extra wax guards and domes that you might want to use to provide extra protection on your trip.

And if it’s been a while since you’ve been out in a crowd, don’t forget the Bluetooth external microphone that may have come with your hearing aid (the one that wasn’t too useful on Zoom calls). It can really help out in an unfamiliar room with a great deal of ambient background noise (like a Vegas casino room, say).

A vacation with a better hearing experience will be a better vacation. If you use a hearing aid, make sure you have everything you need to keep it working its best for you.

Summertime Localization and Outdoor Activities

Since it’s summer, odds are you’ll find yourself outside more than usual, and whether you’re going to street festivals, fairs, amusement or water parks, you’ll want to be aware of your hearing aid’s localization features.

What is localization?

Localization is the ability to determine the direction and placement of sound and noise, and is important for spatial awareness, balance, and location comprehension. Those with hearing loss often have trouble with the localization of sound.

What does this mean for summer activities?

Being able to hear the world around you is an incredibly important part of staying aware and safe, and unlike at home or indoors, the sounds of an outdoor environment can be a bit more unpredictable.

If you find yourself surrounded by a lot of people, you’ll also be surrounded by a lot of sound. To someone with hearing impairment, this could be like hearing a low roar, a flat level of noise coming from no particular direction. This not only limits your interaction with those around you, but can also cause safety issues.

What can you do?

  • Be sure to talk to your audiologist about how your hearing aid processes sound in a 3D environment.
  • Before you buy an aid, research different brands. Oticon Opn™, for instance, has a lot of good localization features, including rapid noise reduction and speech clarity support.
  • If you notice an increased difficulty hearing or comprehending speech or noise in big crowds, don’t ignore it. Maybe you need another hearing assessment, or maybe your aid simply needs an up-to-date adjustment.

Don’t waste your summer worrying about noise outside.

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.

2021 is Here

2021 is here, and with the promise of a new year comes the hope for change. Coronavirus holidays and winter brain-training have our attention now, but do you have hearing healthcare plans in mind for the spring and beyond?

If you’re still looking for some simple steps to help with your hearing resolutions, we might be able to offer a few COVID-safe suggestions.

1. Mask extenders. Start your year off right by picking up one of our complimentary mask extenders. These easy to use accessories can help keep you protected and your hearing aids safe. Call our office for more information. Stop by, and we’ll bring them to you right outside.

2. Any hearing aid problems? Get them taken care of with our curbside service! For routine maintenance issues, you can drop off your device without having to leave your car.

3. If you would like a little more intensive work on your hearing aid (such as reprogramming), you can ask us about our remote testing services. We’re planning to roll this out in the next few months.

4. Attend some of our virtual seminars. If you’re interested in what new hearing technology is out there, hop onto one of our zoom demonstrations. We’ll be demoing the latest tech and answering any questions you may have. Our Tips and Sips page will list all upcoming dates and info about how to log on.

Let’s go into this year with our ears in mind. Here’s to a hopeful and healthy 2021.

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.

Digital Holidays

If you’re away from family this holiday season — as a lot of people are — chances are good you’ll instead be spending time with them digitally. Video chats this year are the new get-togethers, a holiday lifeline for those who can’t see their loved ones in person.

If you have hearing loss and wear hearing aids, how does this affect you?

Technology

The good news is, most digital aids can pair with wireless devices easily. All you have to do is look up your manufacturer’s specifications. Oticon, for instance, has “wireless listening capabilities…” in several of their aids, allowing you to “easily connect to accessories and everyday devices for clearer and more comfortable communication.” Using their built-in Bluetooth® capabilities, modern aids can make listening to music, watching tv, and talking to friends and family easier than ever before.

Take Zoom, as an example. HearingLife outlines how simple it is to hook up your aids, depending on your digital platform. Keep in mind, however, if you’re using a computer, you may have to purchase an Oticon ConnectClip, a device that helps “turn your hearing aids into a wireless stereo headset.” Different brands will offer different features, and some may even be able to hook up to your computer directly. Don’t hesitate to ask your audiologist for more information.

Socialization

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, and for those with hearing difficulties, it may seem even tougher. Those not able to socialize as they have in years past — especially given the existing hurdles of hearing loss — may isolate themselves and pull away from the people around them. It’s not uncommon to choose solitude in these times. It’s even understandable. But know that doing so may cause harm down the line. The brain needs conversation, interaction.

So consider using this holiday season to your benefit. Know that you’re not alone. Reach out to friends and family to continue the traditions of your past. ASHA Leader has a very helpful article about ways to make your family’s holidays festive and bright, everything from setting expectations to planning conversation starters and games.

For additional resources, please talk to your audiologist, who can help you with not only technical concerns but also with making the next few months of digital holidays a little easier on everyone.