Take Care of the Ears This Summer

Summer is full of fun and good times. But some of the fun requires some caution when it comes to your hearing health.

One of the most obvious is 4th of July fireworks. As is reported on every year, visits to emergency rooms spike over the holiday due to sometimes gruesome fireworks-related injuries. Less dramatic, but perhaps even more widespread, is damage done to ears during this holiday.

This isn’t too complicated. Being too close to extremely loud noises can cause temporary or permanent damage to eardrums and other parts of the ear, especially in the case of small children (whose narrower ear canals actually make things worse).

And fireworks are extremely loud. Any sound over 120 decibels can damage ears. Fireworks come in at up to 175 decibels. So, keep your distance and use ear protection, including for any children you’re responsible for.

Same goes if any car racing events are on the schedule.

The other main culprit instigating ear issues in the summer is moisture.

Swimming (and sweating) can make the walls of the ear canal more susceptible to infection — commonly referred to as swimmer’s ear. This is not only because pools, lakes, rivers, and the ocean are all chock full of microbes that might take up residence in your ear but also because efforts to keep them dry — which is what ultimately needs to happen — might actually make infection more likely.

Sticking your finger in your ear — or using a towel or especially a cotton swab — can actually scrape the skin and give microbes a better environment to gain a foothold in your ear (talk about mixed metaphors).

The trick is to dry your ears out without the use of friction. Gravity actually works pretty well (tilting your head to one side while pulling down on your earlobe is pretty efficient). A hair dryer on low-heat setting can work wonders. There are also over-the-counter drops that can do the trick.

Enjoy the summer — but take care of your ears.

Waking up with Rare Hearing Loss

When a woman wakes up one morning and can’t hear the voices of men — well, the jokes kind of write themselves. Wouldn’t it be great to have that switch?

But for a Chinese woman in Xiamen that this happened to recently, it was a case of reverse-sloping hearing loss — and no doubt did not feel like a joke. Nor for anyone who comes down with this rare condition.

Most hearing loss starts at the high end of the sound spectrum. That’s how it works for the vast majority of people and there is a common graph — the ski slope hearing loss curve — that is produced when a hearing test is charted.

Reverse-sloping hearing loss has the opposite curve.

After her ears started ringing (tinnitus) and she vomited the night before, the woman woke up and realized that she had experienced a form of sudden hearing loss. She could no longer hear her boyfriend when he spoke to her. A trip to the emergency room — and luckily a female doctor — quickly confirmed that her hearing was gone in the part of the spectrum where most male voices reside (she couldn’t hear the man sharing her hospital room either).

The condition is very rare — only 3,000 cases are reported annually in the United States — and can be dangerous, since automobile engines and other machinery produce sound in the same part of the sound range.

Eventually, it was determined that stress was the likely cause, aggravated by working late and not getting enough sleep. It should be noted that the role stress can play in hearing issues is often not fully realized.

Well, That’s an Odd Sound I’m Hearing

With May being Better Speech and Hearing month, it is a great opportunity to take note of your hearing health and any unusual sounds you may experience.

There are a wide variety of noises from within the ear that can suddenly “appear” and cause concern — even bafflement. If they persist for an extended period of time — especially ringing, which might be tinnitus — then seek professional attention. But some noises are basically the auditory equivalent of sneezing or coughing.

If a crackling sound develops in one of your ears, then it might have to do with your Eustachian tube. This is a passage between the back of your nose and the inner ear that is crucial in maintaining equalized pressure in your ears. It actually opens whenever you blow your nose, yawn, or swallow — so it stays pretty busy. Without this, your eardrum might wear out due to dealing with pressure changes constantly.

But if it gets clogged up, usually due to an allergy or cold, then it gets kind of sticky and doesn’t work quite as efficiently. That’s what makes that sound — which can be rather annoying. The condition will usually dissipate on its own but nasal sprays can also be an effective treatment if it’s really annoying you.

Another rather impressive piece of the anatomy is the tiny tensor tympani muscle. It reacts to sudden loud noises and actually tamps down their impact on the rest of the ear. It also squelches the volume on your chewing and the sound of your own voice. But sometimes the muscle can spasm and cause a low rumble. There are even some people who can control this intentionally.

Finally, wax buildup in the ears can cause a number of sounds, including ringing and buzzing. Sometimes there’s so much in there that it comes into contact with the eardrum (throwing off its calibration). But if you think you have earwax causing a problem that deep in your ear, don’t try to dig it out. Have a medical professional handle it in order to avoid damaging your eardrum.

Any changes in your hearing should be evaluated by a hearing professional. Contact us today for a comprehensive hearing evaluation.

 

Hearing Loss At the Bottom of the Age Ladder

The cliché is that hearing issues are for the oldsters, something to look out for when the Social Security checks start showing up or even a tagalong with a mid-life crisis.

But the fact is, for some people, their genetics forward-loads that process into the years of childhood. The vast majority of children won’t develop hearing issues. But some will.

And for a variety of reasons, it can be easy to miss. Like not realizing immediately that a kid’s eyesight is degrading, hearing can alter slowly enough so that it’s not immediately apparent.

The adults that surround children can all make assumptions about behavior and not realize that what is really going on is a hearing problem. Not responding to verbal instructions can be chalked up to short attention spans. Teenage angst can be blamed for any kind of behavior.

But here are some signs that a hearing test for a child might be required:

  • Yes, kids often like to turn the volume up (especially for music). But if they seem to actually need high volume to follow TV shows or talk radio then maybe more is afoot.
  • Noticing a child consistently turning their head so that they’re using the same ear to listen to you can be a sign that there’s an issue in the other ear.
  • If it seems they have to see you talking to actually understand you can also be a sign. Depending on visual cues to follow conversations when hearing is weakened can be a subconscious adaptation.
  • Falling grades and teacher concern about being active in class can also be a signal of hearing issues.

Tests are simple and easily arranged. And it’s always better to deal with hearing loss sooner rather than later.

The Bottom Line Cost of Untreated Hearing Loss

Hearing loss that goes untreated is not just a quality-of-life issue. It can be a financial one too.

The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) conducted a survey that found that individuals with more minor hearing issues that they did not rectify saw a decrease in income. And people with more significant hearing issues that weren’t treated were unemployed at twice the rate as people without hearing issues.

It’s hard to imagine any job that doesn’t demand communication skills. And poor hearing will obviously cause issues in most cases.

With the trend of hearing issues cropping up earlier in life for many people, this is an issue that will become more significant in human resource departments and for individual workers. In fact, most of the 40 million Americans who have hearing issues are still working. Estimates are that 10 percent of the workforce has some problem with their hearing.

In addition, the trend is also for older people to stay in the workforce at higher rates than just a few decades ago.

The BHI study also showed that effective treatment curtailed the economic impact of hearing loss. Workers with mild hearing loss who got hearing aids saw the downward effect on their incomes cut by 90 to 100 percent. A reduction of 65–77 percent was found for those with severe to moderate hearing loss.

These trends — along with the fact that some jobs expose workers to extreme noise environments — will mean that recognizing and treating hearing loss will probably become a more normalized part of the work environment. It is in the interest of both employers and employees to proactively deal with this issue.

Some Hearing Aid Myths Explained

When faced with the fact of hearing loss — or the likely need for a hearing aid — a number of myths might be lodged in one’s understanding that will need to be rethought. Here are some common “fact or fiction” scenarios.

The first is getting over the assumption that “my hearing’s not that bad, so I don’t really need a hearing aid.” Most hearing loss is gradual, not sudden. The reason it’s slow moving is because the ability to hear different frequencies degrades at different rates, meaning you can hear a lot of things and sort of deal with it. For awhile — and at a cost. But high-quality hearing is based on effectively hearing the entire sound spectrum within the human range. The sooner a hearing aid is used to restore all of the sounds the ear can process the better.

A secondary assumption is that most people only need one hearing aid, that the “good” ear is good enough to continue going solo. Sometimes that’s the case, but if hearing loss is due to noise exposure — well, both ears were probably taking a beating. And the same genes are at play on both sides of your head. A binaural fitting is often the best choice, since the brain is wired to have both ears inputting sound of equal quality.

Finally, one myth is that getting a hearing aid is pretty much like getting glasses. Actually, adjusting to using a hearing aid is a little more complicated. A new pair of glasses might take some getting used to externally, but the brain really doesn’t need to do any readjusting to process clearer vision. Hearing is a little more complicated. There’s more variance in the details of what frequencies an individual is not processing. That’s why the fine-tuning of hearing aids — much easier and impactful with today’s powerful computer-based models — and auditory training will very likely be part of adapting to a new hearing aid.

Ways To Work Out Your Hearing

There are any number of ways to maintain your hearing health — or even improve it. Here are a few ideas that you can incorporate into your life to help keep your hearing in shape.

Any kind of cardiovascular exercise will help your hearing. Blood flow is very important to the functioning of the inner ear and the brain, which processes the data sent to it. Activities like walking, running, swimming, yoga, or meditation can all help reduce stress, better circulation, and heighten overall health — which will be of benefit to your hearing health.

For many, meditation has proved very effective with hearing issues, including tinnitus. Stress can be a risk factor in hearing loss and anything that can lessen it will be beneficial. Also, practicing sound isolation — which overlaps with meditation in many ways — can help exercise your hearing system. By putting other senses in the background and concentrating on hearing the specific sounds around you. The parts of the brain that handle the hearing process can get a good workout. This can make a difference as the aging process changes the baseline of one’s hearing capabilities.

And there are specific yoga poses — tree, lotus, cobra, and triangle, for example — that act to increase blood flow specifically to the ear and the brain.

And in our digital age, there are a whole host of computer aids and apps that are designed to exercise your hearing system. Some of these are “brain teaser” games that exercise the brain in general ways, while other programs are designed specifically for those with hearing issues or as assistants in adapting to the use of a hearing aid.

There are a wealth of activities that can be part of keeping your hearing in tip-top shape.

The Wild World of Interconnectivity

Modern hearing aids are marvels of not only audiology, but also computer science. More and more they are becoming part of the Internet of Things (IoT), a myriad of products and technology that allow devices to communicate with one another.

Since hearing aids are ultimately about bettering communication, this new technology fits right in.

The industry buzz phrase is “smart hearing.” What this means is the computer power of a hearing aid can be connected to a myriad of other devices that now incorporate computing capabilities — not just computers, but everything from doorbells to TVs to smartphones. This is possible because the computing power that, fifty years ago, required a computer the size of a steamer trunk can now occur in a device small enough to fit behind your ear.

The practical benefits include being able to stream audio from a TV or stereo directly into your hearing aid, linking to your smartphone in order to expand the capabilities, sending real-time data about your hearing aid’s performance to your hearing-health professional so that it can be better adjusted to your needs, and even routing the sound of your doorbell into your hearing aid.

These capabilities not only heighten the hearing experience, but they also give you the ability to route control features from your hearing aid to an app on a smartphone. This allows you to make adjustments far more easily and without anyone noticing that you are doing so. No fumbling around with a small hearing aid.

You can look like just another soul staring at your phone while you’re actually changing the volume level and mix features of your hearing aid.