Small Can Work, In the Right Circumstances

An exciting technological advance that has become normalized is invisible-in-the-ear hearing aids.

Though not for everyone due to technical reasons covered below—or necessarily what everyone considers hearing aid affordable—they are a great option for many people.

There are two self-explanatory varieties: in-the-canal (ITC) and completely-in-canal (CIC). Either can be accessed from a professional hearing aid provider.

Here are some of the advantages of “invisible” hearing aids:

  • For someone not enthusiastic about being seen in public with a hearing aid, they are very discreet.
  • Extremely good sound dynamics because they operate so close to the inner ear.
  • Fewer feedback issues, especially the dreaded occlusion when a user’s own speaking voice becomes disorientating.
  • A bespoke item made to fit your ear.

But as the saying goes, there’s nothing perfect in this world. Invisible hearing aids do have some potential drawbacks:

  • They don’t work for everyone. The contours of some individuals’ ear canals simply don’t work with these hearing aid models.
  • They require some dexterity to manipulate and can be challenging for anyone with arthritis or similar conditions.
  • They don’t work as well for people with more severe hearing loss.
  • In relation to this, their tiny size also restricts some of the most powerful features of larger hearing aid models, such as providing greater directionality in especially difficult hearing environments and other advanced computer-aided functionality.
  • They require professional measurement of your ears and customized fitting, so they are not a matter of just opening the box and “plugging” them in.

For people within a certain range of requirements, invisible hearing aids are a great “fit” and something to pursue from their hearing aid provider. They are in many ways the pinnacle of current hearing aid design.

 

Taking Care of Hearing

As designated by the World Health Organization (WHO), March 3rd is officially World Hearing Day. The theme of the day is “To hear for life, listen with care.”

We’ll be a part of it at our office, located at 200 Plaza Drive, Suite B, in Vestal, New York.

The underlying message is safe listening, which are behaviors that will protect your hearing now and throughout the rest of your life. Current research has made it plain that long-term hearing health depends on managing noise exposure earlier in life. The increased use of personal audio devices—along with modern sound systems in places as diverse as dance clubs to suburban movie theaters—has resulted in more and more exposure to extreme sound environments.

This has resulted in hearing issues becoming more common earlier in life, with cardiovascular-related factors also being a driver. But the focus of this year’s World Hearing Day is dealing directly with noise exposure and ways to prevent or diminish it.

The theme of listening with care is rooted in one of the seven interventions (Noise Reduction) called for in the 2021 World Report on Hearing. The other six are screening and intervention, disease prevention and management, access to technology, rehabilitation services, improved communication, and greater community engagement.

The breadth of the issue and available preventive measures are covered in the 2021 World Report on Hearing, published by the WHO. The 272-page document is an exhaustive examination of what is now a global phenomenon. Since its founding in 1948, the WHO has served as the United Nations’ lead agency dealing in pursuing better health outcomes around the world.

Dealing With Tinnitus

Tinnitus is enigmatic and, sadly, does not yet have a precise course of treatment. Even worse, some people recovering from COVID have reported its onset or a worsening of the condition. It has become an aspect of “long haul” COVID for some.

Though sometimes temporary, dealing with any insistent case of tinnitus is not any fun.

The specifics involve a sound becoming a persistent presence in one’s hearing even when nothing is making that sound. Usually, it’s a ringing that can’t be escaped, though everything from hissing, roaring, whooshing, static, and a host of other noises have been reported by sufferers.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 15 percent of the population has experienced it at some point in their lifetime. The American Tinnitus Association provides education and research into the condition and has a wealth of information available on their webpage.

Though there aren’t any direct treatment options, there are a number of things that someone can do:

  • Breathing exercises and relaxation techniques that help one to remain calm and not fixate on the distraction.
  • Background music or other ways to fill in the soundscape can help push the tinnitus away, which can be more challenging in completely quiet environments.
  • Avoiding certain foods or activities sometimes alleviates symptoms. Keeping a logbook of what you eat and do—and any corresponding intensification of the tinnitus—is often helpful for people who find themselves with a permanent case.
  • Shocks to the ears from extreme sound can make things worse, so get into the habit of using ear protection in loud environments.

Research into treatment options for tinnitus continues and many people seek treatment from otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat specialists) and audiologists.

Getting Hearing Aids Through the Winter

Now that winter weather has shown up in earnest, it’s a good time to review how to take care of ears and hearing aids in the colder time of the year.

Oddly enough, one wintry seasonal issue is actually sweat—as in perspiration in the ear canal from wearing hats and earmuffs. Not only does this create a pretty good environment for ear infections to take hold, but if you use hearing aids it can cause some issues. They are electronic devices and, like any other, moisture isn’t their friend.

Taking care to clean and dry hearing aids before going to bed is a good investment of time. Likewise, purchasing—or pulling out of the drawer—a dehumidifier designed to “deep dry” hearing aids overnight is also a positive step.

If spending time outdoors is part of your winter routine, then splurging on some spandex hearing aid covers might also be a good investment. These form-fitting covers slip over the exposed parts of hearing aids and protect them from the elements, especially wetness from snow, sleet, rain (and your sweat).

Speaking of spending time outdoors in the winter, if running a snowblower is part of how you get through to spring then remember to protect your ears from the significant noise they produce. At 100 decibels plus, snowblowers aren’t just dangerous to hands and feet. Earplugs or noise-reducing headphones should be part of your routine (and leave your hearing aids in the house).

Dealing With a Child’s Hearing Loss

There’s a lot to keep in mind when parenting. And though it doesn’t happen very often, occasionally taking stock of your child’s hearing is something to be aware of.

One reason to do this is, if a child develops hearing issues, early intervention can be key to ensuring the best long-term outcome.

This is especially true when problems are recognized when a child is at the age to begin talking—which also happens to be the most common time issues are recognized.

Prompt action will allow hearing aids to be introduced when they will be critical to helping a child develop normal speech patterns.

It will also allow a child to grow up with hearing aids as a normalized part of their development. Once acclimated to them, kids will soon fully incorporate them into their lives—as will those around them.

Younger children usually start out with basic types of hearing aids that are simple to use and able to take the kind of wear and tear young children can dole out, either receiver-in-canal (RIC) or behind-the-ear (BTE) models. The difference in these types of hearing aids is RICs have the receiver (think microphone) inside the ear canal while BTEs have them outside. Both have the “brains” of the units outside the ear, with BTEs oftentimes the best choice because they can incorporate earmolds that can be adapted as your child gets older.

With an ability to handle greater responsibility in the teenage years, kids can switch to in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids that are more discreet and fully able to incorporate contemporary communication technology. This allows for interconnectivity with wireless devices, including the networks that are now part of many schools and other public facilities.

Don’t Let Your Ears Be a Casualty of Black Friday

Never mind supply chain issues, this year’s Black Friday will be a bigger affair than last year’s. That means it will be loud and proud.

If this is an annual ritual you’re looking forward to—while also dealing with hearing loss issues—then it’s best to enter the fray with a plan.

The first serious day of Christmas shopping is a donnybrook.

Having a plan is key. You really don’t want to try to get consumer information from an overworked retail worker amid the fray. Especially if hearing in crowded, loud situations is already a challenge. So do some research and know what you want to buy and avoid doing comparison shopping, which might entail trying to communicate in a hostile environment.

If you do have to try to have meaningful communication in a crowded store, then don’t beat around the bush. Let them know upfront you’re hearing challenged. If your hearing aids have settings for dealing with ambient noise conditions, then go to that program for the best results.

Having a shopping wingmate can work wonders. A younger relative or friend to help you run the gauntlet.

And don’t try to do too much too often. Schedule in a break from the loudness, whether that’s a quiet lunch or a walk away from the heart of commerce. Just like your brain likes to take a break, your ears actually respond positively to a pause from loud conditions.

And if the Friday after Thanksgiving is gonna be a cold one, then remember to have a warm hat at the ready if you’re going to be outside in the elements.

The Role of Online Hearing Tests

You can do a lot of things online these days. Even test your hearing.

Though it is not a replacement for a full diagnostic hearing session with an audiologist, an online hearing test can be useful. Especially in the case of someone just starting to admit to hearing loss who may need a little nudge to get them off the fence and into a professional’s office.

One aspect of online hearing tests that is very useful is the ability to take them regularly and create a long-term record of hearing function. This can alert someone to a consistent initial decline in their hearing and produce a dynamic that gets them to seek help. Likewise, a temporary hearing issue caused by allergies or illness might be confirmed when hearing function returns to “normal” over the course of testing.

When recovering from an exposure event involving very loud noise—an accident, attending a concert, or forgetting to use ear protection—a series of online tests can confirm that the damage was temporary and hearing is returning to normal (if that is the case).

There are two types of tests available, calibrated and non-calibrated.

Non-calibrated tests are less sophisticated and use volume level to track the ability to hear in loud environments and the basics of speech recognition. Calibrated tests track hearing across different frequencies and create an audiogram, a graph that visualizes the ability to hear at different pitches.

Most major brands of hearing aids have online hearing tests as part of their web pages, including Oticon and Signia.

Ears Are Not Immune to Allergic Reactions

For the unlucky, the end of summer brings on a new bout of allergies. Usually, this means itchy eyes and a runny nose, but don’t be surprised if your ears get into the act as well.

Your ears, like other parts of the body, are just as susceptible to an overly aggressive immune system; one that has decided that the pollen from some plant that’s made its way into your nasal passage is an enemy that must be eradicated. Allergic reactions are basically your immune system making sure you know it’s doing its thing.

And since your ears are linked—via the Eustachian tubes—to the throat (and therefore the rest of the nasal cavity), it is not unusual for that immune-system chain reaction to get into the inner ear.

This can result in tissue inflammation and excessive fluid buildup, both of which can have a noticeable effect on hearing, especially if the surfaces of one or both eardrums are impacted. Allergies can also create excessive earwax production, which can clog up the ear canal.

In fact, the Eustachian tubes themselves—which are relatively tiny and provide a vital service by regulating air pressure within your head—can get clogged up themselves and throw off the mechanism that helps us maintain our balance.

Anything that helps with the more common allergy symptoms— over-the-counter antihistamines—will probably also help clear out the ears and alleviate any hearing issues that have developed. But if issues linger, then consult a medical professional who can prescribe more powerful prescription medications.

Keep Your Ears Dry In The First Place

If you’re someone who makes swimming a part of your life—whether in a pool or natural body of water—then investing in some swimming earplugs might be a wise choice.

The kinds of ear infections that swimming makes more likely—there’s a reason they call it “swimmer’s ear”—can derail your summer and become a chronic nuisance.

There are a few things you can do to curtail the chance of coming down with a case of the summertime blues. Remembering to not “dry” your ears with friction by using a towel, Q-tip, or even a finger is a good start. Doing so will lead to abrasions on the walls of the ear canal, which is where bacteria can lodge and get started infecting your ear.

Also, be aware that if you use a hearing aid, removing it when you go swimming and reinserting it into a wet ear afterward will bring the same risk of creating conditions rife with infection possibilities.

And don’t assume that only swimming in chlorine-treated water will not put you at risk. Public pools are a great place to pick up a case of swimmer’s ear.

That’s why a pair of custom-molded swimming earplugs are your best line of defense. They will create a watertight seal that keeps the water—and thus waterborne bacteria—out of your ear canal. Shaping them to the contours of your ear is an important step in creating a tight seal and the best protection.

This is the best way to defend your ears and make sure you don’t get derailed this summer—or any time of year—by an ear infection.

Don’t Let Your Ears Suffer From The Music

The contemporary summer music festival scene isn’t synonymous with the hard-of-hearing generation—they went to Woodstock—but hearing loss should be on the younger set’s radar.

That’s because nearly one-fourth of Americans between 18 and 44 are believed to already be dealing with hearing loss issues. Between the rise of earbuds, the increase of high-volume media in public spaces, and the general loudness of modern life, there is a clear trend of hearing loss working its way down from the older generation.

With music festivals back on the agenda for the summer of 2021—after being scrubbed last year—now’s a good time to think about protecting your ears if you plan on once again diving into live music this summer. The damage done by extended exposure to excessive sound is rarely treatable; it’s permanent and can accumulate over time until hearing aids are really the only remedy.

One thing to remember, especially if you’re going to be onsite for hours on end, is that letting your ears take some breaks from loudness will lessen the risk of damage. Like most parts of your body, overuse will lead to problems.

But the best protection is earplugs. Generic ones are good, custom-fitted ones better.

If going to shows is an aspect of your life you’ve been looking forward to getting back into, and you expect to see a lot of shows to make up for lost COVID time, then investing in some professionally-fitted ear molds might be a wise move. They’ll provide a high level of protection while not interfering with sound quality, ensuring that your enjoyment of concerts for years to come does not come at the price of your long-term hearing health.