Mask-Wearing, Whether You Like It or Not

 

With the rebound in COVID-19 cases hitting many parts of the country, the need — and in many places requirement — to wear masks isn’t going away anytime soon.

Other than bandits, no one likes wearing a mask. Someone with a hearing aid even less so.

Sure, the first few times you pull off your mask and your hearing aid flies out of your ear is fun, but the novelty wears off fast. The negative reinforcement of this scenario will probably make being careful when removing a mask second nature pretty quickly.

What else can you do?

Masks with fabric ties that require the basic shoelace knot — as opposed to elastic ear loops — are probably a better bet, since once untied the strings won’t lasso any part of the hearing aid on their way by your ear.

If you do like elastic ties better, there are also mask holders — simple loops with snaps — that will pull the loops together at the back of the head. No ears required. S-hooks from the hardware store can also serve the same purpose.

Also, contact your hearing health professional. There may be solutions already discovered that best suit the kind of hearing aid you have. Everyone is having to be creative these days; lots of ideas are circulating.

And clearly hearing people who are speaking while wearing a mask is no bargain either. If you have to communicate with someone, remember to let them know you’re wearing a hearing aid and that you may need them to speak slowly. And try to talk away from other noise.

Don’t forget to bring your patience. It looks like mask-wearing will be with us for the foreseeable future.

A Month For Men to Consider Their Health

Thanks to Congressional action in 1994, June is officially Men’s Health Month. Actually, the original legislation — first sponsored by then-Senator and later Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole — proclaimed June 12 to 19 National Men’s Health Week. Inflation ensued and now it’s a whole month.

The purpose is to encourage men to realize “… the value that preventive health can play in prolonging their lifespan and their role as a productive family member [and] be more likely to participate in health screenings.”

And in the specific realm of hearing health, men do have some areas of concern to keep in mind.

The fact is, according to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, men are twice as likely to have hearing loss issues than women. And less likely to seek treatment.

The disparity is not fully understood, though the greater percentage of men having industrial jobs in sectors like construction and the military is thought to play a role in this statistical reality. The fact that men hunt with firearms at a much higher rate is probably also a factor. The best solution to these realities is to embrace the use of hearing protection, since long-term exposure to high-decibel sound environments is one of the surest ways to develop hearing issues.

Unfortunately, there is also some evidence that the regular use of many analgesics — common pain relievers like aspirin, acetaminophen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — can also be a risk factor for hearing loss in men (especially so in younger men). The cause is not clear, but just in cast try not to get in the habit of just taking pain relievers when not really needed.

Diabetes is also a risk factor, doubling one’s chances of developing hearing loss. And the rate of diabetes is slightly higher for men than women.

Finally, hearing loss is not an isolated condition. It is tied to an increased risk of depression and cognitive decline.

So, this June is the perfect time to think about making some lifestyle changes to protect your hearing or visiting a hearing health professional for a checkup.

Normal Isn’t the Operative Word These Days

In normal years, Better Hearing & Speech Month rolls around every May and a topic is embraced by the hearing health industry, led by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

But this is so not a normal year.

On the last day of April, ASHA released a statement making it clear that the already chosen theme “Communication at Work” had to be seriously altered. Instead, efforts would center on providing information and support in these unprecedented times of COVID-19.

“Our goal is to champion every person’s ability to communicate, including at this difficult time. Although circumstances are quite unprecedented for this year’s Better Hearing & Speech Month, the expertise and dedication of ASHA members are constant,” said ASHA President Theresa H. Rodgers. “The countless, innovative ways audiologists and speech-language pathologists have transformed their work during the pandemic — striving to help their patients, clients, and students to the fullest extent possible — testify to their unwavering commitment to ASHA’s vision of making effective communication, a human right, accessible and achievable for all.”

ASHA represents over 200,000 members, all of whom have been scrambling to change course. This has meant everything from instituting telemedicine and drop box services to suspending clinical trials and teaching college- and graduate-level courses remotely.

For individuals stuck at home, ASHA will be providing information on its website covering challenges that many are facing, including helping children with hearing issues deal with remote schooling and a lack of in-person therapy, managing virtual meetings when hearing impaired, and managing communication issues for the hard of hearing.

Updates can be found on the ASHA website.

When Your Job Makes You Hard of Hearing

Getting older is already a risk factor for hearing loss. Unfortunately, getting older after having a career in certain occupations raises that risk. And not surprisingly, jobs that are loud are jobs that can negatively affect hearing.

The economic sectors most detrimental to hearing are manufacturing (factory work), construction, aviation, mining, agriculture, and the military.

But others aren’t as obvious. The entertainment industry — including bartenders and waitstaff who work in nightclubs and concert venues — is high-risk. So too are dentists (those drills), ambulance drivers (sirens), and PE teachers (lose that whistle).

Basically, any job where high-decibel noise is an every day (or every night) occurrence.

One 2018 study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that tracked workers in the nuclear power industry, discovered that over half had hearing loss issues. The study was based on data collected from over 19,000 workers by the Building Trades Medical Screening Program. The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) sponsored the research.

The study amplified a not surprising finding — the longer the career in a high-decibel setting the higher the hazard. Workers with careers over 30 years were 4 times more likely to having hearing issues than those who had worked for less than 10 years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States” with over 22 million workers exposed to dangerous noise levels while on the job.

And most alarming, the injury to one’s ears is usually cumulative, meaning it can be getting worse before becoming obvious later in life.

Using hearing protection now — each and every day (or night) on the job — is really the only way to keep occupational hearing loss at bay.

Hearing Loss and Genetics

For most people, hearing loss issues develop because something happens later in life. They get older or their ears are damaged because of accidents, infection, or exposure to loud noise.

But for some, it’s a matter of being born with issues. This falls under the rubric of genetic hearing disorders.

Genes are the basic building block of cell growth. They are the instruction manual. And unfortunately, problems can arise. These are known as mutations. These can then be passed down to successive generations as familial traits. Other factors, such as radiation exposure, can also introduce mutations.

Genetic hearing issues have been broken down into several broad categories.

When both parents have genetic traits and they are passed onto their child it is known as autosomal recessive hearing loss. Even if both parents have normal hearing, the dormant genetic predisposition can be active in their children.

If only one parent — or a new mutation — is the reason for hearing issues it’s known as autosomal dominant hearing loss.

X-linked hearing loss — when the X-chromosome mutates — is a far more common issue in men than women. Men only have one X-chromosome, while women have two (which makes the mutation less severe for women).

Genetic issues with the mitochondria don’t directly affect the ear but can do so indirectly. Mitochondria are the part of cells that generate energy and problems with them can negatively impact the workings of the inner ear.

Given the vast number of instructions in the human genome — it contains 3 billion base pairs of DNA — it’s a wonder things don’t go wrong more often. Only a few genetic wrong turns can introduce hearing loss.