Wine – Chocolate – Hearing Loss

Did you know that (a moderate amount of) wine and chocolate can help your hearing? It sounds far-fetched, but according to some researchers, it’s true. Red wine and dark chocolate may help prevent inflammation that causes — in part — noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Inflammation damages your sensory perception. If you get sick or have an ear infection, the blood vessels in your ear canal can weaken, and your circulation can slow. Your natural defenses can be compromised, allowing exposure to loud or constant noise to cause more harm.

If wine and chocolate could help prevent this trauma, it would certainly be welcome news. But for all their supposed benefits, keep in mind neither is a miracle food. You shouldn’t trust them to protect you from external noise, and overindulging in either may, in fact, cause active harm. Excessive alcohol, especially, has been shown to hurt both your brain and — as a consequence — your hearing.

REM has written about food’s relationship with hearing before. In that blog, we focused on the correlation between cholesterol and hearing health. We concluded that the healthier the body, the healthier the hearing. The connection between chocolate and wine and protection from NIHL may be a bit more tenuous, but a little bit of either certainly won’t hurt. They might even help.

At the very least, they’ll taste good.

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.

Learning a Language with Hearing Loss

Learning a language is one of the hardest — and most rewarding — things someone can do with their time. But if you have hearing loss, is it still possible?

Of course! Though it might be a little more difficult, going through the language learning process is not only doable, it can even benefit those hard of hearing in the long run.

Hurdles

“When I took classes in school it was difficult for me to keep up with the curriculum and I couldn’t rely on other methods I use to listen in class such as lip-reading. The experience lowered my confidence and instilled a fear in me of learning a new language,” writes Kirsten Brackett in her “3 Tips for Learning a Language with Hearing Loss” blog. This is an understandable fear. Learning a new language takes you out of your comfort zone, and the tricks and methods you normally use to communicate in day-to-day life may not be easily applied. This is doubly so for those with a hearing deficit.

Solutions

Kirsten Brackett outlined what worked for her, and it was all about finding what played to her strengths. She took it slow, determined the best resources to help supplement her learning (online classes and tests turned out to be really useful), and wasn’t afraid to ask for help. Repetition was also useful. “I usually need to hear a word multiple times in order to hear the sounds making up the word,” she said.

In an article on British Deaf News, the writer took a similar but different approach. “My support worker would point to the word as they said it so I could work out what the lip patterns looked like, and roughly what it sounded like. With constant repetition, like in English, I gradually picked it up.”

Lip reading didn’t help Brackett, but it helped the writer for BDN (though repetition assisted them both). What might work for one, might not for another. It’s all about finding your own way. For online help, check out Brackett’s blog, head over to popular sites such as Duolingo, or search for resources on Google. What’s available at your fingertips is endless, and with a little bit of research, you can easily find the one that best suits your needs.

Benefits

Learning a language is not only teaching yourself how to speak differently, but to think differently. Everything from Spanish to French to Latin to ASL requires you (and your brain) to grow and adapt in ways you might not have thought possible. It is a very worthwhile pursuit that can make you feel more confident in yourself and your roots.

If you struggle with hearing, the process can help re-wire your brain, helping you practice comprehension and retention of any audible speech. Your brain is a muscle, and learning a new language is one of the greatest workouts you can give it.

Family Hearing Loss

Living with hearing loss is a challenge for anyone, but if your household has multiple individuals with hearing difficulty, day-to-day conversation and interaction can sometimes feel insurmountable. So it’s important to know your options.

Hearing aid technology has advanced greatly over the years, and devices are now at the point (depending on the severity of your loss) where speech amid noise can be more easily understood, where you maybe don’t have to shout to get the other person’s attention. If you don’t have hearing aids, you might find yourself turning the TV up too loud, getting easily frustrated trying to talk to your family members, or having your family members get frustrated themselves.

Hearing aids are important, and will help. There may still be difficulties, yes, but with the right device, and the right programming, you can find your family’s conversation equilibrium. This is true for homes with single or multiple wearers of hearing aids.

Assistive listening devices — used in conjunction with your aids — can make things even easier. Hypersound, for instance, is an amplification technology that uses directional speakers to focus the sound of your entertainment system. Most aids, such as the Oticon Opn™, also have Bluetooth® technology that allows certain devices to stream directly to your aids. As the technology around us grows, so does our ability to pair them with each another. Hearing aids are no exception.

With conversation and entertainment options covered, what else is there?

There will always be challenges, despite all the solutions available. Be honest and up-front with your loved ones. Let them know what you’re feeling, what you find frustrating, and ask them to tell you the same. If you and others suffer from hearing loss at the same time, not being transparent can compound communication issues. Hearing issues can be hard enough; there’s no need to make them harder.

Be sure to also talk to your audiologist. They may even be able to help counsel you and your family on how to more easily converse and understand one another at home.

2019 Hearing Health Resolutions

The new year is here! What are your hearing resolutions?

If you want to feel young and active, we suggest getting an annual hearing assessment*. Hearing loss can manifest in different ways, for many different reasons, but one of the most common is aging. “Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most of us as we grow older. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults,” says the NIDCD, and it’s important to not let any problems linger without attention.

If you’re over the age of 55, speak to your primary care physician about scheduling a test with an audiologist, even if you don’t notice any issues. Look after your hearing as much as you would your teeth and your health.

If you do have noticeable hearing loss, don’t worry! Stay positive. Aid technology is better than it’s ever been, and with the help of your audiologist, you can often successfully manage any loss you’re experiencing.

If you’re the parent of a child, a hearing test early in life is crucial, because of the delays mild and moderate hearing loss can cause. Annual checkups are not necessary, but it is important to keep a close eye (or ear) on your child’s progression, on their ability to meaningfully comprehend speech in noise.

If you’re a teacher, resolve to do the same. Watch your students closely, and notify parents and administration about any hearing problems you may notice, no matter how subtle they might appear. Schools have plans in place to help address such difficulties, to allow kids to stay on track without any gaps in their education.

If you already have an aid, already get regular checkups, do everything we’ve already mentioned, maybe look into some new technology. Outside of hearing aids, the hearing healthcare world is full of exciting tech and possibilities. We’re sure your audiologist would be more than happy to show you what’s new.

Here’s to a 2019 full of good hearing and healthy hearing habits!

*The purpose of this hearing assessment and/or demonstration is for hearing wellness to determine if the patient(s) may benefit from using hearing aids. Products demonstrated may differ from products sold. Test conclusion may not be a medical diagnosis. The use of any hearing aid may not fully restore normal hearing and does not prevent future hearing loss. Testing is to evaluate your hearing wellness, which may include selling and fitting hearing aids. Hearing instruments may not meet the needs of all hearing-impaired individuals. One offer per customer. Offer not available to any consumer using an insurance benefit, a Managed Care, or Federal reimbursement (including third-party administered reimbursements). Offer cannot be combined with any of our promotional offers, coupons or discounts. Other terms may apply. See office for details

Playing in the Snow with Hearing Aids

In a recent blog, we wrote about the dangers of a wet hearing aid, and what you should do if any moisture finds its way inside. We covered prevention tips, as well as sweatbands, dehumidifiers, and Ear Gear protection. But for full-on snow-based fun, we want to add and emphasize a few more points.

Check your warranty

If your aids break, malfunction, or get lost, you want to make sure if and how you’re covered.

Check your protection

Whether you’re wearing earmuffs, hats that cover your ears, or Ear Gear spandex sleeves, you want to know how well they keep out water. Test inside before you leave the house!

Dry your aids

Keep your aids dry, preventatively. Use a dehumidifier nightly, and wipe down your aids with a dry, clean cloth after any outside activity.

Don’t wear them

Only as a last resort, as this goes against our most common advice. But if you’re going outside for a snowball fight or snow angel session, and you know the environment (and there’s no chance of traffic), a couple minutes without aids might be your best bet. Give them to someone you trust.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an adult or a child, playing in the snow can be fun. If you wear hearing aids, just be sure to take extra care they don’t get wet.

Winter Exercising With Hearing Aids

When exercising, how can you best keep your hearing aid dry? Should you even wear them in the first place? Is there gear that offers protection? Exercising with hearing aids can be tricky. Exercising with hearing aids in the winter can be even trickier.

Should I Wear Hearing Aids?

Yes, despite the temperature and season, your hearing aids are crucial for outdoor activities. You want to be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you’re with a group, you want to be able to hear them. If alone, it’s important to be able to place yourself in space, to hear what’s nearby.

Make sure your aids don’t get wet, though. Moisture is an aid’s number one enemy.

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 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 — 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.

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.

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, and frankly, we believe that with the right precautions, those with hearing loss can participate in any activity or sport. When it’s cold, running, jogging or walking are probably the most manageable. But even if you’re skiing or snowboarding, just keep your aids dry (or covered with Ear Gear or similar protections), use your dehumidifiers, and make sure you don’t lose them on the slopes (and always check any warranty information beforehand, just in case).

Happy Trails!

Holiday Hearing Around the Table

Whatever your December may involve, we can all agree that it probably includes a lot of sitting around the table and talking to your friends and family. If you have problems hearing, this can often be frustrating.

Though it may be difficult, we recommend telling anyone who might not be familiar with your hearing loss about your needs up front. It will be a lot easier for you and them in the long run. But we also understand that this may be difficult, especially if you find yourself in a bigger group than usual, or if you’re around people you don’t know. In these situations, don’t get frustrated. Pick up what you can, and respond when you’re able. A couple “pardon me”s and your companions might get the idea without your ever having to tell them.

For smaller gatherings, try to place yourself at the center (location-wise) of any conversation you want to hear. Too far at one end of the table or room, and you may run into difficulty. Quiet backgrounds are always best, though even in the most muted surroundings, there’s always the risk of too much ambient noise. The hardest part about social gatherings are the unknowns.

The Better Hearing Institute has a good, practical list for those persons without hearing loss, and it’s all about accommodation. If you know a guest has a hearing issue, be attentive, speak clearly, and face the person when talking or addressing him or her. If the event is at your house, “keep the room well lit. Providing good lighting will make it easier for those with hearing loss to see facial expressions and the mouths of those speaking.”

Like we said up top, there’s no shame in telling everyone that you need to hear clearly and comfortably. If people know, they’ll often be more than happy to create an accessible atmosphere for both you and your family. And remember, if you have them, always wear your hearing aids. Be sure they’re working and clean before any holiday party, and bring extra batteries just in case.

REM’s Holiday Season

The holiday season is all about family, fun, and cold weather get-togethers. For us at REM, the next few months are also about seasonal hearing health tips.

Coming up in December and January, we’re getting the word out with our holiday-themed Tips and Sips events and new open houses, free to anyone who wants to attend. And for those who stop by our offices, we’ll have seasonal sweet treats available in all our waiting rooms. Come on by, grab a snack, and ask some questions!

On the healthcare side of things, keep your eyes open for our winter newsletter, which will address in greater detail what you can do to keep your hearing in top shape during the winter months, and check out our past blogs on holiday hearing loss and cold weather ear protection. Outside of our website, we also have a patient handout in the upcoming January issue of the Hearing Journal titled, “Tips for Managing Hearing Health During the Season.” We’ll let you know when that’s available.

Finally, and we’ve been beating this drum for a while now, we want to let you know the importance of socializing, of getting outside the house, going to different places and talking to different people. Socialization, as always, equals brain training, and the more you practice hearing speech amid noise, the more your comprehension will benefit.

The holiday season is the perfect time to strengthen your hearing.

The Problem with Earwax

Did you know that earwax increases — and thickens — with age? That as you get older, it can accumulate, get impacted, and cause problems with everything from hearing to balance?

First things first

What is it?

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, earwax (also known as cerumen), is a “mixture of…fatty acids, alcohols, cholesterol, and…squalene…secreted by glands in the outer ear” to keep out dust, bacteria, and other foreign particles. It is your ear’s gatekeeper and natural cleanser.

Think of it like a secure door, one that’s almost always half-shut, that just happens to increase in size over time. Earwax moves from the rear part of your ear canal (near the eardrum), outwards (to the outer portion, the part you can see).

Problems

Without earwax, your ears wouldn’t be nearly as effective as they are. Problems only arise when you have too much. Give it enough time and your earwax doesn’t just “grow,” but it also bonds with the debris it’s there to block. Your wax grows stronger, more compact. It becomes, as Harvard Health writes, “hard and dry.”

Hard and dry earwax can be tough and difficult to manage. Sometimes, it can lead to blockages in the ear canal. Common cerumen blockage symptoms include earaches, feelings of fullness, sudden dizziness, and hearing difficulties / tinnitus.

Treatment

It’s always a good idea to keep your ears clean, but you never want to stick anything inside your ear canal to do so. Q-tips™ are not safe (nothing that small around your eardrum is), and you don’t want to keep removing earwax until there’s not enough there to do its job.

Oftentimes, you don’t have to get it cleared until absolutely necessary. If you’re experiencing any problems, or notice any symptoms a blockage might cause, your primary care physician or audiologist will be able to clean out your ears quickly and safely.