Custom Ear Plugs

The final blog in our earplug series is all about custom protection. These types of ear plugs are made with the help of an audiologist, and offer the most personalized sound attenuation and fit.

What Makes a Custom Earplug

Customs are created just for you. An audiologist will make an earmold to send to a manufacturer, where it will then be crafted to your specifications and needs. Though the specifics depend on the consumer, most earplugs are made from a silicon, semi-flexible material that fits perfectly into your ear. If you opt for musician’s plugs, each will contain a specialized filter, designed to block out a predetermined amount of noise.

Types

Like reusable plugs, customs come in a few different varieties:

1. Sleep earplugs. These are your everyday types, designed to attenuate a level of noise to help you sleep at night, or travel during the day.

2. Musician’s earplugs. The main difference between these and your baseline plugs are the attenuation levels. Musician’s earplugs tend to preserve the relationship between high and low frequencies, to help you distinguish between different tones.

3. Sport earplugs. Varieties include:

Price and Upkeep

Costs usually range from $100.00 – $200.00*, so a pair is a bit of an investment. Keep in mind, though, that a good pair of custom earplugs can last anywhere from 3 to 5 years, much longer than disposables (single use) and reusables (2-3 months).

To get the most out of your money, you want to be sure to clean your plugs as often as possible. Use a little bit of water and a microfiber cloth or a specialized wipe your audiologist can provide. It’s best not to use alcohol or alcohol swabs.

Process of Making Customs

As we stated above, an audiologist will make an earmold. They will first examine your canal for wax, which they will clear out if necessary. Then they will inject a soft putty into your ear, which will take the shape of your canal as it hardens. Once the putty is removed, a history is taken, questions about specifications are asked, and then everything is sent to the manufacturer who will make the plugs and mail them back to your audiologist, who will make sure the fit is perfect.

For specifics and questions, don’t hesitate to ask your audiologist. They will be more than happy to walk you through your choices.

*Plugs for hunters, due to the mix of amplification technology and noise protection, will run a lot more.

 

Over The Ear (OTE) Ear Plugs

This week we’re continuing our tech spotlight blog series by talking about something a little more niche: over-the-ear (OTE) protection. OTE protection, more commonly known as “ear muffs”, is not something everyone is going to use. They’re big, bulky, and not practical for a lot of daily or social actives. However, for those who work in particularly noisy or messy surroundings, or for those who need a level of professional customization, these are possibly some of the best the tools on the market to help protect your hearing.

OTE Protection

OTE hearing protection can be found online or at your local hardware store. They resemble earphones, and fit completely over your ear. No matter the brand, you can adjust the tightness to your level of comfort.

The rims are cushioned and comfortable, some are sweat resistant, and you can wear them for hours at a time. One popular type is even collapsable for easy storage.

Uses and Advantages

Ear muffs are commonly used by construction workers, hunters, and (with some upgrades) airline pilots. They are portable, require less maintenance than, and have similar NRR ratings to*, reusable in-the-ear plugs.

They are ideal for constant use, and can be easily removed, replaced, and stored. You don’t have to worry about irritation or introducing dirt or debris into your ear canal. Earmuffs are also one size fits all (though some brands offer a range of sizes).

Every now and then, it’s recommended you wipe down the inside with some water (though you won’t need to do this nearly as much as you would with reusable ear protection). Compressed air also helps to clear out any skin flakes that may have gotten trapped inside.

At $10.00 – $20.00 for a standard pair on Amazon, they are relatively inexpensive.

Using with Other Protection

Some people double up and wear ear muffs in addition to disposable or reusable plugs. This can help if you find yourself in an extremely noisy or harsh accoustic environment. Coopersafety.com breaks down how this works in regards to NRR ratings:

“When hearing protectors are worn in combination (i.e. earplugs AND earmuffs), rather than adding the two NRR numbers together, you simply add five more decibels of protection to the device with the higher NRR. For example, using 3M™ E-A-R™ Classic Earplugs (NRR 29) with 3M™ Peltor™ H7 Deluxe Earmuffs (NRR 27) would provide a Noise Reduction Rating of approximately 34 decibels.”

Most people opt for a single set of ear protection, however, whether that’s disposable, reusable, over-the-ear, or custom varieties. Each have their strengths.

Next up: custom ear plugs. (This is where your audiologist comes in to help.)

*Regarding NRR ratings: your base level ear muffs will typically have a lower score than your run of the mill disposable or reusable plug. You can purchase brands, however, with comparable noise valuations.

 

Reusable Ear Plugs

Last week — to coincide with our new technology spotlight — we wrote about the uses and benefits of disposable earplugs. This week we’re focusing on reusable protection, similar to the disposables, but different in some very key ways.

Similarities

Like disposable plugs, you can purchase reusables from your local pharmacy or online, for around the same price. They, too, are inserted into your ear canal, where they help attenuate the noise around you to a more comfortable level. With either product, it’s up to the consumer to decide on the best fit.

The noise reduction rating*, or NRR, are similarly scaled for each.

Differences and Non-Moldable vs. Moldable

The main difference is right there in the name. You can reuse multiple-use plugs without worry, though it’s recommended you wash them in non-chlorinated water after each use.

The material is also different. While disposable protection is often made of memory foam, most non-moldable reusable varieties are made from “pre-molded silicone rubber, vinyl, and other hypoallergenic synthetic rubbers.” Moldable plugs are often a softer silicone or plastic.

Moldable plugs resemble a putty, and are used similarly to single-use ear protection (pinch, roll, and insert). Non-moldable plugs, on the other hand, have a set shape, and are simply inserted into the ear canal.

Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Putty Ear Plugs is a good example of a reusable, moldable plug. For non-moldables, 3M offers several — some that even come with a cord — that are very popular.

Maintenance

Though these plugs can be used multiple times, they should be thrown away if you notice any visible wear and tear, including any small fissures or discoloration. As we mentioned above, a daily wash is recommended for non-moldable protection.

Moldables, generally, will not last as long non-moldables, and shouldn’t be washed (they will break apart in water). These you should treat carefully. Be sure to keep them clean and dry, and wash your hands before taking them in and out of their case.

Types and Their Uses

Reusable ear plugs are useful for those who know what they need protection for, and for those who need protection often. There are reusable plugs made for musicians, for the workplace, for outdoor activities (like hunting, skeet shooting, or swimming), and for casual use (such as sleeping or city living). Much like the single use foam plugs, its best to try out a few brands to see which best suits your lifestyle.

Some resources to help you decide:

1. Musicianonamission.com has a helpful list of their favorite earplugs from 2018 for the music lover.
2. Tuck’s “Best Earplugs for Sleeping”, a list for 2019 (9)
3. Everydayhearing.com has an impressive breakdown of all their favorite non-custom brands of earplugs, disposables included.

Reusable plugs can help protect your hearing and can help make the world a little more comfortable.

Next up: over-the-ear protection.

*The noise reduction rating is the “unit of measurement used to determine the effectiveness of hearing protection devices to decrease sound exposure within a given working environment”. Earplugs reach up to 33, while ear-muffs (or over-the-ear protection) reach up to 30 or 31. The NRR ratings help you determine how much noise is being reduced, and is a good thing to keep in mind when purchasing earplugs.

Disposable Ear Plugs

The most popular types of ear plugs, arguably, are the disposable varieties. These are the inexpensive plugs you can find in the drugstore or online, the kind of protection you can pinch, twist, and insert into your canal. Usually they expand completely to fill the space inside, and you’ll toss them after a single use. Most disposable plugs are made of memory foam to match the contours of your ear.

Disposable Plug Uses

Disposable ear protection is ideal for those trying out earplugs for the first time, as backups for more permanent plugs, or for those who are more comfortable sleeping and working with that memory foam-feeling.

Sleepers, especially, gravitate towards the disposables. They tend to block out loud neighbors or ambient noise just enough to allow for rest. While they’re also good for attenuating the noise levels around you, making sure your inner ear isn’t exposed to any loud or constant noise, they also bring down the overall volume of the world to more peaceful levels.

Loud work sites also tend to give out disposable ear plugs to their employees. OSHA outlines the circumstances when ear protection must be used (anything over 85 dBA), and how effective these types of earplugs can be in those situations.

Different Types

There are dozens of brands. Some have a more comfortable fit than others, but most will offer similar levels of protection.

For workplaces or industrial areas, the most popular plug might be the 3M classic pillow pack, which you can find online. These are effective, comfortable, and easy-to-use. Just be careful on insertion. There’s no lip for easy removal, so don’t place too far into your ear canal.

As we get into the other earplug categories in later blogs, we’ll have more specifics and recommendations. For disposables, it’s really up to you and whatever you find the most comfortable.

Earplug Tests

Because there are so many disposable varieties, you can often inadvertently purchase cheap knock-off or defective plugs. So before you settle on a type, buy a few small packs and give them each a test run. If they block out or attenuate to a perceived acceptable level of sound, and you find them comfortable and not painful, then you’re good to go.

If you’re using disposables primarily as protection, it’s also a good idea to get a decibel reader, which you can download for little or no cost to your smart phone. Remember what OSHA says — anything above 85 dB is a potential hazard.

Also be sure that after each use, you throw out your plugs; you don’t want to re-introduce dirt into your canal. Don’t wear them for too long, either. Moisture can easily get trapped in your ear, potentially leading to ear infections.

Disposable earplugs are just the tip of the ear protection iceberg, but they’re an incredibly useful day-to-day tool. Try out a few brands, see what suits your lifestyle, and later on, maybe consider some reusable or custom varieties.

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 can be a challenge for anyone, but if your household has one or more 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 in noise can be more easily understood, where you 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. They 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.