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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.

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.

Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease

Hearing loss doesn’t always have to be from noise. Exposure to high levels of sound over an extended period of time may be a leading cause, but there are many others. Aging, genetics, and head injury can all lead to hearing difficulty, as can autoimmune inner ear disease.

Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED) “occurs when the body’s immune system attacks cells in the inner ear.” These cells are often mistaken for a virus, bacteria, or foreign object. AIED is rare, but not unheard of.

Symptoms include progressive, sudden hearing loss over a period of a couple months. Hearing is often replaced by tinnitus, and dizziness and balance issues are not uncommon. Loss can start in one ear, then move to both. Although AIED can happen to anyone, a high incidence of cases are seen in people with Meniere’s disease, which is an inner ear disorder marked by “recurring episodes of vertigo.”

Diagnosis is often a challenge, as there are no specific tests. Underlying causes can include lupus, multiple sclerosis, and even gout, all autoimmune diseases that can relate to AIED. Treatment sometimes includes steroids and the use of hearing aids.

Always talk to your doctor and audiologist if you notice any increase in hearing difficulty.

TBI and Hearing Loss

Brain Injury Symptoms

The past couple of years have seen a rise in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) awareness, perhaps due to their prevalence in both professional and junior-league sports. But did you know, brain injuries can also affect hearing?

Though hearing difficulties after a head injury are not a given (and can’t be relied on to definitively diagnose TBI), any occurrence or increase in hearing loss should be noted and treated. TBI hearing loss can affect the outer, middle, or inner ears, and range in length (short vs. long term) and severity. Tinnitus sometimes results, as does hyperacusis (sensitivity to sound), or Meniere’s syndrome (an incurable and “excessive pressure in the chambers of the inner ear”).

Other TBI symptoms can be moderate or severe, and can include everything from problems with attention, concentration, and vision to “difficulties with interpretation of touch, temperature, [and] movement.” Recognizing warning signs of head injuries is something every parent or teacher should be able to do

Hearing Loss Treatment

Treatment of hearing loss concurrent with that of brain injuries can be tough, as symptoms can overlap. According to the Hearing Review, these symptoms can be “mistaken for PTSD, mental health issues, and cognitive deficits.” If serious enough, long-term management may include hearing aids or auditory processing therapy.

If you notice any instance of hearing loss, you should always check with your primary care physician, who will refer you to an audiologist. With their help, you can come up with a plan to help manage your loss.

If you suffer any blow to the head, or play regular contact sports, its always a good idea to talk with your doctor, as well — even if you don’t have any symptoms. The long-term effects from both TBI and CTE (a degenerative brain disease seen in those with a history of repetitive brain trauma) can be debilitating.

REM has written about TBI before. Don’t hesitate to check out our past blogs, such as TBI and tinnitus and Going Back to School with TBI.

National Audiology Awareness Month

October is National Audiology Awareness Month. What does that mean? What can you do? How can you help spread awareness?

Do a Google search, and you’ll find half a dozen calls to action from a variety of different hearing education resources. The American Academy of Audiology, for example, asks hearing professionals to take charge locally and dedicate time during October 1-5 (“Public Awareness Week”) to “rally with your colleagues,” while Cochlear Americas seeks stories from the experts, hoping to inspire and teach.

Healthy Hearing, on the other hand, lays out the facts for the non-professional. They highlight the importance of not only hearing tests, but the importance of audiology assessments:

“Audiologists have a valuable and varied role in treating the hearing health of people of all ages, from the very young to the very old. They not only perform hearing evaluations and fit hearing aids, but also treat noise induced hearing loss, ear infections, trauma and damage to inner ear and eardrum due to illness or ototoxic medications.”

In line with Healthy Hearing, the NIDCD has a dedicated website to help inform the consumer, especially concerning adolescent hearing loss. This is a great resource for parents and teachers.

Finally, REM has some tips for how you can help with National Audiology Awareness Month:

  1. Spread the news about hearing loss prevention, which is a big part of any audiologist’s job.
  2. Find your favorite resources. In addition to the websites listed above, REM’s own blog — covering a variety of topics over the course of several years — might prove helpful.
  3. Encourage ear protection when exposed to loud noises.
  4. Get an app that monitors noise levels in the world around you.
  5. Realize that everyone over 55 deserves a hearing assessment*.

There’s lots you can do to help this coming October!

*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.

Portable Music Device Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is on the rise! For children, exposure to loud, constant noise is more prevalent than ever. A recent study, undertaken by researchers from Erasmus University, links portable music devices to future hearing problems in children. According to the ASHA Leader article that breaks down the study:

“Even using the portable music players just one or two days per week (regardless of how long they wore headphones or how high the volume setting), these children were more than twice as likely to have hearing loss when compared to children who did not use these devices at all.”

That’s a bold, frightening claim, but parents should realize there are still ways to help protect their children’s hearing. Volume level and length of exposure — despite the prevalence conclusions of the study — are still major determining factors in later-life hearing loss. Limiting time and sound level is strongly advocated. It will help!

When asking your children to turn down their music or take out their earbuds for a while, REM recommends explaining why you’re telling them to do so. Teach them good hearing etiquette early in life, lessons they can apply years down the road. Teach your children (and other adults you may know) to take care of their hearing now.

For more information about how long it takes (and how loud it needs to get) before sound causes hearing loss, you can check out one of our past blogs.

Back to School with Hearing Loss

Summer is winding down and school is peeking out over the horizon. If you have hearing loss or communication difficulties, what can you do to prepare? Who can you talk to?

1. Talk to your child. Be transparent. If your child has hearing or language issues, reassure any anxieties they may have. Share as much info as you can about any assistive listening devices or speech therapy classes currently in place to help them learn and stay on course with their fellow students.

2. Get informed! See what services your school offers, and see what else could be offered. Talk to local audiologists and speech pathologists, maybe do some research online. Possibly, you can even give your local school board some ideas.

3. Be aware of your school’s IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and 504 plans. These can offer “formal help for K-12 students with learning and attention issues.”

4. If your child has hearing loss, allow them to try unfamiliar things. Allow them to achieve and stumble. Ellie Parfitt, who is deaf, writes on the Hearing Like Me blog: “One thing that my parents have learned from having a deaf child, is that you should encourage them to make their own decisions, choose subjects they would like to study and make sure you encourage them to try new things.” This is good advice for anyone.

For more information, check out one of our blogs from last summer. Here, you’ll be able to find info about specific devices and ideas concerning your child’s educational development.

The Genetics of Hearing Loss

Can you inherit hearing loss? As you might expect, the answer is complicated.

Because of genetic mutations that can be passed from parent to child, certain individuals may be more pre-disposed to hearing difficulty than others. Hereditary hearing loss can be seen in everything from genetic abnormalities in inner ear sensory cells to specific disorders such as Usher syndrome, Pendred syndrome, and Otosclerosis.

In some cases, genetic hearing loss can appear in newborns. About 50% of all children’s hearing loss can be due to genetic influences. According to BabyHearing.org:

“In approximately 70% of cases of genetic hearing loss, the cause is autosomal recessive. About 12 babies per 10,000 have a recessive cause of their hearing loss. Congenital hearing loss (hearing loss present at birth) that is due to one of the many recessive genes is twice as common as Cystic Fibrosis, another recessive genetic condition.”

Hereditary hearing difficulty can also manifest later in life. Anyone can experience the symptoms and effects of hearing loss at any time.

The causes and permutations of hearing disorders are very complex, and not everyone will be able to — or feel the need to — have their genes sequenced to see what could potentially be passed down to their children. That said, it’s important to know that sometimes hearing loss simply can be explained by genetics, to the fault of no one involved. So, if you notice any hearing issues in you or your child, it’s important to get them checked out right away, even if you don’t fit into any high-risk groups.

Balance and Hearing Loss

Hearing and balance are two peas in a pod. Balance is intricately connected to the inner ear, and if you have balance issues, you might have hearing loss (and vice versa). If you notice symptoms of either, it’s always a good idea to talk to your primary care physician or audiologist.

Noticing Symptoms

Why go see an audiologist if you experience dizziness or loss of coordination with hearing loss? “Hearing and balance disorders are complex with medical, psychological, physical, social, educational, and employment implications.” It often takes an audiologist — well versed in the diagnosis and treatment of not only hearing loss, but also its associated physical manifestations — to figure out the best way forward.

It’s important to not waste any time if you notice any differences in your balance. A fall due to uneven equilibrium is never ideal, especially if you’re older. It can be frustrating, costly, and even permanently debilitating. A Johns Hopkins study showed that falls are increasing among senior citizens in the US. Researcher Elizabeth Burns, at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, says that “Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults aged 65 and older.”

How to Help Yourself

1. If you have a hearing loss and balance problems, hearing aids can usually help compensate for your balance issues.. The more you can hear your environment, the better you’re able to interact with the world around you.

2. Though it may seem to go without saying, keep your floor clear of any refuse or piles, don’t walk around in the dark, and don’t feel ashamed to walk with a cane or walker if you need one.

Regular Hearing Assessments

It is REM’s belief — one we share with patients in a readily available handout — that regular hearing assessments** could be just what you need to decrease the risk of falls, increase your longevity, and enjoy a better overall quality of life. Please reach out and call us or your doctor for more information.

**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.

Diet and Hearing Health

A healthy diet is an important part of hearing health. It’s easy to understand why – a healthy diet equals a healthy body, and when you eat all the right foods and get plenty of exercise, you age better, more naturally, and maybe even slower.

So, how does hearing specifically fit into all this?

Let’s start with minerals. Minerals in food are necessary nutrients the body needs, and there are a few that are crucial to help preserve good hearing. Potassium, folic acid, magnesium, and zinc are all important to help your hearing remain its best. Check out the linked article for more information, and start paying attention to what vitamins you’re regularly consuming. You might need to add some supplements if you’re lacking in any essentials (though talk to your doctor first).

As for overall health, a recent article on the CaptionCall website cites a study: “Over the last 26 years researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, part of Harvard Medical School in Boston, have been studying women’s diets and how it relates to hearing loss.” Results showed that those with better dietary habits had a 47 percent less likely chance to experience hearing loss later in life. “Researchers note that the main relation between healthy diet and hearing loss prevention is increased cardiovascular health. Healthy diets lead to an increase in blood flow and reducing inflammation.”

So, looking beyond diet, it might be safe to conclude that a healthier heart equals hardier hearing. “The connection between hearing health and cardiovascular health has led many professionals to believe the ear may be a window into the heart,” writes Beth McCormick, Au.D., in a Starkey blog.

The body works together in ways that the medical community is still figuring out, and different studies on diet and hearing will naturally have different conclusions. That said, a healthy body is always a good thing to strive for, right?

Healthy body, healthy heart, healthy mind, healthy hearing.