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Hearing Loss Prevention Practices to Start in the New Year

protecting ears in winter

At this point, we all know to wear a helmet to protect our heads when riding a bike. It’s common sense, just like wearing eye protection when working with tools or the proper outer garments to guard against frigid temperatures. For some reason, though, the idea of protecting our ears does not seem like a priority.
Even with the World Health Organization stating that 360 million people worldwide are affected by hearing loss and 1.1 billion people between the ages of 12-35 are projected to suffer from hearing loss in the coming decades, adoption of preventative hearing practices is not taking hold.
What Are Good Hearing Loss Prevention Practices?
If you’re already suffering from hearing loss, it’s probably too late to repair the damage. Luckily, there are plenty of steps you can take to prevent hearing loss from taking hold in the first place.

  • Be aware of the noise levels in your daily life. A decibel level of 85 is not damaging for short exposures but can be damaging with long-term exposure. Most people don’t realize that a noisy office can reach 85 decibels. Eight hours in that office may negatively impact your hearing health.
  • Take frequent hearing breaks. If we read a book and our eyes tire, we put the book down for a bit. Do the same for your ears. Our ears are not as good at letting us know when they’re fatigued, so take no-noise breaks often during your day.
  • Use hearing protection like earplugs or earmuffs if you know you will be exposed to high noise levels or long-term noise. Typical noises in the danger range are motorcycles, concerts, chainsaws, and shouted conversations.
  • Limit your use of earbuds. This one will be tough for many people, but turn the music down and get those buds out of your ears. Earbuds rest near the eardrum and are damaging when used at high volumes.

Damage From Unexpected Places
These tips are ridiculously easy to apply for most people, but what if your livelihood depends on being in a noisy environment? Most of us will immediately think of a construction or industrial zone when we think of high-noise jobs. A recent study evaluated the noise impact on another group of employees exposed to constant loud noises: professional musicians.
Decibels are decibels. It doesn’t matter if it’s a jackhammer or an instrument. The study found that musicians were impacted, not only in full orchestra sessions but, when practicing alone at home, as well. As expected, percussionists were found to be the most affected, along with flutists. Cellists and musicians in the bass section were the least affected due to the softer sounds produced by their instruments.
The solution for musicians? It’s the same as the solution for all of us: use ear protection. Part of the issue with ear protection may be that it dulls our hearing and that can feel uncomfortable. When we use eye protection it doesn’t impact our vision. Regardless of the reasons for a lack of adoption, hearing protection should be used often and encouraged by all hearing healthcare providers. Schedule an appointment with us to discuss how to protect your hearing and to set up a hearing care plan.

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Windy Days And Hearing Aids

Hearing aids in windy weather

For hearing aid wearers, windy days can be a problem. Wind can create a most unpleasant communication experience for the wearer of a hearing aid, and even the most expensive hearing aids are not immune to the noise and feedback that often accompany wind. As the wind is unpredictable and often changes direction, it is a challenge for hearing aid manufacturers to design hearing aids that block excessive wind noise while providing a comfortable hearing aid.

Wind Noise

People who wear hearing aids list wind noise as one of the most significant problems associated with hearing aids. Wind turbulence physically vibrates hearing aid microphones resulting in a loud rushing sound. Hearing aid wearers often describe this sound like the noise you hear when you blow hard into a microphone. This rushing noise makes comprehending speech a challenge. Noise reduction features on hearing aids are an absolute must for people who wear hearing aids and spend time outdoors.

The Challenge For Manufacturers

Hearing aid manufacturers face obstacles in solving the wind noise problem. Wind noise reduction is possible, but it can also reduce the speech signal in the process. Filters often minimize wind noise in certain frequencies which also include the speech signal. So the challenge is minimizing wind noise while maintaining the volume and clarity of speech.

Coping With Wind

When you face windy days as a hearing aid wearer, there are a few measures you can take to reduce the problems caused by wind. Unfortunately, many hearing aid users turn their hearing aids off during windy days and for the hearing impaired this is never a good option. Your hearing aid may have unique features that reduce the wind noise while enhancing the sounds you would like to hear. Solutions may include the strategic placement of a microphone to avoid external noise or a device with programming for windy weather. Due to their size, shape, and installation, invisible hearing aids have a microphone in the ear which decreases external noise.

  • Wear a hat. A simple way to cut down on the irritable noise is to wear a hat. Hats pulled down over the ears can decrease the noise on windy days.
  • Use a hearing aid sock. These covers are a thin elastic piece of material that fits snugly over your hearing aid. You can wear your hearing aid like you usually do and have the benefit of noise reduction.
  • Time for an upgrade? The latest high-tech hearing aids reduce wind noise while allowing clear speech.

Time For An Upgrade?

If you wear hearing aids and love the outdoors, wind noise reduction is a must. The good news is that modern hearing aids have advanced features that detect the impact of wind blowing into hearing aid microphones and then reduce the amplification of the noise thereby increasing speech intelligibility. Try the helpful tips listed here. If you are still undergoing issues, it may be time for a hearing aid upgrade. A hearing healthcare professional can assist you in finding a modern hearing aid with noise reduction features.

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Listening Activities to Acclimate to Hearing Aids

Hearing Exercises for Getting Used to Hearing Aids

Hearing loss affects almost 40 million people in the U.S. yet only a portion of those use hearing aids to manage their hearing loss. Experts estimate that of those with hearing loss just about 30% of adults over the age of 70 and less than 20% of adults between the ages of 20 and 69 use hearing aids. While there are many reasons people choose not to use hearing aids, many people decide not to continue using them because they have difficulty acclimating to them.
If you are one of those who gave up using hearing aids out of initial frustration or you’re just getting started with hearing aids, listening activities can help.
Hearing aids are powerful, but not magic
Over the last couple of decades, even the last couple of years, hearing aids have progressed more than many could have imagined. They are now faster and more effective than ever, revolutionizing how people with hearing loss hear.
What many don’t realize when opting for a hearing aid is that hearing better still takes time. While hearing aids can make a significant impact, they can’t do it overnight, and the longer you’ve lived with hearing loss before getting hearing aids, the longer it may take.
You can thank your amazingly adaptable brain for that! Experts believe that the principles of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to adapt, reorganize and create new connections for most efficient operation, come into play even in the earliest stages of hearing loss. It is neuroplasticity that we then have to rely on when we are regaining hearing with the help of hearing aids.
How to rebuild hearing ability in the brain
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither can your brain be rewired to hear better in a day. According to experts, there are two main ways to retrain your brain to hear. The first is by wearing your hearing aids every day, all day (not just when you think you may need them) and the second is through listening activities.
Listening activities are various techniques that help the brain forge new connections to improve hearing. As it rebuilds what has been lost due to hearing loss, hearing aid users experience clearer and more robust hearing ability.  While your hearing healthcare provider can also recommend various activities, these listening activities can help you get started:

  • Read a book out loud
  • Listen to and write descriptions of the sounds around you
  • Use auditory training programs like these
  • Watch a TV show with the closed captioning on
  • As you listen to an audiobook, follow along by reading in the actual book

Hearing aids can help people with hearing loss rejoin the conversation and start hearing more clearly again, but not as quickly as many think. If you’re new to hearing aids, the most important thing to remember is to be patient with the process. It can take time to adjust and retrain your brain, but it’s worth it!
If you’re ready to start managing your hearing health, get started with a hearing evaluation. If you have hearing aids but need help getting adjusted to them, contact us for more listening activity ideas to improve your hearing with brain training.

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Eureka! New Discoveries About The Inner Ear

New Understanding of the Endolymphatic Sac

Scientists and doctors have been studying the human body for thousands of years. While, at this point, we think we have a good grasp on how the human body works, the body is still, in many ways, a source of mystery and intrigue – particularly when it comes to the function of some lesser known body parts and structures.
Although some very well known body parts, such as the appendix, remain mysterious in function, many of these puzzling structures are smaller and generally unknown to the public, despite having been identified by researchers hundreds of years ago.
One of these body parts – the endolymphatic sac – is a small, fluid-filled pouch located near the inner ear that is hard to study in humans because it is encased by extremely dense bone. While the endolymphatic sac has been known to scientists for about 300 years, no one ever knew what it did. In fact, most models and textbooks neglect to include this tiny structure in diagrams of the inner ear because its function was unknown.
Unknown, that is, until Ian Swinburne, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School noticed the tiny structure pulsing during a time-lapse microscopy study of the inner ear of zebrafish. Alongside his postdoctoral advisor, Sean Megason, Swinburne investigated this small organ and have conducted a number of studies to better understand its function.
The Study
In their most recent study, done in collaboration with some world leading microscopy laboratories, Swinburne and Megason sought to visualize the endolymphatic sac in action. They pieced together a number of different views of the sac until they managed to come up with a clear model for how it functions.
The answer? The endolymphatic sac is a kind of pressure-relief valve that pulses to open and close and regulate the release of fluid from the inner ear.
In many bodily tissues, cells are so tightly connected that fluid cannot pass between them. In the endolymphatic sac, however, Swinburne and Megason found that cells have small flap-like membrane projections called lamella, which overlap with each other to form a barrier. Within the endolymphatic sac, the cells have small gaps between them through which fluid can flow but that are also covered by the lamella which act as valves and pressure regulators.
As fluid pressure builds, Swinburne and Megason found, the sac inflates and the lamellar barrier starts to separate until it reaches a point where it opens to allow fluid to flow out of the sac and ultimately relieve pressure inside. This capacity is important within the inner ear as all of the structures there are interconnected and filled with a fluid that moves in response to sound waves or head movement.
The movement of this fluid is detected by sensory cells which can convert these inputs into neural signals that the brain can understand. It is important for the inner ear to maintain the pressure and chemical composition of this fluid or a number of disorders, such as Meniere’s disease could occur. Scientists have long suspected that the endolymphatic sac is involved in the pressure regulation of the inner ear, but it wasn’t until Swinborne noticed the structure’s function in a zebrafish embryo that it all became clear.
Although the structure and function of the endolymphatic sac is pretty rare in the biological world, the research team suspects that similar mechanisms could exist in other organs such as the eyes, brain, and kidneys which also have pressurized fluid-filled cavities.
Swinburne and Megason’s work has revealed a very unique biological mechanism for the maintenance of fluid pressure and, thus, it could be incredibly important for the future study and treatment of conditions that involve inner ear pressure issues.
Some of these conditions, such as Meniere’s disease, have symptoms such as vertigo, hearing loss, and tinnitus, which could potentially be effectively treated after more research into the function of the endolymphatic sac. Plus, this information could be useful in treating conditions in other organs, such as the eyes and kidneys, which rely on liquid-filled cavities for their proper function.
Although the endolymphatic sac is small, it certainly has a mighty big presence in our hearing health. New research and findings such as those from this study are exciting news for the world of hearing healthcare which could use this information to further develop treatments for a variety of inner ear conditions.

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Summer Travel, Mobile Devices, And Kids’ Hearing Health

Child looks at iPad with earbuds

The start of summer often brings an opportunity for a vacation and some family travel, but is all of that travel dangerous to your children’s hearing health?
With the kids off of school and the return of summer weather, many people take some time for a beach vacation or a family reunion. While these fun activities are often a focal point and a much-anticipated break from the hustle and bustle of daily life, they do pose some unanticipated risks, particularly to our hearing.
These days, traveling can be a stressful event. What with plane delays, overbooked flights, road construction, and complicated public transport systems, just getting to your destination can be a major accomplishment. Thus, many of us begin our travels armed with a collection of different entertainment options, from books and laptops to tablets and crossword puzzles.
While these entertainment options can help us get through a long flight or some serious traffic, personal electronic devices are known to be linked to hearing loss, particularly in children, so they must be used with caution.
Travel Entertainment And Hearing Loss
According to a new study by Dutch researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Center, children that listen to music using headphones are at a greater risk for noise-related hearing loss. After examining the hearing test results of thousands of children aged 9 to 11, the researchers found that nearly 14 percent experienced some sort of difficulty hearing sounds at higher frequencies, something that suggests potential noise-related hearing damage.
The researchers then compared these hearing test result to information from the children’s parents about how frequently the children listen to music on portable devices and how loud they keep the volume. Ultimately, the researchers learned that regardless of how long a child used headphones for or how high they set the volume, children that used these devices at least once or twice a week were more than twice as likely to have signs of hearing loss than children who don’t use the devices.
Since 90 percent of today’s children and teens use some form of portable electronic device for listening to music, this is some jaw-dropping information. Particularly for those of us who travel with children and teens, we might find that they spend quite a lot of their time on these devices during family vacations.
Reducing Your Child’s Hearing Loss Risk
Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult – if not impossible – to convince today’s children and teens to quit cold turkey on their devices. Instead of causing a major family argument right before your vacation, consider these strategies to reduce your child’s hearing loss risk:

  • Encourage them to listen on low or moderate volumes. Often, a simple conversation can convince your child to listen to the music at a responsible level. Or, you can set a maximum volume setting on your child’s device.
  • Invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. We often turn up the volume because our surroundings are too loud. Noise-canceling headphones can reduce the need to turn up the volume past 50%.
  • Make sure the headphones fit properly. Ill-fitting headphones cause sound leakage, which means your child has to turn the volume up. A good fitting pair of headphones can reduce this leakage.

Hearing loss in children can be a scary thought, so it’s important to be proactive and aware about threats to your children’s hearing health. This summer travel season, be attentive to your children’s screen time as it might have a negative impact on their hearing. As always, if you’re concerned about your child’s hearing loss, speak to your hearing healthcare provider for help.