The Wonderful World of Apps

Apps have increasingly become an everyday part of life. For example, due to COVID-19 using the ArriveCAN app is now required to travel to Canada. Apps are more and more being integrated into, well, everything.

That includes most devices you’ll find at hearing aid providers these days. Since hearing aids are now as much small computers as simple amplifiers, it’s not surprising that apps are increasingly crucial to operating them.

The biggest bonus to apps when it comes to hearing aids is that they make controlling settings and personalizing operations far easier. Instead of fumbling with the tiny controls of hearing aid units, apps allow the manipulation with a touchscreen or keyboard/mouse. This actually allows for far more control than was previously available. The functioning of units can also be checked with apps as well, such as seeing how much time is left on the current battery charge.

Apps can also be used to create and store aural models of specific sound environments that can make hearing in them much easier. Whether that’s a church, restaurant, classroom, or any crowded place regularly visited, this is a big step forward in the parameters of hearing aid performance.

Another aspect of what hearing aid apps bring to the table is the ability to be plugged into the Internet of Things (IoT). Hearing aids can be linked wirelessly to the manufacturer’s webpage to not only download software upgrades but also upload data from your hearing aid for advanced troubleshooting and performance improvements.

Bluetooth connections can also be established to create feeds of streaming music, television audio, and smartphone conversations into a hearing aid directly. This kind of functionality leads to far better user experiences.

And since apps are becoming the norm, don’t assume that they aren’t a feature that is “hearing aid affordable.”

A Day to Think Long-Term

Modern life is many things. One of them is loud. From earbuds to sound systems, jet planes to leaf blowers, loud is all around.

Which is an increasing factor in the aggregate hearing health of people everywhere.

This is why this year’s World Hearing Day, March 3, is dedicated to safe listening. The theme is “To hear for life, listen with care.” Cortland Hearing Aids will be actively participating at our office on 1033 Route 13 (Tompkins St.) in Cortland.

What the event’s sponsor, World Health Organization (WHO), wants to highlight is that one of the best preventative measures to limit widespread hearing loss is to encourage safe listening habits. The goal is to emphasize how important it is to maintain good hearing health throughout life.

Exposure to loud sound situations—both sudden and constant—is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, especially for the middle-aged (who in recent decades have become more susceptible to it). Recreational activities like concerts or using personal listening devices and work environments marked by constant sound are both at-risk activities.

On the personal level, the WHO wants to highlight that hearing loss can be prevented, especially by limiting exposure to loud sounds with “safe listening” routines. The need for governments and industries to implement evidence-based safety standards is also being emphasized.

This year’s event builds on the 2021 launch of the World Report on Hearing, which focused on the rise of hearing loss risk around the world. Noise control is one of seven interventions stressed in the report and World Hearing Day also fits well with another item on the list, Greater Community Engagement.

The WHO was founded in 1948 by the United Nations to promote healthier lives, starting with pregnant women and continuing throughout life.

Better Hearing Through Working Out

Still trying to follow through on the New Year’s resolution to exercise more? Looking for some extra incentive?

Well, better hearing might just be the ticket.

There is quite a lot of research that links hearing health with general health, especially regular exercise.

One Miami University study found that, for those over the age of 50, exercising at least 5 times a week for 20 minutes made them likely to have hearing analogous to that of an average person in their 30s. Several other studies have had similar “exercise equals better hearing” outcomes.

The physiological reason is fairly clear-cut. Good blood circulation means healthier ears, especially crucial parts of the inner ear.

The most important of these is the fine hair cells that are part of the cochlear. This is where sound waves are transformed into the electrical current that our brains perceive. To maintain their health, it’s important they receive a healthy flow of nutrients—including oxygen—from the bloodstream. And since these hairs, the cilia, don’t regenerate when damaged, it’s very important to keep them healthy.

If too many cilia are damaged, hearing is bound to suffer.

That’s where getting in some exercise, especially as we get older, is vitally important to hearing health.

And a full-on regimen of extreme workouts isn’t needed. The studies tying exercise and better hearing together were based on as little as 3 hours of walking, jogging, biking, or swimming a week. Really, anything that gets a person up and moving for a little while.

So, if you’re hearing is important to you, now’s a great time to meet those expectations you started the year with.

Award-Winning Tech From Signia

As recognition for offering the best consumer technology products of the year, companies covet winning a CES Innovation Award. Signia closed out 2021 with wins for its Signia Augmented Xperience (AX) product line.

The award stemmed from the platform’s ability to help hearing aid users better perceive sounds—especially speech—in loud environments. The Augmented Xperience’s hardware and software can split-process an entire sound environment, bringing forward certain parts of it while moving others to the background.

“We are extremely proud of this recognition for two of our latest and most innovative products,” said Maarten Barmentlo, Signia’s Global CMO. “At Signia our mission is to enhance human performance through iconic innovations and being named an Innovation Awards Honouree clearly shows us that we are on the right path.”

The two products that Barmentlo references are the AX system itself (accessibility category) and the Signia Insio Charge&Go AX, a rechargeable, customized in-the-ear hearing aid that uses the platform (wearables category).

The dual processors power the Augmented Focus tech that is the platform’s core. The first processor handles direct human speech (“focus” sound) and the second deals with the ambient noise found in public settings (“surrounding” sound). By processing these independently, the Augmented Xperience platform creates a contrast between them that allows hearing aid users to better focus on the conversation they want to hear—while still being able to enjoy a public setting.

This award-winning product is just another example of computer technology’s enduring power to enhance hearing aid performance.

Drug Therapy For Hearing Loss Isn’t Around the Corner

Treating hearing loss therapeutically with drugs is an increasing area of research, though currently it seems a long way off. Pharmaceutical approaches are being studied without any breakthrough success thus far.

One such effort is an experimental drug known as FX-322, which is attempting to harness stem cell technology to regrow stereocilia. These are the tiny hair cells that are the crucial part of the cochlea—they are actually the transition point of sound waves becoming electrical impulses the brain recognizes as sound.

Stereocilia can be damaged in any number of ways—due to excessive-volume events, the effects of diabetes and other cardiovascular problems, and simple aging—and once gone they do not grow back. This represents one of the most common drivers of hearing loss.

Creating a way to regrow them would be a true medical breakthrough.

Frequency Therapeutics, a company in Massachusetts, is developing FX-322 and currently conducting preliminary studies. So far the results have not provided the hoped-for success. Testing for the drug is mostly at the Phase 1 level, with some preliminary Phase 2A having taken place.

This shouldn’t be too surprising, since the inner ear is a complex and tiny part of the human body. The technological challenges to creating drug therapies for the inner and middle ear are profound.

Luckily, the tech behind hearing aids is, at this point, tried and true. The complexity and adaptability of hearing aids have exploded over the last decade as advancements in computing power and wireless protocols have leaped forward.

For the foreseeable future, hearing aids will continue to be the best—in many cases the only—treatment for hearing loss.

Deal With Diabetes Before It Happens

November is National Diabetes Month. Falling more or less between Halloween candy and Thanksgiving feasting, this annual recognition of a condition that over 10 percent of Americans experience is a good time to learn more about it.

What’s that have to do with hearing health?

The reality is that there is a direct relationship between diabetes and hearing loss—one that means that you’re twice as likely to experience degraded hearing when diabetic.

This is due to the damage diabetes does to the entire circulatory system. The small blood vessels that nourish the diverse parts of the ear are slowly damaged by the realities of diabetes, leading to a long-term decline in function.

The best cure is prevention.

The theme of this year’s National Diabetes Month is prediabetes and diabetes prevention. The fact is that prediabetes is very widespread, present in a third of American adults—88 million people—most of whom don’t know they have it.

The best ways to prevent prediabetes from becoming diabetes are lifestyle changes.

Do things like incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your schedule, at least five days a week. Eat better by making high-fiber, low-fat/sugar foods a bigger part of your diet. Replace sweetened drinks with water.

Dropping 5 to 7 percent of your current weight, if you are overweight, may very well prevent or delay diabetes.

Smoking also increases the likelihood of developing the condition.

Take the Time to Think About Your Long-Term Hearing

Since 2008, the American Academy of Audiology has sponsored October as Audiology Awareness Month. The effort is a way to enhance awareness about hearing health, especially the need to embrace hearing protection by those who are regularly exposed to noisy environments.

Now’s the time to think about whether you’ve noticed any changes in your hearing over the summer. If you’re over 60, it’s also a great time to schedule a hearing exam. Especially if you haven’t had one since who knows when?

Hearing loss is usually a slow-moving phenomenon. Unless you suffer an accident or a disease that damages your hearing, you are most likely to have had your hearing slowly degrade over the years, especially the high range of the sound spectrum. The process is so slow that it’s actually easy to compensate for without realizing it.

This is especially true if, over the years when working (construction, bartending, etc.) or having fun (concerts, four-wheeling, etc.), your ears have been subject to loud noise. The damage can accumulate and slowly make itself known later in life.

This is a really good reason, if you are younger, to start making ear protection part of your routine when going to a club or the shooting range. Any activity that produces a high-decibel environment is a long-term risk to your hearing. The fact is that hearing loss is becoming more common and an issue for more and more people earlier in life.

The rise of personal music devices and earbuds may be a contributing factor in this trend.

Use October to ponder your hearing and ways to protect it.

Summer’s End Brings Hearing Challenges

The transition from one season to the next can intensify seasonal allergies for many. And this can wreak havoc with your ears, both their hearing function and their acting as the mechanism that controls our sense of balance.

There are also some activities unique to autumn that, if not treated with preventive measures, can cause more lasting harm to the ears.

As far as allergies go, the increase in the air of certain pollens can make your body’s immune system kick into gear, thinking it’s under attack. This leads to fluid buildup and tissue inflammation, both of which can clog or constrict the ear canal and affect hearing. These can also throw off the functioning of the vestibular system that controls our sense of balance.

If your allergies are having a profound impact on your hearing or leading to vertigo—and common over-the-counter remedies are not doing the trick—then seeking medical attention is probably worth the effort,

Then there are some of the things we do in the fall that put our ears at risk. Hunting without ear protection is, well, not a good plan. There are plenty of older hunters who can probably confirm this.

And leaf blowers, chainsaws, and other yard maintenance equipment can push the decibel meter over 100—while 70 is where sounds become dangerous to ears. The fact is that every bit of excessive noise that ears are exposed to can degrade them down the road. Invest in some kind of ear protection and, when in doubt, use it to cut down on the ramifications of noisy environments.

Let your ears have an easy transition to winter.

Been Awhile Since You Hit The Road?

For most of us, it’s been a long time—a good long while—since preparing for a vacation has been on the agenda. And maybe lockdown has hurt our traveling savvy.

If you use hearing aids, there are a few things that need to be prepped when you’re on the road. Dealing with an audio meltdown far from home is no fun.

So, if the life of your hearing aids is going to soon be more complicated than traveling between your ears and night table for months on end, here’s a checklist of things to think about:

  • If your hearing aid needs batteries, then you need batteries when traveling. You’re not getting away from it all just to go battery shopping.
  • And if you’ve got a fancy rechargeable hearing aid … then don’t forget the charger.
  • There may be some accessories or extra domes and wax guards that help your hearing aids function their best. Remember to pack them before you leave.
  • If you’re planning on getting wet at the beach or in the pool, then you’ll want to have the dehumidifier packed so you can properly dry out your hearing aids at night. Being active on vacation may mean that you’ll need to dedicate a little time to clean them, so make sure the cleaning kit is along for the ride.

Just like you’ll have to remember to bring your mask if you’re flying—they’re still required per CDC regulation—make sure you’ve got everything your hearing aids will need on vacation before heading out the door.

Protect Your Ears This Summer

One way to take the fun out of the summer is having a bout with an ear infection (or double the fun with both ears aflame). Any place where you can take a dip—the backyard pool, the municipal facility, the lake or ocean, a river or creek—can harbor bacteria that can get into your ear canal and cause the inflammation and irritation commonly known as swimmer’s ear.

The best option to avoid this common summer annoyance—especially if swimming is a big part of your routine—is to invest in a pair of swimming earplugs. They will keep the germs at bay.

There are a wide variety of off-the-shelf options available, while more serious protection custom-fitted models—which are molded to the contours of your very own ear canals—are an option that your hearing health professional can provide.

Anyone who’s planning to spend time in the water should consider using earplugs. This is especially true for kids who have a history of ear infections or who are currently using ear tubes to treat chronic issues. The same holds true for adults.

And though most modern hearing aids are designed to resist moisture, few are actually fully waterproof. That means you should take them out when going for a dip. Of course, taking hearing aids in and out is one way to create abrasions on the skin of the ear canal—another is inserting a Q-tip in your ear—which makes you more susceptible to come down with a case of swimmer’s ear. So, using swimming earplugs is an even better idea for anyone who uses hearing aids.

If time in the water—which is probably dirtier than you might think—is part of your summer plans, then seriously consider making swimming earplugs part of your seasonal gear.