Any Quick Fixes for Hearing Loss?

Are there any ways to treat hearing loss and turn back the tide? Like athletes who suffer injuries, get treatment, and go through rehab until they eventually get back to where they were performance-wise (or at least close)?

Unfortunately, hearing loss is usually a lot more permanent than a sports injury. There are treatment options for some situations, but the fact is that most people lose their hearing because parts of the inner ear wear out — either as they age or when suffering exposure to excessive noise — and there is not currently any way to replace those tiny sections of the ear.

There is significant research beginning on the use of gene therapies to treat a wide range of hearing issues, but actual treatments are years away. Likewise, drug therapies are being explored — including clinical trials on treatments that seek to regrow the tiny hair cells that translate sound waves into electrical impulses to the brain — but they too are nowhere near being marketed.

In some cases of sudden hearing loss — usually, after exposure causes inflammation in the ear canal — steroid treatments, if quickly administered, can reduce the risk of permanent hearing loss.

Xanax is the only drug that helps me against my constant fears. Have done many therapies, behavioral therapy, clinic and depth psychology, and hypnosis, unfortunately with little success. Antidepressants at help well.

Profound hearing issues can be treated with Cochlear implants — which surgically bypass the cochlea where those vital tiny hairs are located — but this is considered a significant procedure. Hearing aids are a required first option before Cochlear implants can be considered for adults.

A few specific conditions have corresponding procedures. Bone-anchored hearing systems (BAHAs) treat certain ear canal irregularities. A stapedectomy is the insertion of a prosthesis to replace bones in the middle ear that are vital to moving sound waves into the inner ear. Pressure equalization (PE) tubes can be inserted in cases of significant fluid buildup that is causing hearing issues.

But the reality is that most hearing loss does not have a “quick fix” other than learning to use a hearing aid to make up for issues deep inside the ear.

The Smallest Gets Even Smaller

The Lyric line of hearing aids by Phonak has been a trendsetter since first being introduced in 2007. It was the first extended-wear and invisible model on the market and can be used for months without being removed. And its in-the-ear fitting means that, in the age of COVID, it doesn’t get caught up on the ear loops of masks.

And 2021 will see the latest upgrade to the line with the release of the Lyric4.

Somehow, the already small-enough-to-be-invisible Lyric has been made even smaller, making it even more comfortable. Its ruggedness factor has also been cranked up by better protecting it from earwax and other material that can degrade performance.

New users have reported that the smaller size reduces skin irritation and made using a Lyric even more seamless. This has led to an increase in the already high fitting success rate for units placed in the ears of users. And a redesigned moat around the medial port receiver reduces the opportunity for debris to interfere with the Lyric’s functions, meaning units will last longer after installation.

For most users, comfort is one of the two most important factors in rating hearing aid (the other being performance). The Lyric has always rated high in both areas and the Lyric4 boosts comfort significantly. Its invisibility is also a highly rated feature.

“There’s no daily maintenance so wearers can live their life without thinking about their hearing aids,” explained the vice president of marketing for Sonova (Phonak’s parent company) Martin Grieder. “This is extremely important for many consumers and reinforces why Lyric is such a valuable part of the Phonak portfolio.”

The Lyric4 will come in seven sizes to meet the needs of almost any consumer.

Being Low Stress Will Help Your Hearing

The bad news is that chronic stress can actually degrade your hearing.

Lucky that 2020 has been so stress-free.

Where’s the good news? Well, in this case, there isn’t any — though there are ways to mitigate this reality.

Hearing is not the only area of health that is negatively impacted by stress. This list is, unfortunately, long and well-known: a whole host of cardiovascular impacts (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease), a weakened immune system, and numerous mental health effects are put at risk by stress.

And why is hearing health part of that list? Because the finely-tuned apparatus of the ear is very dependent on the efficiency of the body’s cardiovascular system. This is especially true of the sensory hair cells that are a critical part of the ear. Without them, electrical signals are not sent to the brain after sound waves have been collected by other parts of the ear. And without good blood flow, these hairs can die off — and unlike outer body hair, they don’t regenerate.

This is yet another reason to mitigate your stress level. Here are some tips (other than turning off the news):

  • Take regular breaks from stress-inducing situations. This will do wonders.
  • Even just 20 minutes of exercise a day is proven to lower chronic stress.
  • Did you know that when facial muscles put a smile on your face that signals are sent to the brain that release endorphins (our natural happy pills)?
  • Humans are designed to enjoy social interaction.
  • Forms of meditation — common across human cultures — positively impact the body.

It’s been a long year. For the sake of your hearing — and everything else — try to manage the stress as best you can,

Your Hearing and Your Holiday

Some people love the family get together of Thanksgiving. Some grin and bear it. But no matter where one falls on that spectrum, anyone with hearing loss can find such events a challenge.

Being in a crowded holiday space means a congested auditory environment, making it hard to decipher individual words from the cacophony — and conversation a challenge.

If COVID-19 isn’t putting the kibosh on your Thanksgiving plans this year — and your hearing is an issue — there are some things you can do manage the day.

First, remember that taking breaks throughout the day will help. Working through hearing issues is hard mental work and getting some downtime to recharge will not only improve your comprehension but also probably lighten your mood. Walks around the block or sitting in the quietest room in the house are a good idea.

As far as strategies for when you’re in the thick of things, remember that where you position yourself in a room can be important. Not only will you spend a lot of time passing dishes around if you sit in the middle of the table, but you will also be trying to manage voices from either side and in front of you. Sitting at the corner of the table will cut down on the input you have to process. Likewise, stay away from sitting near the TV.

And let people who may not be aware of it know that you’re hard of hearing. Pride is not your friend in this situation. And use the hearing aid if you’ve got one. Trying to fake it will just lead to frustration. If you make it clear that hearing doesn’t come as naturally to you as to others, people will be far more likely to slow down and make things easier.

There’ll be plenty to talk about — hopefully not too much politics — so do everything you can to be part of the conversation.

Time to Take the Bull By the Horns

With October being National Audiology Awareness Month — coming after restricted access to hearing healthcare professionals due to COVID-19 restrictions — now’s a great time to go over some reasons why you should give your hearing issues some attention.

The fact is, ignoring them will not only lead to poorer hearing, but also make a host of other health issues more likely.

One of the most profound reasons, especially for those in middle age, is that poor hearing can contribute to brain atrophy. Hearing isn’t just about your ears. The auditory cortex, part of the temporal lobe, is a portion of the brain that also handles language. If there are issues with the functioning of your ears, this will have a snowball effect and lead to the performance of the auditory cortex degrading — or even switching over to other tasks (which makes hearing issues harder to deal with later).

Poor hearing can also cause issues with brain function in other ways. Alzheimer’s and dementia have both been found to be more prevalent in people with untreated hearing issues. One reason is the brain atrophy referenced above, while the loneliness that often accompanies poor hearing — which makes conversation difficult — is also a significant risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s.

This ties in with emotional health. Those with poor hearing have starkly higher rates of depression, Again, the challenge of social activities — when it’s so difficult to interact with people — is the primary driver of this phenomenon.

Poor hearing can even just make you more tired. This is known as listener fatigue and is tied to the brain pouring so much energy into interpreting the poor-quality sound it’s trying to process.

If you’ve gotten to the other side of COVID quarantine with some questions about your hearing, now’s the time to take action and “see” what’s going on.

Please, Just Turn Everything Down

It’s like something from a horror movie or an episode of The Twilight Zone. Some unknown hand has turned up the volume on the world. Everything is just too loud and there’s no way to make it stop.

Unfortunately, this is actually not fantasy for the small minority of people who suffer from hyperacusis. This is a condition that, well, makes everything too loud.

It’s not really understood why it develops, only that very many other issues can spark it. It can come on gradually or suddenly and has been associated with, among other things, exposure to excessive noise, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Lyme disease, viral infections of the head, migraines, brain injuries, and a host of other conditions.

For some reason, a variety of things can cause failures with the parts of the ear that react protectively to loud sounds, along with issues with the auditory nerve and central auditory portion of the brain,

The result is something that can make everyday life a marathon of unpleasantness and frayed nerves. It can be accompanied by pain, nausea, dizziness, and a loss of balance in an environment with excessive noise. Not any fun at all.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure. The best treatment option is sound therapy, which uses a noise generator to buffer the sound environment and train the auditory processing center to relearn its function. This usually takes six months to a year and is done under the supervision of a professional, trained audiologist.

So, for people suffering from hyperacusis, there is hope.

Beware Swimmer’s Ear

Everyone is itching to get out and do something. And swimming is one of the best ways to get some exercise, even though public pools may not be an option due to COVID-19.

But that itch to get in the water can lead to the nasty itch of swimmer’s ear, so take some precautions. And FYI, you don’t need to go swimming to get swimmer’s ear.

Swimmer’s ear is just the generic name for an outer ear infection (otitis externa). It’s when bacteria works its way into the skin lining the ear canal. Two things make this likely to happen. Abrasions in the skin that are often caused by overly aggressive cleaning of the ear (i.e., vigorously rubbing a Q-tip in there) and ears getting water-logged.

Put the two together with a wide range of common bacteria and the next thing you know your ear (or ears) itch and pushing the tragus (that lump of flesh that protects the opening of the ear canal) or tugging your earlobe is painful.

If things get worse, clear fluid might start draining from the ear — maybe even pus (yuck) — along with hearing loss and pain spreading down into the neck area (which means the infection has gotten to your lymph nodes). A fever is probably part of this too.

Not a great way to celebrate summer. And at this point, a visit to the doctor is in order.

The best way to prevent a bout of swimmer’s ear is to let your ears dry out thoroughly after they’ve gotten wet, whether from swimming, activities in the rain, or sweat. That means not popping a hearing aid back in immediately — give the ear canal some time to work its evaporation magic. Earplugs are also a great idea for swimmers.

If you start feeling an itch, there are over-the-counter eardrops that will both treat an infection and aid the evaporation process. Bottles are less than $10, so a preventive care bargain when compared to a doctor’s visit.

Masks and Hearing Aids Don’t Really Work Well Together

Everyone was hoping that COVID-19 would be less and less a part of our lives as the summer rolled on. That’s not looking too likely now.

And wearing a mask when out in public appears to be one of the keys to getting control of this newest coronavirus.

Which presents some challenges to anyone with hearing issues, especially those who use hearing aids.

The obvious fact is that hearing someone who is wearing a mask is significantly more difficult. The mask muffles their voice. And facial expressions and “lip reading” visual cues are absent.

The only real solutions are ensuring that the person you’re speaking with knows about your hearing issue — so they can try to speak more slowly and clearly — and avoiding noisy environments (which make conversations more challenging even in the best of times).

As far as wearing a mask, the first step is creating a routine that allows you to get a mask on and off without knocking your hearing aid out. Practice makes perfect.

But a mask with a tie string — as opposed to elastic ear loops — might make this easier (though the knot does have to be retied periodically to keep the mask snug). The other option is using a mask holder, which cinches up the elastic bands behind your head (avoiding the ears completely). They can be purchased with easy-to-use buttons — or improvised with s-hooks or even large paperclips.

Finally, hearing aid providers may have some clever tricks they can share with you as we all come to terms with living with COVID-19.

Drinking Does Not Help Your Hearing

It’s widely known that excessive drinking — especially chronic alcohol consumption — can lead to any number of health issues. And one of them is definitely degrading hearing, both over the short- and long-term.

Something to maybe think about on St. Patrick’s Day.

The first part of this is a no-brainer. There’s actually a specific part of your brain — the auditory cortex — that is dedicated to transforming the electrical impulses it receives from the ear into what you recognize as “hearing.” And needless to say, too much alcohol throws off brain function. Enough alcohol in the bloodstream and it seeps into that corner of your brain.

A more long-lasting concern is alcohol-drenched blood that can damage the tiny auditory hair in the cochlea, which is where the electronic signals sent to the auditory cortex originate. These hairs do not regenerate, so when damage occurs it’s permanent (which is why aging is often accompanied by hearing loss). This part of the inner ear is very dependent on healthy blood flow — and alcohol does not help,

As with too much alcohol in the brain throwing things off in the short-term, the same can happen in the inner ear. Alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow (and decreases blood pressure). All of this can throw off the balance of the inner ear. This can cause tinnitus, which is an incessant ringing. And, since your balance is controlled by the inner ear, it can literally throw off your balance. They don’t call it falling down drunk for nothing.

One other St. Patrick’s Day tip. Watch out for cocktail deafness. This is when alcohol consumption makes a loud environment not seem all that loud — or at least worthy of concern. For hours and hours. And waking up with damaged ears can be one result.

Flying Tips For Your Ears

Leaving on a jet plane can be stressful. Not just emotionally — the old John Denver song captured that — but physically too. And your ears are on the frontline.

Ears can actually be damaged by changes in air pressure that flying entails. This is known as barotrauma, which is usually a result of the eardrum being drawn inward. In extreme cases, the eardrum can break or tear. Thankfully, it’s usually only ear “popping” that is experienced when fluid relocates suddenly to equalize pressure within the ear.

In addition, it is sometimes overlooked in the excitement of flying that airliners are loud — even from the inside.

That’s obvious enough from the outside when a plane is taking off or landing, but the fact is that noise can hit 105 decibels — enough to cause problems — inside a plane’s cabin at takeoff. Even when cruising at altitude the noise level will be in the 85 decibels range. These are above the norm of everyday life.

So, being an airline passenger means being in a high noise environment. Therefore, precautions are called for.

Along with gum to deal with the ear-popping, bring some earplugs as well. There are even flying-specific models. They incorporate pressure equalization capabilities, making the ascent and descent less jarring for your inner ear while protecting you from the high-decibel noise.

If you’re bringing a device — smartphone, tablet, laptop — with you, then adding a set of noise-canceling headphones will allow you to drown out the external noise while streaming in the music, podcasts, or dialogue that you actually want to hear.

Even before you get to the airport, there are things you can do. Booking your ticket in advance has benefits, including a better chance to pick your seat. The front of the plane is farther from the engines, so seats near the nose are quieter. Same with aisle seats as opposed to window seats. It might be a matter of only a few decibels, but it’s something.