Are the Things You Do In Your Spare Time Putting You at Risk for Hearing Loss?

A man is playing guitar not realizing it may cause hearing loss as he is not wearing hearing protection.

What do people in this country do on their days off? You can understand more about a person by looking at the things they do to relax. For instance, the American Time Use Survey produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics states you are able to judge how much a person makes if you know their favorite hobby. It seems the more money you have, the more free time you spend improving your appearance at the gym, jogging or playing games on the weekend. Clearly, there is a major difference between the person who jumps out of a plane for fun and the one who hits the golf course once a week, right? The skydiver is looking for adventure, and the other person wants a life without the adrenaline surge.

The things you do when you are not working can also say something about your hearing health. You might consider your hobby healthy and fun, but what is it doing to your ears? Take a minute to stop and think about your fun time and your hearing.

Why a Hobby Could Cause Hearing Problems

When it comes down to it, noise is the major culprit in hearing loss. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noise that falls at a certain volume level will damage to the delicate mechanisms of the ear like:

  • Hair cells
  • Membranes
  • Nerves

Sound goes into the ear in a wave. How strong that wave depends on different factors like volume and distance, which are two of the most important. The sound goes through the ear canal to be amplified by the eardrum, or tympanic membrane, as it enters the middle ear.

In your middle ear, you’ll find three small bones that work together to transmit vibrations caused by this amplified sound wave, pushing it towards a flexible membrane that sits at the base at of the inner ear. The combination of the bones and the membrane further strengthen the wave.

The vibration caused by this stronger sound wave vibrates the fluid in the cochlea, a chamber in the inner ear. When that happens, the movement sways the tiny, and very delicate, hair cells to create a kind of electrical message. Simply put, the hair cells translate this sound wave into something the brain can understand. Once it gets that electrical signal, the brain can tell you what you are hearing.

For example, think about when you turn the radio on in the car. The music goes into the ears as a sound wave with the help of the pinna, or outer ear. The wave is strengthened by the tympanic membrane to move the small bones, so they can vibrate the membrane at the entrance to the cochlea. This membrane moves the fluid in the cochlea which causes the hair cells to send an electrical message to the brain. The brain decodes the message and sends a signal that tells you there is music playing. All the happens in a nanosecond and without you even having to think about it. Not only do you hear the sound, you understand it, you know what direction it is coming from and whether you enjoy or hate it.

What If You Turn the Volume Up

Now, consider someone running in the park wearing headphones. It’s a little bit like firing a gun from point blank range. The sound wave that goes the ear is already loud, maybe enough to damage the eardrum. It’s certainly strong enough to cause the bones in the middle ear to move dangerously fast, creating a larger wave in the fluid of the inner ear; one that will eventually break the hair cells.

Maybe your favorite hobby is riding a motorcycle. The sound caused by the engine roar is will lead to similar damage. Decibel (dB) is the measurement associated with sound. Any noise above 85 dB can mean hearing loss. The average motorcycle engine generates around 100 dB of sound. The traffic you hear when driving in your car to the golf course is around 85 dB. The lawn mower comes in at about 107 dB.

What Hobbies can Mean the Most Hearing Damage

Anything you do that involves sound over 85 dB is a trouble. Everyday conversation or music playing at a sensible volume measures at about 70 dB; just to give you an idea of what sounds are a problem. Some of the common hobbies that can damage the ear include:

  • Motorcycle riding
  • Home Improvement
  • Woodworking
  • Sporting or music events
  • Driving with the top down
  • Paintball

Add to this list the things you do with headphones or earbuds in place including video games or listening to music.

What Should You Do To Protect Your Hearing

You don’t have to give up the fun things to keep your ears safe, just be smart about what you do. First and foremost, don’t wear headphones or earbuds for anything. If your hobby requires you to used drills or hammer, wear hearing protection such as ear plugs or muffs. If you love live music at a sports arena or local bar, consider musician earplugs that preserve sound quality but reduce the noise exposure.

You only have two ears, so do right by them. Go ahead and have some fun on your day off, just turn down the volume.

How Tinnitus Can Interfere With Your View of the World

Bells ring to represent suffering from hearing loss related tinnitus.

It’s just a little noise in your ear, right? When you put it that way, it sounds harmless but the reality is that tinnitus alters your view of things right from day one. Tinnitus is not a real noise but it still takes a toll and not in a good way. For some suffers, it is a life changer that gets in the way of talking to others, a good night’s sleep and the ability to concentrate. It alters your perception of your world by interfering with many different parts of it. To understand how this happens you need to know more about this condition.

Tinnitus: What is it?

Tinnitus means you hear noises that no one else can hear. People think of it as a condition but it is actually a symptom of something else like the age-related hearing loss. If you have tinnitus, it is important to know many other people do too. According to the American Tinnitus Association, about 15 percent of the U.S. population have tinnitus at some level.

Tinnitus can be different for everyone, as well. Some people hear ringing in their ears while others describe it as:

  • Buzzing
  • Wind blowing
  • Clicking

These are all sounds indicative of tinnitus.

What Causes Tinnitus?

That tells you a lot but it doesn’t explain the cause of tinnitus. Tinnitus a bit of a medical mystery, in part, because there may be more than one cause. For many, it is a symptom of profound hearing loss. The brain gets used to hearing sounds all the time because it’s always around you. It’s there when you go for a walk or read a book. There is some kind of noise even as you sit in a quiet room.

Noise is always there for your ears pick up on even if it is slight. Faint sound creates small waves that the brain can interpret. It then decides whether you actually should hear the noise or not.

When someone develops hearing loss things changes gradually. Over time, the sound stops coming to the brain the way it used to, so it tries to figure out why. Researchers believe that it tries to fix the problem by creating the ringing, buzzing or wind sound associated with tinnitus. It would rather “hear” a phantom noise then live in silence.

There are other medical problems that can cause tinnitus beside age-related hearing loss such as:

  • Ear canal blockage
  • Head or neck trauma
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
  • Sinus conditions
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Ototoxic drugs
  • Metabolic disorders such as hypothyroid
  • An autoimmune disorder like Lyme disease or fibromyalgia
  • Circulatory disorders such as high blood pressure
  • Vestibular disorders like thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Tumor-related disorders such as acoustic neuroma

If you suddenly notice the phantom noises of tinnitus, it is time to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. You need to find out why you have this problem and to rule out very serious medical concerns like high blood pressure.

Why Does Tinnitus Impact How You See the World?

Tinnitus has a negative impact on most people and even faint ringing in the ears can be distracting. The irritation of not being able to turn it on and off can lead to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional distress
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration

People with severe tinnitus might experience:

  • Social isolation
  • Unemployment
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Major depressive disorder

That loss of control and frustration may bleed through to everything else you do.

What Treatment is Available for Tinnitus?

First, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about the medical options. If the cause is hearing loss, using a hearing aid for that ear may be the only thing you need. Hearing aids amplify sound, so your brain starts getting the daily noise it expects. White noise machines mimic environmental sounds when you take your hearing aids out like at night. You can also try to create your own kind of noise with a fan or by running a dehumidifier.

Your view of the world defines your awareness of what’s going on around you. That improves when you eliminate the distracting noise of tinnitus.

Why Hearing Loss Maims More Than Your Ears

A woman is in pain, but she doesn't realize the cause is her untreated hearing loss.

When someone says hearing loss, you naturally think about ears, and why not? Clearly, a person with hearing loss has a problem with the elements of the ear. If you injure your leg, it doesn’t affect your hearing, right? While it is normal to connect hearing loss with your ears, it’s a little more complex issue. If you or someone you love has hearing loss, think about the other ways it changes a person’s life.

How Hearing Loss Affects the Brain

Technically, your ears are not the only organs injured if you suffer from the untreated hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss is the third most common chronic problem among seniors, right after hypertension and arthritis, and that’s a concern because of how it affects the brain.

Age-related hearing loss damages the hair cells found in the inner ear. They move in a way that creates an electrical message that the brain interprets as sound. Noise is something people experience all day long even when they try to avoid it. Quiet rooms still have sound in the background like the buzzing of a computer hard drive, for example, or the air conditioner running so quietly you fail to notice it. Even if you were able to eliminate all sound around you, there would still be the noise caused by your breathing.

In fact, your brain translates these impulses sent by the hair cells all day long, you just do not know it. When they disappear with the age-related hearing loss, the brain feels confused and tries to figure out what’s going on. Typically, a small amount of sound is still getting through, but the brain has to work harder to understand it, and that stress causes a number of medical problems.

Research shows that individuals with untreated hearing loss have an increased risk of dementia, for instance, maybe as much as fives times the risk. There is evidence when a person has difficulty hearing, their brain shrinks faster, and their cognitive function declines, too. The brain may try to use the area set aside for hearing for other things further decreasing your ability to hear.

About Tinnitus

Tinnitus or phantom noises is a side effect of diminished hearing. No one knows why this happens but one theory is that the brain is trying to create sound because it is missing it. If your mind is used to hearing a noise all the time and it slowly fades away, tinnitus could be an attempt to compensate for that loss.

Listening to this phantom noise has a negative impact on most lives. It can interfere with your ability to sleep or concentrate. It can cause depression and other mental health issues, as well. It’s not easy living with that constant ringing or buzzing without feeling stress.

How It Affects Relationships

It is not easy having the people in your life point out your hearing loss, especially since it usually has to do with aging. You don’t like being told you are getting older. It is estimated that about 50 percent of older adult have problems with their hearing. It’s hard to accept, so when the subject comes up, there is denial and resentment.

Someone with hearing loss may begin to fade into the background, too. They stop going out with others because they can’t follow the conversations, and it makes them feel stupid. Perhaps they worry about making their friends mad by asking them to repeat things all the time. Those same friends don’t come around as much, either, because the conversation is too awkward.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measures the impact of hearing loss on quality of life using a measurement labeled disability-adjusted years. This means they measure how many fewer quality years come with hearing loss. They estimate that a person loses 2.5 healthy years with each year of hearing impairment.

Hearing Loss Affects Your Ability to Earn

There are some studies that show hearing loss can lead to less money in the bank. One conducted by the Better Hearing Institute found that individuals with hearing loss make as much as 12,000 dollars less annually. Using hearing aids can mitigate the effects and lead to more money, though.

There is not much doubt that the problems created by hearing loss are significant in many areas of life including your physical and mental health. It’s not only about your ears. That is why it is so important to be aware of your hearing health and to get a professional exam and hearing test if you think there is a problem.

Expand the Life of Your Hearing Aids With Suitable Care

Man is looking at toolkit to repair and care for hearing aids.

Like just about everything worth buying, hearing aids need just the right amount of care, but it’s a worthwhile effort because it extends the life of the device and makes it work better. Taking care of your hearing aid requires a combination of practical knowledge, proper cleaning and careful handling. Educating yourself about the right way to keep them safe and clean will mean you and your hearing aid can live happily together for many years.

About That Earwax

You don’t spend a lot of time talking about it, but everyone has it. Earwax, or cerumen as medical professionals call it, has a distinct purpose in your ears. Earwax protects the skin inside the ear canal from bacteria, insects, and water. It is an important role so, your body makes quite a bit of it, and it can end up on your hearing aids. Chances are if you notice a hearing aid isn’t working quite right, earwax is to blame.

It is a good idea to get into the habit of removing this wax from the surface of the hearing aid on a regular basis. At night before you put it away is a good time. Grab a soft toothbrush or cotton swab and wipe over the surface to clean it. Make sure to get into any crevices, too, and clean any debris off of the receiver and microphone.

Some hearing aids have filters or guards designed to protect the intricate internal technology from earwax. Don’t try to clean these filters; just replace them. Look at the manual that came with the hearing aid to determine if there is an earwax filter or guard. If you are unsure if your device has this feature, give the retailer or manufacturer a call to find out.

Keeping it Dry

Pick a good place to store your hearing aid; one that is dry and secure. This helps prevent water from penetrating the casing and doing damage. Do not touch the device with wet hands and take them out before you get into the shower or pool.

If you live in an area with excess humidity, consider purchasing a dehumidifier designed for hearing aids. As you have probably figured out, this is a device that removes water from the unit. They also make storage cases that help keep hearing aids free from condensation.

If your hearing aid does get moisture in it, carefully wipe it down with a towel. Don’t look for a fancy solution to the problem like a hair dryer or any other heated device because that will likely cause damage.

Charge It Up

For most of you that will involve changing or charging the batteries when they need it. A degrading battery will damage your device as it corrodes the delicate circuitry. When you remove your hearing aid before going to bed, open the door that holds the battery to prevent moisture from building up and causing this corrosion.

When you do change the battery, take a minute to wipe down the contact points before installing the new one. Just rub a dry cotton swab over them to remove any earwax or other debris.

Handling Your Hearing Aid

One of the most important things to understand is how to handle your hearing aid. For one thing, make sure your hands are clean before you touch it. They should be free from lotion and hand sanitizer, too.

Be careful not to drop the device down onto a hard surface like the kitchen counter. If you do place it there, do it gently and be sure that counter is clean first. You can damage the unit if you put it down right where you spilled your coffee earlier! Avoid placing your hearing aid near heat or in direct sunlight. They are sensitive to high temperatures, too.

Take care not to leave a hearing aid where the dog can get to it. Some hearing aids continue to make a sound even when they are out of your ear in a tonal range that the dog can hear. Your best friend might eat the hearing aid to shut it up, and that’s bad for both you and the dog.

See a Professional When You Need One

If there comes a time when your hearing aid needs repair, look for a certified retailer to get it the job done. These dealers have the training to manage unique digital hearing aid technology. They also have tools that let them test each component to determine the problem and all the right replacement parts. Frankensteining your hearing aid with parts from other units rarely turns out well.

Plan to schedule a professional cleaning for your hearing aid regularly if you want it to last. A repair technician is able to clean the inside and make adjustments when necessary so you know you are getting the most from it. This is a good time to ask any questions that you might have about caring for your hearing aid, as well.

You put a lot of time and money into getting a hearing aid, why not do what is necessary to keep it working at it’s best for as long as possible. A little careful consideration and care are all it takes to extend the life of your hearing aid.

Despite What You May Think, Getting Hearing Aids Can Keep You Feeling Youthful

A man with hearing aids playing soccer with his grandson in a youthful way.

There are many myths circling around about the use of hearing aids, for example, wearing one can make you feel old. Of course, that might be true since one in three individuals over the age of 65 have a type of hearing loss called presbycusis. So many elderly do wear a hearing aid. That’s not the end of the story, though. These days, medical researchers have proven that wearing a hearing aid will actually keep you from feeling your age. To figure out why this happens, you must know more about how the brain works.

Neuroplasticity: What is That?

Neuroplasticity is a complex word that describes how the brain adapts based on the changes around you. Consider this scenario; you spend your morning walking for exercise. Each day, you follow the same path, but one day, you notice a hole blocking your route. Do you stop walking — no, you find a way to change your route, so you can avoid the hole.

The human brain works the same way. There are nerve channels in the brain that allow you do everyday things like take a walk or read a book. When something happens to you like a stroke, for example, the brain needs to find a way to reroute those pathways through neuroplasticity. Your adaptable brain is also how you learn new skills. If you take a tap dance class, for instance, the brain develops new channels called neural pathways to accommodate what you have learned.

Most the time the adaptation works well. If a person has a stroke, the original pathways that let them walk might close down. The brain finds new neural routes so that person can relearn how to take a step.

When Neuroplasticity Fails

Neuroplasticity sometimes causes problems for people with hearing loss. Hearing requires sound waves to go through the ear canal to reach the inner ear. There, tiny hair cells move with the waves to send electrical signals that the brain translates into what you hear.

When a person does lose their hearing, whether it is due to aging, noise exposure or disease, their brain stops getting those critical electrical signals from the inner ear or gets fewer of them, at least. When that happens, the brain can decide that the part it has dedicated to hearing is free real estate. It will create new pathways in that section that have nothing to do with hearing. This is an attempt to use that space efficiently, but it backfires.

A 2015 study done by researchers at the University of Colorado supports this idea. The scientists did EEG recordings, that’s a tool that measures electrical activity in the brain, on people of all ages that have varying degrees of hearing loss. They found that functions like vision and touch can actually invade the part of the brain responsible for hearing.

Hearing Loss and Memory Problems

Researchers already know there is a connection between an increased risk of dementia and hearing loss. Studies indicate that an older individual with hearing loss may suffer mental decline 40 percent faster than someone with good hearing. When the brain stops getting signals from the ears, it starts to decline.

It’s not clear why this decrease might happen, but it is possible neuroplasticity causes it. When the brain struggles to pick up sounds that are faint and it has to pull in resources from other critical functions like short-term memories to compensate.

Why Hearing Aids are the Hero of the Story

These problems all have one thing in common, the brain is no longer receiving the electrical signals from the inner ear that allow it to translate sound. For many individuals, merely filtering sound and amplifying it with hearing aids makes that possible again.

A hearing aid will stimulate the brain, so it tries to hear again. When that happens, it can regenerate the necessary cells and develop new neural pathways. That effect can slow the cognitive decline that leads to memory issues and protects short-term memory.

Having a hearing aid will open you up to new opportunities, too, and that strengthens the brain to keep you young. You can watch TV, take classes and learn new things. Remaining mentally active is really the key to feeling like someone half your age. Too often, older people with hearing loss end up isolated because they can’t take part in discussions or understand what is going on around them.

Hearing aids will change how you live and how your brain works. If you are wondering how well you hear these days, it’s time to schedule a professional hearing exam to see if hearing aids will make you feel young again.

Why to Tell a Loved One to Do Something About Their Hearing Loss?

A young woman leans into an older woman to have a delicate conversation about hearing loss and hearing aids.

Hearing problems are one of those things other people usually notice before you do. In part, because a person’s family and friends know them better than they know themselves. They are the ones that see the changes and connect the dots about hearing loss the person with the problem notices the gradual decline that comes with age-related hearing loss.

It’s a difficult subject to approach with a person that you love because it is personal. They might not notice this decline or realize that they are asking you to repeat things often or missing information when you talk. It probably feels like an attack instead of your attempt to help. So, when is it the proper time to talk about it? There is no clear-cut answer to this question, but there are some obvious signs that you need to have a conversation about hearing loss.

The What Did You Say? Syndrome

It might be the first thing you will notice when this person’s hearing starts to decline. What did you say? It’s a natural response when you don’t hear something very clearly. The problem with age-related hearing loss is they still hear the sound of your voice, just not each word. When that happens, the brain makes them think you are mumbling. The fact is you’re speaking the same way you always did, it is their hearing that is different.

A person that has to say what all the time does not even know they do it, which makes it a hard thing to talk about. You can try counting the number of times you have to repeat something in a conversation. If you see a regular pattern over a week, then it’s time to say something.

When Safety Is a Problem

There is more to hearing than just comprehending speech. Individuals with gradual hearing loss lose the ability to understand specific sound frequencies, too. A traditional smoke and carbon dioxide detector uses a high pitched tone to tell you here is a problem. It’s a sound that someone with hearing loss might not hear. Those who do have this issue can compensate for it by putting in alarms that use a different frequency and that are able to flash the lights and shake the bed, as well.

Safety is a concern for the hearing challenged person that wants to drive a car, too. You need to be able to hear warning sounds like horns, for example, and the car engine running. A person trying to cross the street needs to hear warning sounds there, too. Safety is a definite issue with untreated hearing loss and one that indicates you need to take action.

When the Complaints Start Rolling In

The guy next door complains the TV is too loud, for instance, TV dialogue is as hard to understand as a face-to-face conversation, but there is no one there to answer when they say, “What?” Instead, the volume goes way up. That doesn’t make the words any clearer, though, so it goes up more. When the people around your loved one start talking about high volumes, hearing loss has become something worth talking about.

When Tongues Start Wagging

When other people start asking about this your loved one’s hearing and wondering if something is wrong. Maybe your dad’s neighbor stops to ask if he is having hearing problems or your brother brings the subject up. These people might notice something that you do not yet. This is a big indicator, especially for the parent who lives alone. Friends and neighbors are their social network. They spend time together and are in a position to see pick up on something you do not, so when they take the time to mention it, you need to listen.

When Frustration Becomes the Norm

It is frustrating when you have to struggle to hear, especially if you don’t realize it is a problem. That frustration can quickly turn to angry conversations and other shows of emotion. They may always seem on the edge of crying or yelling but not know why. It’s up to you to help them understand what is going on.

Tips for When the Time Comes

You know the time has come to say something but what? It is a tricky subject because you are saying they are getting old, and that’s something no one wants to hear. How you approach the topic will make all the difference, such as:

  • Make the conversation about you – Talk about the things you’ve noticed and how you feel about them. If you make it about them, they will not want to talk. By making it about how it impacts your life, they are more likely to want to help and be less defensive.
  • Make the conversation positive – Keep in mind, their anger is really just fear. You need to address those fears and reassure them that there is a quick and painless solution like getting a professional hearing test and, maybe, hearing aids. Point out other people who have hearing aids and how they changed their lives.
  • Make the conversation beneficial – Focus on the benefits that will come with getting hearing aids. They will be able to enjoy their favorite shows again and listen to the birds sing. They may not even know what they have been missing, so point out the positives.

You can make a difference in someone you love’s life by helping them come to terms with age-related hearing loss, so go ahead and reach out.

What Does Your Earwax Explain About You?

A dog is getting earwax cleaned out of its ears while sticking its tongue out.

Is your earwax trying to tell you something about your health? Earwax is more than just the icky stuff that comes out of your ears. Cerumen, the medical name for it, has a purpose in your body. It protects the skin inside the ear canal from damage that can lead to infection. It is also a source of lubrication and helps waterproof the inside of your ear.

That’s all good stuff, but earwax also provides information about you. How it looks, the texture and smell all supply key details about what is going on inside your body. What is your earwax saying to you?

The Genetics of Earwax

Believe it or not, everybody’s earwax falls into one of two categories. Earwax is either dry, or it’s sticky. Earwax texture is a genetic trait that can help you trace your roots. According to an study in the journal Nature Genetics, a single gene mutation determines whether your earwax is wet or dry. Researchers investigated 33 different populations around the world and found:

  • Ninety-five percent of East Asians have dry earwax.
  • Ninety-seven percent of people from Europe or Africa have wet, sticky earwax.

The difference between these two groups boils down to one gene called ABCC11. It is the gene that manages the flow of earwax-altering molecules. At some point centuries ago, the gene changed in people in Europe and Africa as they adapted to a new surrounding. The researchers from this study hypothesized that insects lead to the mutation. The thick, wet earwax can trap insects and protect the deeper areas inside the ear canal and possibly even the brain. It is an example of the body’s natural ability to change based environmental stressors. It is a change designed to improve a species odds of survival.

Green, Wet Earwax

Green, wet earwax means one of two things:

  • You’ve been sweating.
  • You have an ear infection.

When you sweat, the water will mix with your earwax, changing the color and texture. When you have an ear infection, the earwax changes due to the body’s inflammatory response to invading organisms. Pus created by the response can mix with the earwax, and that may lead to the difference in color.

Earwax That Smells Bad

Earwax with a bad smell means you need to pay attention. The change in odor typically indicates a rather serious infection. Anaerobic bacteria, in other words, bacteria that do not require oxygen to survive, tend to emit a foul odor that will make earwax stink.

That bad smell can also mean there is an infection causing middle ear damage. You might feel like your balance is off and hear a ringing or other phantom noise in the affected ear. You need to make an appointment with your doctor.

In 2009, a group of Japanese scientists also linked stinky earwax to a gene that might cause breast cancer. It will take more studies to prove this theory but, it’s worth talking to your doctor about if breast cancer runs in the family.

When It Feels Like Your Ear is Wet All the Time

To be honest, this isn’t really earwax, but it is understandable that you might think it is cerumen. Wet ears typically mean disease, most likely infection. Ear infections create pus, so that might be why your ear feels wet. That is not the only possible cause, though.

It is also possible that you have a type of skin growth inside your ear canal called a cholesteatoma. A cholesteatoma is a lot like a cyst, but one that appears inside the ear blocking the canal. When that happens, stuff like earwax and dirt build up. This blockage can cause debris to overflow and come out the ear. Any drainage from your ear means you need to see a doctor and find out why that is happening.

Your Earwax is Very Flaky

Do not worry, flaky earwax isn’t a sign of infection. It is, however, something that happens as you grow older. When someone ages, their body gets a little dryer — including the glands that produce earwax. As a result, their ears get a little itchy. Adding a few drops of mineral oil to the ear canal can ease that discomfort and soften the earwax at the same time.

What if your ears have no earwax at all? It’s rare, but it does happen. It is a condition called keratosis obturans, and it means there is a hard plug where the earwax comes out. It’s unclear why this happens, but researchers do know that the plug is made of keratin, a protein that exists in skin cells. You might feel pain in that ear and have trouble hearing. The treatment is simple, let a doctor pull the plug out. In some, the condition is chronic, and the patient requires regular medical care.

Earwax, who knew it was so interesting. Why not take a look at yours to see it’s trying to say..

Hearing Loss Impedes More Than Just Your Ears

Hearing loss depicted as a problem that compounds by showing several cutout men toppled over on one man.

Are you amazed to learn that hearing loss is about more than just your ears? Ears are the means of hearing, so the damage done to them because of aging, trauma or disease is why someone can’t hear, but did you know there’s more to it than that The loss of a person’s hearing bleeds into a number of other aspects of their life. It’s a dramatic change for someone who has always had the ability to hear. Consider some ways that hearing loss has a significant effect on more than just the ears.

Earning Potential

A 2006 report published by the Australian firm Access Economics states there is a link between salary potential and hearing. They found that an individual with hearing loss could possibly make about 25 percent less than the ones that do hear, but why?

There are a lot of things that could affect earnings. Someone who works with no hearing assistance device like a hearing aid might miss out on serious information. They may appear for a business meeting at 4 when it was really at 2 pm, for instance. Managers tend to appreciate those with astute attention to detail, which is a challenge when you can not hear the specifics.

Work environments can be loud and chaotic, too. A individual with hearing loss can become confused with that noise around them. They will struggle to speak on the phone, to listen to clients and to understand what coworkers are saying because in a loud environment the desktop sounds like clicking keyboards or an air conditioner vent become conspicuous.

Relationships

Some of the very same problems at work become an issue at home. Hearing loss has the potential to cause conflict, especially when the individual with the problem continues to deny it. Little things such as saying “what” a lot during conversations and turning the TV up too loud irritate friends, relatives, and spouses.

They may try to intervene and encourage this person to recognize their hearing loss, and that leads to friction, as well. It’s very common for someone with hearing loss to detach themselves and refuse to go out and spend some time with others. They struggle to keep up with conversations, so that they so what the can to avoid them.

Mental Health Concerns

The issues at work and home take a toll on mental health over time. A 2014 study conducted by the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders discovered a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression. Their study suggests an increased risk of depression, especially among women and people under the age of 70. Their risk of depression goes from 5 percent to approximately 11 percent with hearing loss.

A second study from the Senior Research Group suggests that the risk of mental health problems including depression, anxiety and paranoia goes up when a person with hearing loss does not use hearing aids. The study participants who did not wear hearing aids reported everything from feelings of sadness to sudden fits of anger more often than those that did wear them.

Safety Issues

Safety is always an issue for the hearing impaired. Most security systems, whether it’s a smoke or carbon monoxide detector or a perimeter alert, work based on sound. They exude a high-frequency noise when there is a danger. Even people with minor hearing loss can have difficulty hearing high pitched tones.

Personal safety becomes a problem when a person with hearing loss crosses the street or drives a car, too. Sound serves to indicate problems like a car coming down the road or a horn honking.

Cognitive Functioning

Medical science has made a connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss. It’s not clear why people with hearing loss have a greater risk of dementia. The current theory is that the mind struggles to listen and to compensate, it robs other vital functions like memory.

A 2011 study conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine found that a person with minor hearing loss is twice as likely to develop dementia. Moderate hearing loss increases the risk by three times and an individual with severe hearing impairment is five times more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Hearing health is just 1 factor in memory loss conditions, but it’s an important one.

When someone has hearing loss, it’s true there’s probably something wrong with their ears, but that’s just where it begins. The fantastic news is that getting help in the form of hearing aids and other treatment options reduces the risk of mental health issues, dementia and the various issues related to hearing decline.

Hearing Aids are More Like a Service Than Merchandise

Woman is being fitted for her first hearing aid by an audiologist

When a person goes out to purchase hearing aids, they are looking for a product to buy. With that in mind, it is typical for them to only think only about the cost of what they are getting. It’s true that a quality hearing device is costly, but you need to shift your thinking. If you consider the service you get from a hearing aid and put aside the cost factor, it starts to make more sense. You spend your life buying stuff because it provides a valuable service like a new car or a house. Both of these things will set you back, too, but you buy them anyway because otherwise, you have no transportation or roof over your head.

Buying a hearing aid introduces you to another critical service because without it, you can’t hear and that affects your ability to do important things like talk to your boss or listen to a customer. Losing that sense means you won’t hear the traffic as you drive to work or when you walk across the street. It also gets in the way of you from creating, strengthening, and maintaining the essential aspect of life, relationships.

Hearing aids are not a luxury when your hearing changes. It’s a device that provides a critical service to you. Consider some facts about hearing aids you might not know and why they are more service than a product.

What Does a Hearing Aid Do?

Let’s start with the basics. What is a hearing aid and why do you need it? A hearing aid is an amplification device, but it does more than just that one thing. Today’s hearing aids:

  • Filter out background noise
  • They increase and decrease the volume automatically through gain processing
  • They analyze the sound environment
  • They pick up conversation even in a noisy room
  • They help you determine where a sound came from

They are also self-learning, meaning they start to understand how you hear and what sounds are important to you and improve based on that information. The days of that annoying feedback you heard coming from grandpa’s hearing aid is over, too. Modern hearing aids have digital feedback reduction. On top of all that, some hearing aids Bluetooth compatible, so they partner with computers, tablets, and smartphones. No need to take the hearing aid out to answer the phone.

Why do Hearing Aids Cost So Much?

That’s a reasonable question because if you are going to think of your hearing aid a service, you have a right to know why it costs so much. Some critical elements that go into creating your hearing aid include:

  • Advanced technology
  • Durability and long battery life
  • Personal design and fitting
  • Warranty
  • Free trials

You can buy less expensive hearing aids online, but they don’t have the same technology as a quality product or offer the perks of a personal fitting, a grace period, or in-person assistance. If you go that route, you might as well just hold a glass up to your ear and see what happen.

Things to Think About When Buying a Hearing Aid

When you purchase a car or house, you do your homework first, right? Take that same approach when buying a hearing aid while keeping in mind that it is a service. Start by planning a way to pay for this service. Is it something your health insurance covers? Many don’t, but you should check to be sure. You can do this by directly calling your insurance provider or audiologist.

Maybe there is a special funding plan available to you. Are you a veteran, for example? The VA might help to pay for the hearing aid. You should also check to see if you qualify for federal or state assistance, and you can look into civil organizations, too.

Next, go to the doctor for a proper diagnosis and hearing test. If you don’t already know why you suffer hearing loss, take the time to find out before you spend money on a hearing aid. It might be a side effect of a medical problem like diabetes. If you treat the condition, there is a chance you will not need the hearing aid.

It is also essential to get a professional hearing test, so you purchase the right hearing aid. A practice like ours can use your hearing test to customize the settings on any device you choose, so it best serves your needs.

Finally, meet with a specialist in person. The Internet doesn’t know what kind of hearing aid you need – that requires a personal touch. Sit down with an expert and write out what you hope to get from your hearing aid beyond just amplification. Do you want one that connects to your mobile device? Do you want the volume to adjust automatically? You are paying for this service, so get what you want from it.

Once you pick out the right hearing aid, look at the various service options. Does it come with a warranty? How about a free trial, so you know it’s the right one for you?

By seeing your hearing aid as a service – a necessary one – you’ll be able to look past the price tag towards what it can do for your life.

Finding That Proper Hearing Protection for You

Man trying to research hearing protection online and having questions.

One in every 10 Americans will lose some of their hearing due to exposure to excessive noise. Most of the time, the damage is gradual, not just one loud bang like an explosion but the sounds you hear daily at work or home. Each day, you are exposed to noise pollution that you probably don’t even think about like the headphones you wear to listen to music or even work hazards like equipment running. Protecting your ears from noise-related damage is one of the smartest health decisions you can make, but how do you know what kind of ear protection to get?

Doing an Assessment

It is tricky to wade through the various options available for hearing protection and find the style works for you. There are a couple of things to consider such as:

  • Why you need hearing protection? Is it for work or perhaps you need them for a sport like hunting?
  • The cost of the product? The pricing goes from insanely cheap to seriously expensive, so budget is a consideration for most.
  • How wearable is it? If you are purchasing hearing protection that you will wear all day long, then comfort is important.

There are also some safety concerns to keep in mind. Avoid hearing protection that gets in the way of movement or introduces blind spots. If you are looking to save your ears from work-related sounds, then have a conversation with your employer before paying for anything out of pocket. Many companies offer hearing protection as part of your benefits or at least can guide you on what right type to buy and the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) you need.

What is the NRR?

The NRR rating listed on hearing protection devices offers a critical piece of information to you. The Noise Reduction Rating determines how well the device blocks out a sound. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires manufacturers to do tests and provide rating information based on their findings. The NRR measurement is in decibels and states the maximum amount of sound that device is able to block. A hearing protection product with an NRR of 26 will block a maximum of 26 decibels.

For most job-related hearing protection products, you should look for a device that blocks twice the amount of sounds you experience daily at work. You might purchase something with an NRR of 200 if your regular noise exposure is around 100 decibels, for example. Just so you know, 100 dB is about the level of a tractor and similar equipment.

What Types of Hearing Protection Devices are Available?

When it comes to protecting your ears, the most common products are:

  • Earplugs
  • Canal caps
  • Earmuffs

There may be different styles within each category and even some hybrid products out there.

Earplugs

Earplugs offer moldable foam products that you throw away or a pre-molded one-size-fits-all reusable style. There are pros and cons for both kinds of earplugs, so it really comes It comes down which one you like best. The disposable foam plugs usually have a higher NRR rating and will fit tightly in your ears, but they can be costly. They are like disposable contact lenses; you have to keep buying fresh ones.

The pre-molded style is more economical but can lead to infections if not cleaned right. They also do not fit as well as the moldable ones, so they are hard to keep in place.

Canal Caps

Canal caps work like earplugs but come with a flexible band. Also like earplug products, they have either moldable or pre-molded end pieces that go into the ear. The band that attaches the two earplugs together lets you can take them out quickly and let them hang around your neck. They work better than earplugs if you anticipate wearing them on and off throughout the day.

Earmuffs

Earmuffs are more like headphones, and some even come with mics that allow you to talk to other people through a Bluetooth connection. They are comfortable to wear and easy to use, although, they can get heavy and make your ears sweat. You will pay more for quality earmuffs, but they have a longer shelf life and will likely save you money over time.

Choosing the Right Ear Protection

After deciding the proper NRR rating, the next step is to pick a style for your protection device based on your personal needs. If you want something that is not too confining, earplugs or canal caps might be the right choice for you. Look to get different types of ear protection products based on the seasons, too. For example, canal caps will be less cumbersome in warm weather, but the earmuff design will keep your ears warm in the cold.

The trick is to try the different forms of hearing protection devices and see what works best for you. A person who needs something for work has different needs than a person who wants to protect their ears while they hunt or on the shooting range.