When your favorite tune comes on the radio, do you find yourself turning the volume up? Lots of people do that. There’s something visceral about pumping up the music. And it’s enjoyable. But, here’s the situation: there can also be considerable damage done.
In the past we weren’t conscious of the relationship between hearing loss and music. Volume is the biggest issue(both in terms of sound intensity and the number of listening sessions in a day). And many musicians are rethinking how they approach coping with the volume of their music.
Hearing Loss And Musicians
It’s a fairly famous irony that, later in life, classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven was hard of hearing. He couldn’t hear any of the music he composed (except in his head). On one occasion he even needed to be turned around to see the thunderous applause from his audience because he couldn’t hear it.
Beethoven may be the first and most well-known example of the deaf musician, but he surely isn’t the last. In fact, a far more recent generation of rock musicians, all known for cranking their speakers (and performances) up to 11–have begun to go public with their own hearing loss experiences.
From Eric Clapton to Neil Diamond to will.i.am, the stories all sound remarkably similar. Being a musician means spending just about every day sandwiched between blaring speakers and roaring crowds. Noticeable damage including tinnitus and hearing loss will eventually be the result.
Even if You’re Not a Musician This Could Still be an Issue
You may think that because you’re not personally a rock star or a musician, this might not apply to you. You don’t have millions of cheering fans screaming at you (usually). And you’re not standing near a wall of amplifiers.
But you do have a pair of earbuds and your chosen playlist. And there’s the problem. Thanks to the modern features of earbuds, nearly everyone can enjoy life like a musician, flooded by sound and music at way too high a volume.
The ease with which you can expose yourself to damaging and constant sounds make this one time cliche complaint into a substantial cause for concern.
So How Can You Protect Your Ears When Listening to Music?
So, first we need to admit there’s a problem (that’s kind of always the first step, but it’s particularly true in this case). People are putting their hearing in peril and need to be made aware of it (particularly more impressionable, younger people). But you also need to take some other steps too:
- Use ear protection: Wear earplugs when you attend a concert or any other live music show. They won’t really lessen your experience. But they will protect your ears from the most severe of the injury. (And don’t think that using hearing protection will make you uncool because it’s what the majority of your favorite musicians are doing.).
- Keep your volume under control: If you exceed a safe volume your smartphone might alert you. If you care about your long-term hearing, you should listen to these warnings.
- Download a volume-monitoring app: You might not comprehend just how loud a rock concert or music venue is. It can be beneficial to download one of several free apps that will give you a volume measurement of your environment. This can help you keep track of what’s dangerous and what’s not.
In many ways, the math here is pretty straight forward: you will have more extreme hearing loss later on the more you put your hearing at risk. Eric Clapton, for instance, has completely lost his hearing. If he knew, he probably would have begun protecting his hearing sooner.
Decreasing exposure, then, is the best way to limit damage. That can be challenging for individuals who work at a concert venue. Ear protection could provide part of a solution there.
But all of us would be a little better off if we simply turned the volume down to practical levels.
If you take good care of them, hearing aids can last for years. But they are only helpful if they still address your level of hearing loss. Similar to prescription glasses, your hearing aids are programmed to your specific hearing loss, which needs to be examined on a regular basis. Here’s how long you can anticipate your hearing aids will last assuming they are fitted and programmed properly.
Do Hearing Aids Expire?
Nearly everything you buy has a shelf life. It could take a couple of weeks for the milk inside your fridge to expire. Several months to several years is the shelf life of canned products. Within the next few years or so, even your new high-def TV will need to be swapped out. So finding out that your hearing aids have a shelf life is most likely not very surprising.
Generally, a pair of hearing aids will last approximately 2-5 years, though with the technology coming out you may want to upgrade sooner. But the shelf life of your hearing aids will be based upon several possible factors:
- Care: This should come as no surprise, but the better care for hearing aids, the longer they will last. This means making certain your hearing aids are cleaned regularly and have any necessary regular upkeep. Time put into proper care will translate almost directly into increased operational time.
- Construction: Materials like nano-coated plastics, silicon, and metal are used to build modern hearing aids. Some wear-and-tear can be expected despite the fact that hearing aids are designed to be durable and ergonomic. If you’re prone to dropping your hearing aids, their longevity will be impacted regardless of quality construction.
- Batteries: Most (but not all) hearing aids currently use rechargeable, internal batteries. The type of battery or power supply your hearing aids use can dramatically influence the overall shelf life of various models.
- Type: There are two primary types of hearing aids: inside-the-ear and behind-the-ear. Because they are exposed to the sweat, dirt, and debris from the ear canal, inside-the-ear models normally have a shelf life of about five years. Because they are able to remain cleaner and dryer, behind the ear models usually last 6-7 years.
In most circumstances, the shelf life of your hearing aid is an estimation determined by typical usage. But the potential life expectancy of your hearing aids is lessened if they’re not used regularly (leaving your hearing aids neglected on a shelf and unmaintained can also diminish the lifespan of your hearing aids).
Hearing aids should also be inspected and professionally cleaned every so often. This helps make certain that there is no wax buildup and that they still fit correctly.
Upgrading Hearing Aids Before They Wear Out
There could come a time when, down the road, your hearing aid functionality begins to decline. And it will be time, therefore, to start shopping for a new pair. But there will be situations when it will be beneficial to buy a more modern hearing aid before your current one shows signs of wear. Some of those scenarios might include:
- Changes in your hearing: If your hearing gets substantially worse (or better), the characteristics of your hearing assistance change too. Put simply, your hearing aids will no longer be adjusted to yield the best possible benefits. In these situations, a new hearing aid might be necessary for you to hear optimally.
- Changes in technology: Hearing aids are becoming more useful in novel ways every year. If one of these cutting edge technologies looks like it’s going to help you significantly, it could be worth investing in a new pair of devices sooner rather than later.
- Your lifestyle changes: You could, in some cases, have a specific lifestyle in mind when you purchase your hearing aids. But maybe now your lifestyle changes require you to get hearing aids that are more durable or waterproof or rechargeable.
You can see why it’s hard to predict a timetable for updating your hearing aids. How many years your hearing aids will fit your needs depends on a handful of variables, but you can generally count on that 2-5 year range.
Have you ever tried to ignore a toothache? They can be pretty tough. Before long, you end up having no choice but to consult a dentist. The same thing happens when your eyesight begins to blur. When you have difficulties reading street signs, you’ll probably make a consultation with an ophthalmologist. The trouble is, you might not show nearly as much urgency when your hearing starts to go.
This would probably be an oversight. Untreated hearing loss can be the reason for significant health problems (specifically mental problems). Naturally, you can only neglect your diminishing hearing if you’re actually aware of it. And there’s the second problem.
Indications You Might Have Hearing Loss
We often take our hearing for granted. A high volume music event? No worry. Blasting ear pods? You prefer to listen to your podcasts this way. But your overall hearing will be significantly affected by all of these choices, particularly in the long run.
Sadly, those impacts might be hard to notice. The indications of hearing loss can be virtually invisible because they creep up so slowly over time. That’s why it’s a smart idea to know some basic red flags (and to make sure you don’t ignore them):
- You encounter unexpected problems with short term memory
- You usually have to turn up the volume on your devices
- Voices of those near you (family, co-workers, friends) sounds dull or distorted
- You can’t maintain a set of earbuds because you keep blowing the speakers
- You feel an unexplained sense of fatigue or have significant difficulty falling asleep at night
- When you listen to casual speech, you have an especially difficult time hearing consonants
- You regularly need to ask individuals to repeat what they said
- It’s challenging to understand conversations in noisy or crowded surroundings
It’s fairly well recognized what these red flags and signs mean. If your loss of hearing comes on particularly slowly, your brain will immediately begin to compensate for any hearing loss that develops, making you somewhat unaware, at first, to your symptoms. That’s why any of these warning signs should be taken seriously, which means you should make an appointment to see your hearing specialist.
If You Neglect Your Hearing Loss, What Will Happen?
Some people are, indeed, obstinate. Or they just don’t favor the concept of wearing a hearing aid. They maintain this fear that wearing a hearing aid is some sort of immediate sign for old age (as if constantly asking people to speak up is a sign of everlasting youth). But that’s not really the situation (most hearing aids can be quite discreet, and being able to converse fluently is a boon, too).
Still, if you neglect hearing loss it could lead to numerous issues:
- You could have tense relationships: There’s something that occurs when you have a hard time understanding your friends and family: you stop talking to them. You quit saying hi, you quit checking in, you distance yourself. Some of those relationships will be ruined, specifically if the issue is hearing loss that you have kept secret (and not some unspoken bitterness).
- You could cause your hearing to worsen: If you don’t utilize hearing aids or increased hearing protection, you’ll keep turning the volume on your television up. Or you’ll keep intending to rock shows without any earplugs. Which means you’ll keep doing damage to your ears and your hearing will almost definitely keep declining because of it.
- Depression and cognitive decline could result: You might begin to discover signs of depression as your relationships fizzle and going out becomes more challenging. You might also start to experience some cognitive decline without the auditory activation your brain is used to, your neural physiology starts to experience certain changes. This can lead to long term cognitive difficulties if your hearing loss isn’t managed.
Hearing Loss Shouldn’t be Ignored
Later on, clearly, bigger and more substantial problems can be caused by hearing loss. On the other hand, your quality of life can be substantially improved by recognizing and managing your hearing loss. Your daily life is more full and your relationships get better when you begin to hear better. And improving your awareness, either by consulting a hearing specialist or downloading a noise-monitoring app, can improve your overall hearing health.
You definitely shouldn’t ignore the health concern of hearing loss. A happier life starts when you find the right treatment. Take care of your hearing loss before it gets too severe to ignore.
If you can hear voices and understand some words but not others, or you can’t distinguish between somebody’s voice and surrounding noise, your hearing issue may be in your ear’s ability to conduct sound or in your brain’s capability of processing signals, or both.
Your ability to process sound is influenced by a number of variables such as general health, age, brain function, and genetics. You may be dealing with one of the following kinds of hearing loss if you have the annoying experience of hearing people talk but not being able to understand what they are saying.
Conductive Hearing Loss
When we tug on our ears, repeatedly swallow, and say over and over to ourselves with growing annoyance, “something’s in my ear,” we could be experiencing conductive hearing loss. Problems with the middle and outer ear such as fluid in the ear, earwax buildup, ear infections, or damage to your eardrum all decrease the ear’s ability to conduct sound to the brain. Depending on the severity of issues going on in your ear, you might be able to understand some individuals, with louder voices, versus hearing partial words from others talking in normal or lower tones.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Unlike conductive hearing loss, which impacts the middle and outer ear, Sensorineural hearing loss affects the inner ear. Injury to the inner ear’s hair-like cells or the auditory nerve itself can stop sound signals from going to the brain. Voices might sound slurred or muddy to you, and sounds can come across as either too high or too low. If you can’t differentiate voices from background noise or have a hard time hearing women and children’s voices in particular, then you may be experiencing high-frequency hearing loss.
Have you ever been on a plane and you start to have problems with pressure in your ears? Where all of a sudden, your ears seem to be clogged? Someone you know may have recommended chewing gum. And while that works sometimes, you probably don’t know why. If your ears feel blocked, here are some tips to make your ears pop.
Your Ears And Pressure
Turns out, your ears are rather good at controlling air pressure. Owing to a handy little piece of physiology called Eustachian tubes, the pressure on the interior of your ears is able to regulate, adjust, and equalize to the pressure in their environment. Usually.
Irregularities in air pressure can cause issues in situations where your Eustachian tubes are having trouble adjusting. If you’re ill, for example, or there is a lot of fluid buildup in the back of your ears, you might start dealing with something known as barotrauma, an unpleasant and often painful sensation of the ears due to pressure difference. This is the same thing you experience in small amounts when flying or driving in particularly tall mountains.
Most of the time, you won’t recognize differences in pressure. But you can feel pressure, pain, and crackling if your Eustachian tubes aren’t working efficiently or if the pressure changes are abrupt.
Where’s That Crackling Coming From?
You might become curious where that crackling is coming from because it’s not prevalent in everyday circumstances. The sound itself is often compared to a “Rice Krispies” type of sound. In many instances, what you’re hearing is air getting around obstructions or obstacles in your eustachian tubes. The cause of those obstructions can range from congestion to Eustachian tube malfunction to unregulated changes in air pressure.
How to Neutralize The Pressure in Your Ears
Normally, any crackling will be caused by a pressure imbalance in your ears (particularly if you’re on a plane). In that situation, you can use the following technique to neutralize ear pressure:
- Toynbee Maneuver: This is actually just swallowing in an elaborate way. Pinch your nose (so that your nostrils are closed), shut your mouth, and swallow. Often this is a bit simpler with a mouthful of water (because it forces you to keep your mouth shut).
- Valsalva Maneuver: Try this if you’re still having problems: pinch your nose shut your mouth, but instead of swallowing, try blowing out (don’t let any air escape if you can help it). Theoretically, the pressure should be equalized when the air you try to blow out travels over your eustachian tubes.
- Swallow: The muscles that activate when you swallow will cause your eustachian tubes to open, neutralizing the pressure. This also sheds light on the common advice to chew gum on a plane; the swallowing is what equalizes the ear and chewing makes you swallow.
- Frenzel Maneuver: Okay, try this maneuver. With your mouth shut and your nose pinched, try making “k” noises with your tongue. Clicking may also help.
- Yawning: Try yawning, it works for the same reason that swallowing does. (if you can’t yawn whenever you want, try thinking about someone else yawning, that usually will work.)
Devices And Medications
There are devices and medications that are designed to manage ear pressure if none of these maneuvers help. Whether these medicines and techniques are the right choice for you will depend on the underlying cause of your barotrauma, as well as the extent of your symptoms.
Sometimes that might mean special earplugs. Nasal decongestants will be appropriate in other cases. Your situation will dictate your remedy.
What’s The Trick?
Finding what works best for you and your eustachian tubes is the real trick.
If, however, you’re finding that that sensation of having a blocked ear isn’t going away, you should come and see us. Because loss of hearing can begin this way.
In some circles, the practice known as “ear candling” is persistently thought to be a good way to minimize earwax. What is ear candling, and does it work?
Do Earwax Candles Work?
Spoiler alert: No. They absolutely don’t work.
Why then do otherwise rational people persistently believe in this pseudo-science. That’s a difficult question to answer. But although the logical choice is fairly clear, understanding more about the risks of earwax candling will help us make an informed choice.
What is Earwax Candling?
So here’s the basic setup: Maybe you’re not sure how to get rid of all your accumulated earwax. You know you aren’t supposed to use cotton swabs (which is good, cotton swabs are not an ideal way to clean out your ears, generally speaking). So you begin searching for a substitute and discover this approach called earwax candling.
Earwax candling supposedly works as follows: You create a pressure differential by cramming the candle into your ear, wick side out. The wax in your ear, then, is pulled outward, towards the freedom of the open world. Theoretically, the pressure differential is enough to break up any wax that might be log-jamming in your ear. But this harmful technique is not a smart means of cleaning your ears.
Why Ear Candling Doesn’t Work
There are a number of problems with this practice, like the fact that the physics just don’t work. It would require a considerable amount of pressure to move earwax around and a candle just isn’t capable of generating that amount of pressure. Second, generating that kind of pressure difference would call for some kind of seal, which doesn’t occur during candling.
Now, there are supposed to be special candles used in this “procedure”. When you’re done with your fifteen minutes of ear candling, you can break up the candle and, in the hollow, see all bacteria, debris, and wax that was in your ear. But the issue is you can find this same material in new unburned candles also. So this “proof” is really nonsense.
Earwax candling has never been proven scientifically to have any benefit at all.
So we Know Ear Candling Doesn’t Work But is it Dangerous?
What’s the harm in giving it a shot, right? Well, you’re asking for trouble whenever you get a hot candle around your ears. Look, it’s very possible that you might try ear candling and leave completely unharmed. Plenty of people do. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t hazards involved, and it certainly doesn’t imply that ear candling is safe.
Here are a few negative effects of ear candling:
- Significant burns to your inner ear. When melted candle wax gets into your ear, it can lead to serious hearing issues and burns. This could permanently damage your hearing in the most severe cases.
- Candle wax can also clog up your ear canal once it cools. This can cause you to temporarily lose your hearing or, in the most extreme cases, require surgery.
- You could cause serious injury when you mess around with an open flame and potentially even put your life in danger. You wouldn’t want to burn your house down, would you? Clearing away a bit of earwax isn’t worth that kind of danger and risk.
You Can Keep Your Ears Clean Without Needing a Candle
Most people will never truly have to be concerned about cleaning earwax out of their ears. That’s because your ears are actually pretty good at cleaning themselves! But you might be one of those individuals who have an unusually heavy earwax production.
If you do need to clean out your ears because of too much wax, there are scientifically-proven (and effective) ways to do that properly. You could try a fluid wash, for example. Another solution would be to consult a hearing care specialist for an earwax cleaning.
Cotton swabs are definitely not the way to go. And open flames are not ok either. Earwax candling isn’t effective, and it can create risks that will put your comfort and your hearing in significant danger. So perhaps it’s time to put away those special candles
Realizing you should safeguard your ears is one thing. Recognizing when to safeguard your ears is a different story. It’s not as easy as, for example, recognizing when to use sunscreen. (Is it sunny and will you be outside? Then you need sunblock.) Even knowing when you need eye protection is simpler (Working with hazardous chemicals? Doing some building? You need eye protection).
It can feel as though there’s a significant grey area when addressing when to wear hearing protection, and that can be risky. Usually, we’ll defer to our natural tendency to avoid hearing protection unless we’re given information that a specified activity or place is hazardous.
In general, we’re not very good at assessing risk, especially when it comes to something as intangible as long term hearing damage or hearing loss. To demonstrate the situation, here are some examples:
- Person A goes to a very loud rock concert. 3 hours is around the length of the concert.
- A landscaping business is run by person B. She spends a considerable amount of time mowing lawns, then she goes home to a quiet house and reads a book.
- Person C is an office worker.
You might think the hearing danger is greater for person A (let’s just call her Ann). For the majority of the next day, her ears will still be ringing from the loud concert. It seems rational to presume that Ann’s activity was very risky.
The noise that person B (let’s just call her Betty), is subjected to is not as loud. Her ears don’t ring. So it has to be less hazardous for her ears, right? Well, not really. Because Betty is riding that mower all day. In reality, the damage builds up a little at a time even though they don’t ring out. If experienced every day, even moderately loud noises can have a harmful affect on your ears.
Person C (let’s call her Chris) is even less clear. Lawnmowers have instructions that indicate the dangers of continued exposure to noise. But while Chris works in a quiet office, she has a really noisy, hour-long commute every day on the train. Also, even though she works behind her desk all day, she listens to her music through earbuds. Does she need to think about protection?
When is it Time to be Concerned About Protecting Your Ears?
The general rule of thumb is that if you need to raise your voice to be heard, your environment is noisy enough to do harm to your hearing. And if your environment is that noisy, you really should think about wearing earmuffs or earplugs.
If you want to think about this a bit more scientifically, you need to use 85dB as your cutoff. Sounds above 85dB have the capacity, over time, to cause damage, so in those circumstances, you should think about wearing hearing protection.
Most hearing professionals suggest using a special app to keep track of noise levels so you will be cognizant of when the 85dB has been reached. These apps can let you know when the ambient noise is getting close to a hazardous level, and you can take proper steps.
A Few Examples
Your phone might not be with you wherever you go even if you do get the app. So we may formulate a good standard with a couple of examples of when to safeguard our hearing. Here we go:
- Exercise: You know your morning spin class? Or maybe your daily elliptical session. All of these cases may call for hearing protection. The loud volume from instructors who use loud music and microphones for motivation, though it might be good for your heart rate, can be bad for your hearing.
- Every day Chores: Even mowing the lawn, as previously mentioned, requires hearing protection. Chores, like mowing, are probably something you don’t even think about, but they can result in hearing damage.
- Listening to music with earbuds. OK, this doesn’t call for protection but does require caution. Whether your music is going directly into your ears, how loud it is playing, and how long you’re listening to it are all things you need to give consideration to. Noise-canceling headphones are a smart choice to prevent needing to turn the volume way up.
- Commuting and Driving: Do you drive for Lyft or Uber? Or perhaps you’re taking a subway after waiting for a while downtown. The noise of living in a city is bad enough for your ears, not to mention the added damage caused by turning up your music to drown out the city noise.
- Using Power Tools: You know you will require hearing protection if you work all day in a factory. But what if you’re simply puttering around your garage all day? Most hearing professionals will recommend you wear hearing protection when using power tools, even if it’s only on a hobbyist level.
A strong baseline may be established by these examples. If there is any doubt, however, wear protection. In most cases, it’s better to over-protect your ears than to leave them subject to possible injury in the future. Protect today, hear tomorrow.
You could have a common reaction when you first notice that ringing in your ears: pretend everything’s good. You go through your day the same way you always do: you do your shopping, you cook dinner, you attempt to have a discussion with your partner. In the meantime, you’re attempting to force that ringing in your ear out of your mind. Because you’re convinced of one thing: your tinnitus will go away on its own.
You begin to worry, though, when after a few days the buzzing and ringing is unrelenting.
You aren’t the only one to ever be in this position. Tinnitus can be a tricky little condition, sometimes it will disappear on its own and sometimes, it will stay for a longer period of time.
The Condition of Temporary Tinnitus
Around the globe, nearly everybody has had a bout of tinnitus because it’s quite common. In almost all circumstances, tinnitus is essentially temporary and will eventually go away on its own. A rock concert is an excellent example: you go see Bruce Springsteen at your local stadium (it’s a good show) and when you go home, you realize that there is ringing in your ears.
Within a few days the kind of tinnitus associated with damage from loud noise will commonly disappear (and you chalk it up to the price of seeing your favorite band on stage).
Of course, it’s exactly this type of noise damage that, over time, can cause loss of hearing to go from temporary (or acute, as they say) to chronic. Too many of those types of concerts and you could wind up with permanent tinnitus.
When Tinnitus Doesn’t Seem to be Getting Better by Itself
If your tinnitus continues for over three months it’s then referred to as chronic tinnitus (but you should get it examined by a specialist long before that).
Something like 5-15% of people globally have recorded signs of chronic tinnitus. The exact causes of tinnitus are still not very well understood though there are some known connections (such as loss of hearing).
When the causes of your tinnitus aren’t obvious, it often means that a fast “cure” will be unidentifiable. If your ears have been ringing for more than three months and there’s no recognizable cause, there’s a good chance that the sound will not go away on its own. In those situations, there are treatment options available (like cognitive behavioral therapy or noise-canceling devices) that can help you control symptoms and preserve your quality of life.
It’s Important to Know What The Cause of Your Tinnitus is
When you can recognize the fundamental cause of your tinnitus, dealing with the condition quickly becomes much simpler. As an example, if your tinnitus is produced by a stubborn, bacterial ear infection, treatment with an antibiotic will usually solve both problems, bringing about a healthy ear and clear hearing.
Here are some likely causes of acute tinnitus:
- Loss of hearing (again, this is often associated with chronic tinnitus)
- A blockage in the ear or ear canal
- Eardrum damage (such as a perforated eardrum)
- Meniere’s disease (this is often associated with chronic tinnitus, as Meniere’s has no cure)
- Chronic ear infections
The Big Question…Will my Tinnitus Ever Subside?
In general, your tinnitus will go away on its own. But it becomes increasingly more likely that you’re dealing with chronic tinnitus the longer these noises linger.
You believe that if you simply ignore it should vanish on its own. But at some point, your tinnitus may become distressing and it might become difficult to concentrate on anything else. In those circumstances, wishful thinking might not be the complete treatment plan you need.
Most of the time tinnitus is simply the body’s answer to loud noise that may be damaging over time and will subside by itself. Whether that’s chronic or acute tinnitus, well, we’ll only know over time.
Not getting enough sleep can have a damaging effect on your health and well being. There’s an unpleasant feeling to getting up groggy because you got less than seven to eight hours sleep that even several cups of coffee can’t help. So you were aghast when your loss of hearing started making you lose sleep.
Understandably so. The good news is, there’s a little something that can help: a hearing aid. It’s feasible that these little devices can help you get a better night sleep, according to the latest surveys.
How Does Hearing Loss Impact Sleep?
Even though you feel fatigued all day and are completely drained by bedtime, you still toss and turn and have a hard time falling asleep. All of these problems started about the same time you also began to notice that your radio, television, and mobile phone were becoming difficult to hear.
It’s not your imagination as it turns out. There is a well-documented connection between loss of hearing and insomnia, even if the precise sources aren’t completely clear. There are, of course, a handful of theories:
- Tinnitus can cause you to hear ringing, thumping, and humming and that noise can keep you awake at night. (Lack of sleep can also make your tinnitus worse, which then can cause stronger insomnia, it’s a vicious cycle).
- Your brain, when you have loss of hearing, strains to get stimulus where there isn’t any. Your whole cycle could be disrupted if your brain is working overtime trying to hear (it’s that “my brain won’t shut off” issue).
- Hearing loss is connected to depression, and your sleep cycle can be disturbed by chemical imbalances as a result of depression. This makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Can Hearing Aids Help Your Sleep?
According to one study, 44% of individuals with loss of hearing who don’t wear hearing aids reported being satisfied with their sleep compared to 59% sleep satisfaction among those who did wear a hearing aid. So are hearing aids a sleep aid or what?
well, not quite. If you don’t have hearing loss, a hearing aid can’t cure insomnia.
But if you are suffering from loss of hearing, your hearing aids can manage a number of problems that might be contributing to your insomnia:
- Strain: Your hearing aids will effectively lessen the burden on your brain. And when your brain isn’t constantly struggling to hear everything around you, it won’t be as likely to continue that practice while you’re trying to sleep.
- Isolation: Your less likely to feel isolated and depressed if you can hook up with people in your social network when you’re out and about. Hearing aids make building relationships smoother (sleep cycle issues that result in “cabin fever” can also be reduced).
- Tinnitus: Hearing aids might be a practical treatment for that buzzing or ringing, depending on the nature of your tinnitus. This can help you get some sleep by stopping that vicious cycle.
Achieving a Better Night Sleep Using Hearing Aids
With regards to sleep, the amount of hours is not the only consideration. How deep you sleep is as essential as how many hours you sleep. Hearing loss can prevent that deep sleep, and hearing aids, therefore, can improve your ability to achieve restful sleep.
Wearing your hearing aids on the recommended daytime schedule will benefit your sleep but it’s significant to note that hearing aids aren’t generally intended to be used at night. When you’re sleeping they aren’t going to help your hearing (for instance, you won’t hear your alarm clock more clearly). And, as time passes, wearing your hearing aids at night can diminish their efficiency. It’s using them during the day that helps you get better sleep.
Go to Bed!
Getting a good night’s sleep is a valuable thing. Your immune system, your stress levels, and your ability to think clearly will all be benefited by ample sleep. Healthy sleep habits have even been linked to reduced risks for diabetes and heart disease.
When your hearing loss begins to disrupt your sleep schedule, it’s not just a small irritation, insomnia can often become a serious health concern. Thankfully, most surveys document that people with hearing aids have better quality of sleep.
Selective hearing is a phrase that normally is used as a pejorative, an insult. Maybe you heard your mother accuse your father of having “selective hearing” when she thought he was ignoring her.
But it turns out that selective hearing is quite the skill, an impressive linguistic feat executed by teamwork between your brain and ears.
The Stress Of Trying to Hear in a Crowd
This scenario probably feels familiar: you’ve been through a long day at work, but your buddies all insist on meeting up for dinner. And of course, they want to go to the noisiest restaurant (because it’s trendy and the deep-fried cauliflower is delicious). And you strain and struggle to follow the conversation for the entire evening.
But it’s very difficult and exhausting. And it’s a sign of hearing loss.
Maybe, you rationalize, the restaurant was simply too loud. But… everyone else seemed to be having a great time. You seemed like the only one having trouble. So you start to ask yourself: what is it about the crowded room, the cacophony of voices all battling to be heard, that throws hearing-impaired ears for a loop? Why is it that being able to hear in a crowd is so challenging? The answer, as reported by scientists, is selective hearing.
How Does Selective Hearing Operate?
The scientific name for what we’re loosely calling selective hearing is “hierarchical encoding,” and it doesn’t take place inside of your ears at all. This process almost completely occurs in your brain. At least, that’s as reported by a new study done by a team at Columbia University.
Scientists have recognized for quite a while that human ears essentially work like a funnel: they compile all the impulses and then deliver the raw information to your brain. That’s where the real work takes place, particularly the auditory cortex. Vibrations caused by moving air are translated by this portion of the brain into perceptible sound information.
Because of substantial research with CT and MRI scans, scientists have understood for years that the auditory cortex plays a crucial role in hearing, but they were stumped when it came to what those processes actually look like. Scientists were able, by making use of novel research techniques on individuals with epilepsy, to get a better picture of how the auditory cortex picks out voices in a crowd.
The Hierarchy of Hearing
And the insight they discovered are as follows: there are two components of the auditory cortex that accomplish most of the work in helping you identify individual voices. They’re what allows you to sort and amplify particular voices in loud situations.
- Heschl’s gyrus (HG): The first sorting stage is handled by this part of the auditory cortex. Scientists found that the Heschl’s gyrus (we’re simply going to call it HG from here on out) was processing each unique voice, classifying them via unique identities.
- Superior temporal gyrus (STG): The separated voices move from the HG to the STG, and it’s here that your brain starts to make some value distinctions. The superior temporal gyrus figures out which voices you want to give attention to and which can be safely moved to the background.
When you have hearing loss, your ears are missing certain wavelengths so it’s harder for your brain to recognize voices (depending on your hearing loss it could be low or high frequencies). Your brain isn’t given enough data to assign individual identities to each voice. As a result, it all blurs together (which makes discussions difficult to follow).
New Science = New Algorithm
Hearing aids already have functions that make it less difficult to hear in loud environments. But hearing aid makers can now integrate more of those natural functions into their algorithms because they have a greater idea of what the process looks like. For instance, you will have a greater ability to hear and understand what your coworkers are saying with hearing aids that help the Heshl’s gyrus and do a little more to differentiate voices.
The more we find out about how the brain works, especially in connection with the ears, the better new technology will be able to mimic what takes place in nature. And that can result in better hearing success. That way, you can focus a little less on struggling to hear and a little more on enjoying yourself.
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