by Thomas A. Casey, M.S., F-AAA
Tip #6 – Wear Your Hearing Aids Everyday!
Wear your hearing aids every day and preferably from morning ‘til night. Most people do not sleep with their hearing aids in their ears. But, why should you wear your hearing aids all day? Many of my clients tell me that they don’t need to wear their hearing aids every day or all day because they “don’t need them when they are in the house and no one is there.” I respond by providing this simple fact: Most hearing loss is related to damage that has occurred to hair cells found within the inner ear. This type of hearing loss may be caused by noise, trauma, medications and more commonly, the aging process. It is also well-known that this type of hearing loss is non-reversible (permanent). However, re-search shows that the inner ear structures (nerves and connections between nerves called synapses) like and need stimulation. Certainly you’ve heard the old statement “use it or lose it” in regard to muscles. Well, that same thinking holds true for the ears, too. Environmental sounds (TV, radio, door bell, rustling of newspaper or magazines, water in the sink, toilet flushing, heater/air conditioner vents blowing, ice cubes in a glass, refrigerator motor running) will help to stimulate the inner ear nerves along with the nerve pathways that carry signals to the brain where they are processed.
If you need to give your ears a rest throughout the day, take short breaks. Eventually you should be able to wear the hearing aids from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep. If you are not wearing your aids because they are uncomfortable, you should seek assistance from your fitting specialist.
Tip #5 – Keep Noise Behind You Whenever Possible!
Keep noise behind you whenever possible. I know you’re probably saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” And believe me, I understand. We live in a very noisy world and generally speaking, noise is everywhere. For this tip, I’m referring specifically to noisy listening situations that are particularly challenging. Many hearing aids today have a desirable feature called directional microphones (yes, two of them) that work together to improve speech understanding in noisy situations. One microphone is called the front-facing microphone and the other is called the rear-facing microphone. To simplify the function of these microphones, the front-facing microphone focuses on picking up and amplifying speech signals while the rear-facing microphone focuses on picking up and reducing noise. That’s why the statement “keep noise behind you whenever possible” is so important. When the microphones are working properly, they provide a greater strength of signal for speech and a reduced strength of signal for noise and therefore enhancing the signal to noise ratio (SNR). Improving the SNR theoretically improves speech understanding and that’s really the ultimate goal of most hearing systems. In retirement communities, the dining room is the place where residents often have the most difficulty hearing and understanding speech. Choosing a seat that allows you to keep the noise behind you is not always as easy as it sounds. If you have the opportunity, experiment with seating options to determine where you are able to hear better in this very challenging environment.
Tip #4 – Have Your Ear Canals Checked Regularly!
Have your ear canals checked regularly for build-up of cerumen (ear wax). Glands in the outer part of our ear canals secrete sebum, a sticky whitish material that helps to keep dustdebris and bugs from getting down to our eardrums. Everyone makes wax and some of us make more than others. Wax generally dries and forms tiny pellets, exiting the ear canals naturally throughout the day as we move around and even while we sleep. With an earmold or hearing aid in the ear and blocking some or all of the ear canal, the natural excursion of wax is limited and wax removal may be necessary. A small amount of wax in the ear canals is normal but even a small amount of wax has the potential to clog an learmold, a receiver tube, a dome or a wax guard. Excessive amounts of wax that are allowed to remain in the ear canals for long periods of time may lead to medical complications; so be sure to have your physician, audiologist or hearing instrument specialists check your ear canals at every visit.
There are over-the-counter earwax removal kits that can be purchased at your local drug store and are relatively inexpensive and fairly easy to use. The kits typically contain a material (drops) to soften hard wax and a bulb syringe to gently squirt warm water into the ear canals to “flush” out excess wax. The kits work well for routine maintenance if you follow the instructions… but remember, your physician or audiologist is trained to take care of the more challenging wax removal cases.
Tip #3 – Clean Your Hearing Aids DAILY!
Everyone makes some wax every day and noteveryone makes the same amount of wax. Just about every person will occasionally have to
clean wax from their hearing devices. In years past, wax infiltration was one of the main reasons hearing aids had to be returned to the manufacturer. Luckily, just about every hearing aid produced today will have a wax guard system designed to keep excessive wax from getting inside your hearing aids – but that doesn’t mean you can forgo daily maintenance. You probably received a cleaning brush and maybe one or more additional tools to help you keep your aids in good working order. What I recommend to all my clients is a two-part cleaning process. In my opinion, this takes care of the moist wax issue as well as the dry wax issue.
Use a dry or slightly moistened cloth to wipe your earmolds, domes or custom aids at night, before you open the battery doors and put the aids to bed. This takes care of the typically small amount of moist wax that coats the domes, molds or aids each time you take them out of your ears.
Every morning, use the brush to remove loose wax from the canal portion (the part that goes into the ear canal) of the aids, domes or molds. Always hold the opening to the side or slightly down toward the ground and let gravity help. Always brush away from the opening so that loose wax does not enter the opening of the aids, molds or domes.
The cleaning procedure takes only a minute at night and another minute in the morning and will help ensure your aids are working at their best. Remember, if you are not getting good sound quality from the aids, cleaning them should be your first step followed by changing the wax guard(s) and then making sure you have a strong battery in the aid(s).
Tip #2 – Whenever possible, use a brand-name battery in your hearing aids.
I’ve often heard comments like “All batteries are the same.” and “Why should I pay more for a brand-name battery?” Believe me when I say that not all batteries are the same.
Occasionally there are differences in voltage, as well as very slight variances in thickness between manufacturers that result from the manufacturing process. This can sometimes cause problems with the function of the hearing aids. For example, I had a client who had been using a particular brand of battery for years with no problem whatsoever. In a pinch, he had to purchase a different (no name) brand of battery and all of a sudden he found that his aids were not working properly. He called to report what he thought was a “hearing aid” problem, telling me that he purchased “brand new” batteries but the aids still would not work. We went through the typical troubleshooting routine and I finally suggested he locate the brand of battery he had been using before. Lo and behold, the aids immediately came back to life!
Some hearing aids seem to “like” one brand of battery over another. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard clients say that they “prefer” a particular brand of battery because they get
significantly better battery life; and in some cases clients tell me that they actually hear better, experience better clarity, with one brand over another.
I recommend purchasing in small quantities initially until you’ve done a little research (count the days of battery life and pay attention to how you’re hearing). Once you’ve settled on a particular brand, then consider purchasing in quantities to take advantage of quantity discounts… but watch out for expiration dates. Finally, when in doubt, select a brand name battery such as Ray-O-Vac, Duracell, Energizer or my personal favorite, Power One.
Tip #1 – Develop a strong relationship with your provider.
This is just about the best thing you could possibly do to ensure you get the most benefit from your hearing devices. Whether your provider is an audiologist, an ENT doctor, or a hearing instrument specialist, you’re bound to be receiving services related to your ears and hearing devices for many years. So in my humble opinion, it’s a really good idea to work with someone you like and trust!
As an example, let me share this. I have many fun vehicles (some say way too many) including an RV, a motorcycle, a pickup truck, a go-kart and a classic car (1968 Chevelle convertible for those of you who like cars). However, the most important vehicle I drive is the one I use daily to see the people I serve. I have the choice of several good (and less expensive) service shops relatively close to home, yet I choose to drive almost an hour and spend probably more than an average amount of money to have my car serviced by a mechanic whom I really trust and respect. He’s not necessarily the cheapest guy
in town; but he is reliable, trustworthy, honest and he’s been in the business a long time. He knows what my car needs, he knows what he’s doing and he never steers me wrong.
Working with someone you know you can rely on makes a world of difference and makes the listening experience that much better day after day!