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How Does a Pandemic Affect Noise Pollution? | The Apple Hearing Study

In this first-of-its-kind study, researchers set out to see how the sound levels we’re exposed to in our day-to-day lives can impact health.

We live in a noisy world. Dr. Richard Neitzel, of the University of Michigan, knows this only too well. In November 2019, his team at Michigan, along with a team at Apple Inc., set out on a two-year mission to measure some of the health effects of our noisy planet.

What they got was an unprecedented collection of information that answered an impossible-to-anticipate question — how does a pandemic affect noise pollution?


The Apple Hearing Study

 

The noise pollution problem

Around 1.1 billion young people worldwide are at risk of hearing loss simply because of their recreational habits. Occupational noise exposure affects up to 25% of American and 15% of Canadian workers. Plus, there’s traffic, daily construction in major cities, and a host of other sources of constant noise.

All this unwanted sound affects more than your hearing. It can disturb sleep, worsen patient outcomes in hospitals, even affect schoolchildren’s cognitive abilities. That’s on top of the already well-established effects hearing loss has on overall health.

In the face of this public health challenge, wouldn’t it be handy to measure just how much noise we’re all exposed to?

This is where Dr. Neitzel and his team come in.


The study

In this first-of-its-kind, two-year study, volunteers downloaded the Apple Research app to their iPhone. Headphone and sound-exposure data were regularly collected from their iPhone and Apple Watch (if applicable). The aim of the study was to measure how the sound levels we’re exposed to in our day-to-day lives impact hearing, cardiovascular health, and stress levels.

The COVID-19 Connection

A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, they realized they had a unique, timely, privacy-centric opportunity: They could harvest data from their Apple Hearing Study to measure how social distancing affected sound-exposure levels.

They selected four states based on geographic and cultural diversity — California, Florida, New York, and Texas — and compared the data from two time periods. The first was January 8 to February 21, reflecting pre-COVID-19 conditions. The second period began for each state when that state first issued its social-distancing recommendations, and ended April 22, soon before the first states began loosening restrictions. They ended up with over half a million daily noise level measurements from almost 6,000 participants.

The Surprising Results

They published their findings in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Their analysis revealed that, compared to the pre-COVID-19 time period, daily average noise exposure was cut nearly in half during the social-distancing period, from just over 73 decibels to around 70.5 decibels.

One important piece of this decrease is the sound level at which it happened — 70 decibels. That’s well above the point at which noise can affect heart health, hypertension, and brainpower.

At those decibels, cutting sound exposure in half can have meaningful health benefits. In the words of the authors, “[T]he COVID-related reduction in sound exposures among study participants likely represents a meaningful reduction in overall risk of sound-related health effects.”

A Noisy World

The unforeseen — a pandemic — resulted in nearly halved noise levels, but you don’t have to wait for such extreme circumstances to take charge of your sound-exposure levels. From specialty earplugs to hearing devices, there are simple ways to take charge of how much noise you’re willing to put up with.

Contact us today to learn more about options for curbing noise pollution, regardless of the social-distancing situation you find yourself in!

Illustration of a crowd from above walking in all directions

Better Hearing, Resilience & You: 5 Tips For Resilience

“All things in moderation,” the saying goes, but can one have too much resilience? Looking back on such an unprecedented year, we’re not too sure about that.

Like improved hearing, resilience can make a significant difference in quality of life — after all, it reflects an invaluable ability to adapt to, recover from, or withstand challenges, change, and adversity.

As your hearing care team, we’ve some tips for building resilience in your life. For today, the new year, and beyond, keep these five steps in mind:

  1. Remember You’re Not Alone

    If you’ve felt somewhat disconnected in these times, that’s not uncommon. Challenges such as the pandemic have upended the way we live, work, and play. Newer norms can feel uncomfortable. Drawing strength from the knowledge that others share your experiences can make a difference.

  2. Gain Empowerment Through Preparation

    If you wear hearing technology, it’s probably no surprise that a little maintenance goes a long way toward helping you stay engaged. Regular DIY care, supplies such as extra batteries and wax guards, and periodic clean and checks with our team can help you feel prepared for anything life brings.

  3. Think Total Wellness

    Hearing plays an important role in overall wellness, which in turn plays a role in resilience. Did you know? Ears and eyes work together to help you perceive the world. Conversely, hearing loss is linked to cognitive decline, heart disease, isolation, and other issues, so protect your hearing health.

  4. Commit to Learning

    Learning not only stimulates the brain but supports resilience. It also supports better hearing, especially when learning more about your existing hearing device’s helpful features and capabilities — streaming, for example — that can help you communicate confidently and navigate your world.

  5. Reach Out for Help

    Expanding and tapping into your network of support — including friends, family, and neighbors — can help fortify your resilience. Count on our hearing care team as part of that important network, letting us know how we can help!

Has it been a while since your last hearing evaluation or technology clean and check? Please don’t wait. Schedule your appointment with us today!

Illustration of two hands; one holding a green puzzle piece and the other holding a yellow puzzle piece.

5 Simple Ways to Boost Your Mood This Winter

Hearing health and mental health have a clear connection.

In fact, untreated hearing loss increases your risk of depression, anxiety, social isolation, and more. Winter is also a prime time for seasonal blahs. If you could use a little mental-health boost, here are some simple ways to get started.


Express Gratitude

Gratitude improves happiness, well-being, and mental health. The best-researched method is keeping a gratitude journal. Once or twice a week, choose one act or person you’re grateful for and write a few sentences detailing why. In daily life, you’ll begin to seek out the positive — rather than the negative — and writing it down allows you to really savor that positive emotion.
 

Exercise

Exercise releases endorphins, which relieve stress and boost your mood. You can even use small things that add more activity to your day, like skipping the elevator in favor of the stairs or taking a short, brisk walk. If you work from home, tackle chores that require you to walk to another room or — better yet — another floor. Aim for 30 minutes a day.
 

Spoil Your Senses

Use your senses to quickly find calm. For some people, it’s an uplifting song or the smell of ground coffee. For others, it’s squeezing a stress ball. Each person’s relationship to their senses is a little different, so experiment to figure out what works best to bring you back to center.
 

Lose Yourself

Doing something you love, something you know you can lose yourself in, allows you to forget about life for a while. You don’t have to be a parent, a spouse, or an employee — you can just be.
 

Find a Furry Friend

Interacting with a pet lowers cortisol — the stress hormone — and raises oxytocin — the feel-good hormone. It also lowers blood pressure and eases loneliness and depression. Don’t have a pet? Walk a friend’s dog, volunteer to cat-sit for a vacationing neighbor, or volunteer at a shelter.

Contact us to learn more about the hearing health–mental health connection!

Fun sketch of a happy black and white dog with perked up ears on a teal background

When It Comes to Hearing Wellness, Don’t Fur-Get Your Pets!

Just like their people parents, these furry members of the family can experience hearing difficulties too. Read on to learn what you can do.


AVOID EXCESS NOISE

As one of the most preventable causes of hearing loss in humans, loud sounds can also be a problem for the beloved pets in your household. Excess noise can go hand in hand with hearing damage, anxiety, fear, and even trauma. Limiting noise exposure helps support their hearing health and overall wellness.
 

CONSIDER HEARING PROTECTION

If hightailing it to a quieter space isn’t an option for Rover and Pepper during fireworks or other super-loud situations, hearing protection is another approach that could help. Earplugs and earmuffs made especially for pets help deaden intrusive sounds.
 

KNOW THE SIGNS

If your pooch or kitty doesn’t react in the usual way to your voice, squeaky toys, the doorbell, or other sounds, hearing loss may be the culprit. Behaviors such as reduced activity, excess barking, loud meowing, and sound sleeping even through the loudest noises may also indicate a problem.
 

SCHEDULE REGULAR CHECKUPS

Comprehensive vet exams may include not only a check of your pet’s eyes, nose, mouth, legs, heart, skin, weight, and joints but also their ears. It’s a good time to discuss any changes you’ve noticed in their response to commands or other sounds and gain tips on proper nutrition for optimal hearing health.
 

ADDRESS PROBLEMS EARLY

Early intervention on a suspected hearing condition could make the difference in your fur baby’s quality of life. Not all hearing loss is preventable — for example, a congenital problem, irreversible damage from injury, or another challenge — but working with your veterinarian may help moderate the problem.

When It Comes to Hearing Wellness for the Whole Family, Don’t Fur-Get Your Pets!

Hearing Loss & Accidental Injury: More Connected Than You May Think

From slips and spills to collisions, machine mishaps and more, accidents befall us all, but did you know that hearing loss might contribute to the risk of injury? In fact, one investigation found that those with hearing difficulties may have a doubled chance of suffering an accidental injury at work or play.

The study, published in a 2018 edition of JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery and involving data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey, noted that the greater the degree of self-perceived hearing difficulty, the greater the overall accidental-injury risk.

This dovetails with other research that points to links between hearing loss and the increased risk of falling, for example. One study even showed that people with mild hearing loss had a tripled chance of reporting a fall in the prior year, and every 10-decibel increase in hearing loss further raised the odds.

The good news? Addressing hearing loss head-on could cut down on the risk of problems such as falling. Research from the University of Michigan published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, for instance, showed a 13% reduced chance “of being treated for fall-related injuries” among newly diagnosed hearing-impaired seniors fitted with hearing aids.

It’s not necessarily conclusive why hearing loss goes hand in hand with a higher risk of accidental injury or even other issues such as dementia and depression, but one thing’s for sure: Early intervention on hearing problems can go a long way toward supporting your hearing health and overall wellness.


Has it been a while since your last hearing checkup?
Do the sounds coming through your hearing technology seem less clear than they used to be?
Are you ready for some increased connectivity between your hearing aids and the other smart devices that help you run your world?

Don’t wait!

Contact our expert team for an appointment today. Together, let’s make sure you’re hearing and communicating your best!

Illustration of an ear with graphics representing noise surrounding it

5 Reasons to Love Earwax | Three Cheers for Earwax!

Let’s talk earwax. From its texture to its appearance, it gets a bad name. We suspect the yellow-brown goo might be down a friend or two, so we want to give credit where credit is due.

Here are five reasons we think you should give earwax a second chance.


  1. Earwax Protects Your Ear Canal and Eardrum

  2. Like many things that seem pointless (eyelashes and nose hair, for example), earwax is actually important. It keeps dust, bacteria, and other microorganisms out of your body. A natural antimicrobial, earwax also keeps infection at bay should your ear canal sustain a scrape. Finally, it keeps your ear canal lubricated so it doesn’t become dry and itchy.
     

  3. Earwax Is Self-Cleaning

  4. Your ear canal has a slight incline. Your jaw’s motion during chewing and talking keeps your earwax from settling into your skin. Put the two together, and you have the perfect self-cleaning system: Your earwax slowly travels down your ear canal, where you can gently wipe it from your outer ear if necessary.
     

  5. Earwax Isn’t Even Wax

  6. The technical term for earwax is cerumen. It comprises a few different things: Secretions from two glands combine to line the inside of your ear canal; then dead hair, skin cells, dust, and the already mentioned microorganisms become trapped in this mixture. All of it together is cerumen.
     

  7. Earwax Is a Good Sign

  8. In general, having earwax is not the sign of poor hygiene some people think it is. Everyone produces earwax, and it serves several important purposes. You will know if your earwax becomes a problem, because you’ll experience hearing loss or develop discomfort in your ear canal.
     

  9. Cotton Swabs Are Not the Answer

  10. You can revel in crossing one more thing off your daily hygiene list: cotton swabs. Again, the ears are self-cleaning. On the rare occasion you suspect you have too much earwax, don’t stick anything hard in your ear, and don’t use ear candles. There are plenty of over-the-counter remedies that are as simple as a drop or two of a solution to break up the earwax, followed by flushing your ear canal gently with water. Regular use of cotton swabs strips your ear canal of important protection and can lead to impacted earwax.

5 Tips to Keep Your Better – Hearing Resolution Going Strong

From spending more time with family and friends to taking classes at the local gym, almost everyone makes at least one New Year’s resolution. The catch? Just 8% of resolvers stick to their goals, per a Forbes story referencing University of Scranton research.

No worries: If you’re aiming to hear your best in 2020, we’re sharing five tips to help boost your stick‑to‑itiveness for the new year and beyond!


  1. BE REALISTIC

  2. Though hearing loss can be permanent — some cases caused by noise exposure, for example, can be irreversible, hence the importance of hearing protection — nearly all types can be effectively managed with solutions such as today’s sophisticated hearing aids. Understanding the power of hearing technology, including what it can and cannot do, can go a long way toward shaping attainable goals.
     

  3. WRITE IT DOWN

  4. With the potential ability of hearing loss to take a heavy toll on relationships, self-esteem, social engagement, brain health, and so much more, it may seem surprising that a written reminder is in order. When it comes to self-care, however, it’s not uncommon for people to put themselves last. Put your better-hearing goal in writing — even setting a weekly electronic reminder — to help stay on track.
     

  5. VISUALIZE SUCCESS

  6. Did you know? Improved hearing is associated with lower odds of depression, a reduced chance of dementia, a greater sense of independence, and other important facets of quality living. What counts even more, however, are the reasons better hearing matters to you. Visualize a world — at home, work, and play — in which you hear the sounds that mean the most, and keep that motivation top of mind.
     

  7. TELL A FRIEND

  8. Sometimes it’s a little easier to feel accountable to someone else, so consider sharing your better-hearing goal with a friend, relative, or other confidant who’s willing to back you with reminders, encouragement, and check-ins. Knowing that someone else wants you to succeed may be just the push you need. You could even take them to your appointments for support and additional perspective.
     

  9. SET BENCHMARKS

  10. You’ve heard the old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” (Full disclosure: We don’t eat elephants here!) Your better-hearing goal can work the same way. Break your resolution into small bites set to reasonable deadlines — for example, writing it down, listing the benefits, telling a friend, making a hearing‑check appointment — and reward yourself with each milestone accomplished.

 

No matter your new-year goals, we’re committed to helping you reach them with the power of better hearing. So don’t delay. Contact our caring team for help that’s tailored to your communication needs today!

Early Hearing Testing: 6 Reasons It Matters

Early Hearing Testing: 6 Reasons It Matters

There’s an old saying that “Knowing is half the battle,” and that adage couldn’t be truer when it comes to your hearing and quality of life. Hearing loss affects more than your ability to communicate, so we’re sharing six reasons to have your hearing tested sooner rather than later.

  1. FALLS — Untreated hearing impairment is linked to falling, which is more common among people with hearing loss. In a 2012-published study of 2,017 adults ages 40 to 69 and led by Johns Hopkins and National Institute on Aging researchers, those with mild hearing loss were nearly three times as likely to have reported a fall. Ears play an important role in helping maintain balance, making it important to identify and address hearing problems early.
  2. BRAIN HEALTH — Hearing loss can potentially take a toll on the brain, which may have to work harder to process sound. In addition, an ever-growing body of research connects hearing loss to other problems such as faster brain atrophy, earlier onset of major cognitive decline, and up to five times’ higher risk of dementia. With hearing aid use, however, age-related cognitive decline could slow as much as 75%.
  3. DEPRESSION — Research supports a link between hearing loss and depression. Older adults with hearing loss, for example, have a 57% greater risk of experiencing deep depression than those without it, per a Johns Hopkins investigation. With hearing aid use, however, the odds of depression may be lower, according to another study.
  4. FINANCES — Did you know? Research suggests a link between untreated hearing loss and higher medical costs, with older adults paying some 46% more — about $22,434 — than their normal-hearing peers in a 10-year span. In addition, annual household earnings can take a hit of as much as $30,000 with a hearing loss, but treatment with hearing aids could reduce that risk by up to 100%.
  5. CHILD DEVELOPMENT — The impact of hearing loss on children reaches beyond the physical and emotional effects, with implications for their academic-, social-, and communication-related development. For example, 25% to 35% of kids with hearing loss in even just one ear may risk failing a grade level. Early intervention, which could make a big difference in a child’s quality of life, starts with testing.
  6. RELATIONSHIPS — Adults with unaddressed hearing loss report reduced social engagement, more emotional turmoil, and other challenges that could affect their relationships and more. The good news? Not only do adults treated with hearing aids report significant improvements in their social lives and relationships with families, but their loved ones do too, per research from the National Council on Aging.

Some 466 million children and adults around the globe have experienced disabling hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization, but only a fraction receive care. Empowerment starts with answers, so don’t wait. Stay atop your hearing health by scheduling a comprehensive hearing evaluation with our caring team today. It’s easy, painless, and helps you stay on the path of better hearing and improved overall wellness.

Why Do My Ears Itch? | Causes of Ear Itching

Next to pain, itching is probably the most uncomfortable physical sensation we experience. It is annoying, distracting, and in some cases, absolutely maddening. When that itching occurs in a place we can’t reach, it can be difficult to find relief. Our ear canals are the most common place unreachable itching occurs, but most of us don’t give it much thought. Fortunately, most causes of deep ear itching are understood, and there are things we can do to alleviate or even prevent it.


What Causes Itching Sensations in the Ear?

DRY SKIN
In the outer ear, itching is rarely a notable issue, since we can easily rub or scratch that itch away. It is usually caused by dry skin or irritants that come into contact with the skin. It is no different than itching on any other exposed part of the body, but if it becomes a habitual nuisance, applying a bit of mineral oil or Vaseline to the affected area with a cotton swab can help rehydrate the skin and protect it from further irritation.

SKIN CONDITIONS
In addition to the superficial irritation of substances you come into contact with, two of the most common benign skin diseases, eczema and psoriasis, can also affect your ears. If scaling of the skin is present, one of these conditions will be suspected as the cause of your itching. Your hearing care provider and dermatologist can provide solutions.

ALLERGIES
In the inner parts of the ear, causes of itching become a little more complex. One of the most common culprits is allergies. The same histamine response that causes itchy hives on the skin, watery eyes, and sneezing can also cause the eustachian tube (the pathway that connects the ear to the throat) to become inflamed. Most of us will press on our tragus (that small flap of cartilaginous skin near the ear’s opening) and wiggle it vigorously to relieve this sensation, but the best home remedy is to take an antihistamine.

INFECTION
Almost everyone has suffered an ear infection at some point in our lives, and when we think back on this experience, it is usually the pain that we remember the most, but itching can also be an important indicator of bacterial buildup in the middle ear. If the itching you feel is persistent and intense, or is accompanied by a throbbing sensation or feeling of fullness, schedule an appointment with your audiologist or ENT to find out if infection is present. Treating it at this stage can save you from further discomfort down the road.

ANXIETY
You may be surprised to learn this, but simply being nervous, stressed, or feeling “on edge” can cause the ears to itch!


What Can I Do to Relieve Itching?

As mentioned above, medication is usually the best method to relieve persistent itching deep in the ear, but there are also some over-the-counter remedies you can try. Commercial ear drops that dissolve wax can clear the ear of buildup and debris and relieve itching. Taking a hot shower or sipping a hot cup of tea may also help, as the heat dilates blood vessels and improves circulation to the ears. An added benefit of this approach is that it is likely to relax you, which will reduce nervous itching.

Another useful remedy is placing a few drops of 70% rubbing alcohol in the ear. If this causes a burning sensation, that’s another sign of fungal or bacterial infection, which means a visit to your hearing care provider is in order. Even if an infection is not present, your provider may prescribe steroid drops to bring you relief.


Can I Prevent Itchy Ears?

The best way to prevent itching in any part of the ear is to practice good ear hygiene. While we are all tempted to clean our ears at home, this often does more harm than good. No foreign object should ever be inserted into the ear (this means cotton swabs, too!), because this pushes wax deeper into the canal, which can cause everything from painful blockages to that persistent itching we’re trying to avoid. Wax is actually a very important component of ear health; it keeps the inner ear waterproof and resistant to microbes. Gently washing the outer ear with a soft washcloth and warm water will rinse away any excess wax or debris and help keep dermatitis at bay.

If you wear earrings, make sure they are made of a hypoallergenic metal such as pure gold, sterling silver, or titanium, as some other metals (chiefly nickel) can react with the skin and cause itching.
Avoid getting excess water in your ears whenever possible. Swim with your head above the surface and consider wearing a shower cap while bathing. Additionally, switching to a shampoo formulated for sensitive skin can cut down on ear irritation.

When inserting hearing aids or earbuds, or any other device that fits into the ear, do so gently and carefully. It may seem like a small gesture, but anytime we place anything in or near the ear canal, we are potentially disrupting the ear’s natural defenses against invaders.

Hand Dryers: For Kids, Beware the Noise

It’s no secret that hand dryers installed in public bathrooms can seem rather loud, but we were blown away by a young scientist’s findings when she put the volume levels of 44 automated machines to the test in restrooms across Alberta, Canada.

Turns out some of those volumes can do a number on kids’ ears — which are more susceptible to noise-induced hearing problems — by reaching sound levels well beyond the danger zone of 85 decibels. Several of the various brands measured above 100 decibels when in actual use for hand-drying, and one was even greater than 120.

The study, by then-9-year-old Nora Keegan, has captured international attention, with coverage by the New York Times, CNN, Canada’s CBC, and other media outlets. Now 13, Keegan is likely one of the youngest researchers to have her work published in the journal Pediatrics & Child Health.

Per an NPR story, the Calgary student was inspired by the ringing in her ears and other kids’ reactions to hand-dryer noise to get to the bottom of just how loud the dryers — a common presence in public washrooms around the world — can be and whether they might negatively impact hearing ability.

Her research, published this past summer after an approximately 15-month investigation, interestingly noted that some of the automated machines’ higher readings surpassed the legal limit of 100 decibels for peak loudness of children’s toys in Canada.

A few other notable findings from this timely research:

  • “Not all hand dryers are equal in their hearing safety.”
  • Various dryers are potentially louder than some manufacturers’ claims.
  • Dryer noise is “much louder at children’s heights than at adult height.”

According to Keegan, the study’s “results can be used to guide regulators, builders, and landlords in making decisions about which dryers to install in public facilities.” The investigation also highlights “the importance of measuring dryer loudness at the location of children’s ears” — versus that of adults, who are typically taller.


What’s the big deal?

Noise exposure, one of the most preventable risk factors, is a leading cause of hearing impairment — second only to aging. Over a billion children and adults are vulnerable to recreational noise-related hearing impairment alone, per the World Health Organization, making it essential to keep the volume down.

One of the most effective actions you can take is to prevent or limit your child’s exposure to excessively loud noise. Keeping hearing protection on hand — including custom earplugs, headphones, or earmuffs to help temper loud sounds, can also go a long way toward preserving your child’s hearing.