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A Talking Hearing Aid

Many people who could benefit from a hearing aid avoid it, fearing it signals infirmity. Starkey Hearing Technologies answers that fear with a device that does more than amplify sound and tone down background noise. Livio AI is embedded with sensors and artificial intelligence that allow it to stream music; verbally answer questions like a smart assistant; translate conversations into your language; detect falls (and alert loved ones); measure physical activity; and track how often you talk to other people during the day—useful for elderly users who can become isolated. Since launching in 2018, “it’s our best-selling product ever,” says Achin Bhowmik, chief technology officer at Starkey, who wears the device even though he doesn’t have hearing loss. “It’s better than normal hearing.” Livio AI is available from hearing p rofessionals. —Mandy Oaklander

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The Ins and Outs of Hearing Aids

The evolution of technology has done amazing things with hearing aids over the years. Many of the devices manufactured today are incredibly advanced, hooking seamlessly to Bluetooth technology, streaming GPS from your phone, or even linking to a hearing loop at a theater or events center.
No matter what model hearing device you have, it’s a good idea to spend some time learning about the various features and parts that are involved in case you encounter a problem. There are two common types of hearing aids on the market. In-the-ear (ITE) and Behind-the-ear (BTE), both of which are broken down into various styles.
Common parts are shared amongst most of the styles, with all models having:

  • Microphone (collects sound waves and relays them to the amplifier)
  • Amplifier (transforms sounds into electrical signals then sends them to the receiver/speaker)
  • Wire (transmits power and signal from the body of device to the speaker)
  • Power source (battery maybe disposable or rechargeable)
  • Receiver/speaker (typically located within a dome or earmold inside the ear canal)
  • Switch/button (depending on size and style, this might change programs, settings, or volume)

In-the-Ear

Described appropriately, this type of hearing aid is worn inside the ear canal. More customizable to the individual patient, your hearing professional will take an impression, likely during the initial consultation. Different styles of ITE hearing aids fit deeper inside the ear canal, though there are some that sit closer to the outer ear and are available in assorted skin tone colors.
Invisible in the canal (IIC) and Completely in the canal (CIC) devices are pretty much invisible to those around you. Even upon close inspection they are often unable to be detected. Placed deep within the ear canal, these tiny instruments can be removed by gently pulling on a small string that is attached to it.
Initially many are unsure about this, but after a short period of becoming acclimated they are pleased with the ease of use and the anonymity of use. Advantages are:

  • Sound quality due to fit within the ear
  • Very discreetly hidden

Some disadvantages are:

  • Due to the small size, they can be difficult for people with dexterity issues
  • The small size can also hinder wireless connectivity, for example with cell phones
  • They are more prone to damage due to moisture and ear wax buildup

In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids utilize more of the outer, lower portion of the ear canal. This sets them out a bit farther and allow more usability for people who experience problems operating smaller instruments. Since they are slightly larger than their IIC and CIC counterparts, they are known to have a longer battery life and can work for a broader variety of hearing difficulties.
Still discreet, they offer an extended range of features as well, such as manual controls for volume adjustment and directional microphones. These allow for better reception in loud environments like sporting events, restaurants, or at concerts. Advantages include:

  • Additional features and a longer battery life than IIC and CIC models
  • Discreet

Though slightly different than IIC and CIC models, they share similar disadvantages such as:

  • The small size can also hinder wireless connectivity, for example with cell phones
  • They are more prone to damage due to moisture and ear wax buildup
  • Due to more of the ear being occupied, the wearer may experience a more plugged feeling

Low profile hearing aids fall within the ITC style though they vary from full-shell designs that fill most of the outer ear bowl area to half-shell which fills a portion of the ear bowl. These models are designed a bit larger and allow for features such as manual controls for volume as well as the ability to change programs with the push of a button in addition to directional microphones.
Some advantages of this model:

  • Allows for more features
  • Additional user controls
  • Larger size makes insertion and removal easier
  • Better connectivity with wireless devices

Disadvantages are:

  • Larger size makes it less discreet
  • Due to more of the ear being occupied, the wearer may experience a more plugged feeling

Behind-the-Ear

Normally referred to as receiver in the ear (RITE), receiver-in-ear (RIE), or receiver in canal (RIC) this type of hearing device has an open-fitting design with the speaker made to be inserted into the canal via an ear dome, rather than the main part of the hearing aid.
With the speaker inserted into the ear canal, the main brains of the device sit behind the hear in a very small box that houses the microphone, amplifier, a power source, and potentially a telecoil. The telecoil has become quite common on most hearing aids within the past 50 years. The small copper coils work in combination with a hearing loop to offer the wearer a significantly greater experience in areas where available such as event centers, airports, courtrooms, and medical offices as well as many other public areas.
The speaker located within the ear canal is connected to the transmitter with a small, thin wire. This type of technology offers a quality of sound that is more advanced and is available from most major manufacturers of hearing aids.
As with all these options, no one type, or style is right for everyone. Seek the assistance and advice of a hearing health professional if you’re considering purchasing hearing aids. Have them run through all the benefits and features of each part so you’re aware of the pros and cons and can make an educated decision.
If you already wear hearing aids, do yourself a favor and become familiar with the different parts that make them work. You’ll be better able to troubleshoot any problems you encounter, or you’ll be in a better position to explain to your hearing aid specialist if you’re having issues.

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Autumn Oak is Proud to Support Habitat for Humanity

As the holiday season ends, we’re reminded of all the things we’re thankful for. Not only are we grateful to support our patients with their hearing concerns, but we appreciate the opportunity to help others in need. It’s not just the immediate people around us that can benefit from generosity; you can make a difference in the world no matter where you are.
At Autumn Oak Speech, Voice & Hearing, we are a proud supporter of a variety of charities and noteworthy causes. This winter, we’ve extended our reach to support Habitat for Humanity. We’re committed to the welfare of others and are grateful that we can encourage this fantastic organization and the important work they’re doing.
Our staff thanks you for the gift you give us daily – being able to help you with your hearing needs. It’s what makes our job truly special.
Season’s greetings!

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Just Say No to Cotton Swabs

The push to minimize plastic and protect the environment is celebrating another small victory thanks to a recent move by Scotland, and it could be another step toward protecting ears and hearing health around the world.
It’s not plastic bags or straws. It’s a ban on single-use cotton swabs and the plastic they use.
Scotland’s legislation
According to reports, Scotland is now the first UK country to ban plastic cotton swabs. In a bill presented in September 2019 and put into effect in October 2019, the throw-away swabs will no longer have a home in the country. Experts believe the ban to be passed by English Parliament in April 2020. Backers estimated that almost 2 billion of the plastic cotton swabs are used in England each year.
“Single-use plastic products are not only wasteful but generate unnecessary litter than blights our beautiful beaches and green spaces while threatening our wildlife on land and at sea,” said Scotland’s environment secretary, Roseanna Cunningham.
It’s a step forward for the environment, but could it also be a step forward for hearing health?
The danger of cotton swabs
It’s no secret that most of us have ear wax. For some, it’s a little; for others, it’s a lot. Either way, ear wax is an integral part of our ears.
Ear wax is a waxy substance produced in the outer ear canal to help protect the ear with its sticky consistency and antibacterial properties. As it moves through the ear canal with the help of our jaw movements, it picks up foreign particles and dead skin cells to carry them out of the ear. Without ear wax, we may be prone to itchiness in the ear canal and even increased infections.
That doesn’t stop many from trying to clean it out, though, and often that is with the dangerous help of cotton swabs. These disposable little tools can often do permanent damage to the ears and hearing whether it’s impacting ear wax, damaging the eardrum, or scratching the ear canal. Hearing healthcare professionals continue to warn against ever putting objects into ears, including cotton swabs. Many hope that as cotton swabs are banned for environmental reasons, those still using them will find safer options for ear cleaning.
How to clean the ear
While most hearing healthcare providers recommend leaving ear wax to do its job, there are times when it builds up and can cause discomfort. In these cases, cleaning the ear may become necessary. If you believe your ear wax has built up and needs to be removed, skip the swab and opt for one of these solutions:

  • A professional ear wax cleaning – Schedule an appointment with your hearing health care provider to quickly and easily remove excess earwax in their office. This may include ear irrigation or removal with a specialized tool.
  • Over the counter products at home – Discuss the best options with your hearing health care provider. They may recommend ear wax softener drops or ear irrigation. Not all at-home remedies are safe.

Take a stand for the environment and your ears by saying no to cotton swabs!