Hearing loss can greatly affect one’s ability to participate in conversations, especially in noisy environments. Using good communication strategies is key to helping those with hearing loss hear conversations accurately.

First, use clear speech when talking to someone with hearing loss. Many times, it is not that the individual with hearing loss missed the entire sentence, but they just need the speech to be spoken clearly and more distinctly. Using a key phrase with clear speech can also help guide the conversations along more smoothly. An example of a key phrase is “Now I am going to change subjects.” Letting the individual know that there will be a change in topic is helpful even to those without hearing loss.

Second, use anticipatory strategies. Anticipatory strategies include asking for the topic of the conversations ahead of time, reading about current events before a meeting or asking for an agenda to follow along with throughout a lecture.

When an individual is unsure if they hear the sentence correctly, they can use repair strategies. Repair strategies include asking for repetition, asking for rephrasing and requesting confirmation. Can you please repeat that? Can you please explain that in a different way? Did you say that the microwave was broken? Those are all examples of repair strategies. 

The auditory system is made up of three sections. The first is the Outer Ear which consists of the ear canal and the pinna which is the part that can be seen on the side of the head. The Middle ear consists of the eardrum, 3 bones (malleus, incus and stapes), tendons and the eustation tube. The Inner ear consists of the cochlea (where the hair cells are that allow us to hear), vestibular organs and the beginning of the nerves that send the signals to the brain.

The anatomy responsible for regulating pressure is the eustation tube located in the Middle ear. The eustation tube is a soft tissue tube and it’s job is to open and close when pressure changes occur outside and inside of the body. The eustation tube is what allows your ears to clear when you fly on an airplane or go diving in the Gulf. The pressure changes force the eustation tube to open and close so the pressure in the ear system can change along with what is happening outside of the ear.

Why do ears sometimes feel plugged? When the eustation tube is aggravated by an allergy, the soft tissue tube swells and sometimes fluid is also created. When the tissue swells or fluid is blocking it, the eustation tube cannot open and close as needed. Therefore, creating a plugged feeling. At times we can force the eustation to open temporarily by holding our nose and blowing. However, addressing the allergy causing the aggravation could prevent the blockage and ear popping in the future.

One-third of dementia cases could potentially be prevented if the following lifestyle factors were better managed:

  • Hearing loss
  • Hypertension
  • Depression
  • Smoking

Of those lifestyle factors, hearing loss has the greatest potential to help prevent dementia cases if it were treated starting in the mid-stages of life and continued on from there.

Treating hearing loss provides the brain with the mentally stimulating tasks that have proven to help strengthen the brain and its networks so it can continue to function at a higher level.

The link between hearing loss and dementia likely has to do with the lack of social isolation that can come along as the hearing loss is left untreated.  Without the social interactions, the brain does not have the exercise needed to enrich its function.

So, how can you help with ear pain with altitude changes? We rely on our Eustachian tubes to equalize the pressure in our middle ear space. Here are a few ways to help: 

  • Swallowing– When you swallow, that clicking or popping sound you may hear is a tiny bubble of air that has moved from the back of the nose into the middle ear, via the Eustachian tube. 
  • Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy- Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy will stimulate frequent swallowing which helps equalize air pressure.
  • Valsalva maneuver- With a mouthful of air, close your mouth and pinch your nose shut. Gently force air out until ears your ears pop.
  • Toynbee maneuver- close your mouth and nose and swallow several times until pressure equalizes. 

Here are a few additional tips:

  • Avoid sleeping during ascent or descent.
  • Drink lots of fluids in-flight to stay hydrated.
  • Yawn.
  • Try EarPlanes, specially designed ear plugs that have a filter to equalize pressure.
  • Use nasal spray 1 hour prior to landing and only as-needed. Overuse of nasal sprays can cause more congestion. 
  • Take a decongestant 1 hour before landing and also post-flight until ears normalize.

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