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Improve Your Hearing at Work

Hearing loss can pose a host of hurdles, with some of the most stressful ones occurring at work. Whether it’s applying or interviewing for a new position, or maintaining a current one, hearing problems can make a difficult task even harder. Unlike problems with eyesight or movement, hearing loss is dubbed the “invisible disability” since others are less likely to be aware of your limitation.
Colleagues and bosses who aren’t informed of your hearing loss will naturally assume that you’re understanding everything being said without issue. Meetings will carry on without accommodation, and the odds are high that important information will be unheard or misinterpreted. This is of course true elsewhere in life, be it at a restaurant or the airport, but at work these missed communications can affect your hard-earned position and livelihood.
So how do you deal with the various challenges that hearing loss presents at work?
To start, a simple mindset shift is essential: that hearing loss is actually quite normal, and there are numerous ways of accommodating it to ensure your productivity and effectiveness remain intact. Just remind yourself– people with glasses aren’t treated any differently at work. And neither should you be.
Which is why it’s imperative that you understand your rights as someone with a disability, even if it’s just a slight one. No matter what level of hearing loss you’re experiencing, the Americans with Disabilities Act ensures your right to have reasonable accommodation made for your known disability. Types of assistance often include modifying existing equipment, providing new devices, restructuring jobs, reassigning an employee to an available position, and even providing readers or interpreters. While your employer is required to take the necessary steps to make your position accessible for you, it’s your responsibility to know what services or accommodations you need to perform your job.
As you review the challenges you’re facing at work, consider where exactly your hearing loss is posing problems. Review the situations where you do best, and what factors impede your success elsewhere. The most effective approach to improving your experience at work will be a combination of using the right assistive tools for your type and level of hearing loss, and making simple requests in group meetings and conferences.
Tools for better hearing:

  • Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs), which can be used in conjunction with hearing aids or cochlear implants, are an effective way to battle background noise, echo, and distance-related sound distortions. They’re designed to help maximize your current level of hearing.
  • Speechreading classes can help you improve your ability to use visual clues in conversations.
  • A phone with volume control, or a high-gain amplified phone if louder volume is needed, is extremely helpful, and captioned telephones (including mobile versions) are also available. Ensure that the mobile phone you’re using is equipped with the latest HD (wideband) audio technology, which enhances voice quality.
  • Communication Assisted Real-time Translation (CART) is commonly used for group meetings, and involves a hired writer to clarify what’s being said in real-time.

In addition to optimizing your tools for maximum hearing, it’s also a great idea to ask for simple adjustments to be made in group settings. This might seem intimidating at first, but it’s important that you remain rooted in the mindset we began with: that hearing loss is completely normal. In fact, it’s the third most common health problem in the country, with nearly 20% of Americans affected. Asking others to help you hear better with any of the following requests is not only unobtrusive, it’s also helpful for them. They’ll likely need to use these tips for others in their life, be it now or later.
Tips for better group meetings:

  • Ask for meeting agenda items, and any supportive materials, in writing and in advance. It’s also helpful to get the names of those attending the meeting in writing beforehand as well.
  • Ask that your seat be closest to the main speaker, with your back to any windows or sources of bright light.
  • Request that any music, cross-conversation, or other sources of background noise be avoided.
  • For teleconferences or webinars, ask that the attendees speak only one at a time, and use their headsets instead of speakerphones to reduce background noise as much as possible.
  • If CART is provided during a meeting, ask that the CART writer be sat beside you, for clarification purposes.

Hearing loss may require that you be proactive in addressing your needs, but it doesn’t have to mean the end. of your success at work.

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Surprising Culprits of Hearing Loss

Over 48 million Americans report some degree of hearing loss, and ample evidence continues to point at exposure to loud noise and aging as main causes. However, recent findings reveal that many lesser-known contributors appear to be playing silent roles as well.
Painkillers
As the most frequently used medication in the country, knowing the full array of risks analgesics pose is imperative. And while no drug is without it’s long list of potential side-effects, recent findings on the incidence of hearing loss for women using acetaminophen and ibuprofen deserves some extra attention. A 14 year-long study found women who used these painkillers more than 2 days per week had up to a 24% increased risk of hearing loss. The good news? Aspirin appears to have no association with hearing problems.
Smoking
As if there needs to be any more reasons to avoid smoking, here’s a strong one: It turns out that smokers are 70% more likely to experience some degree of hearing loss compared to non-smokers, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Lyme Disease
As deer ticks flourish seasonally, so do the rates of Lyme Disease infection, which can potentially cause sudden loss of hearing and tinnitus. Luckily, these symptoms can be effectively treated if dealt with early on, but Lyme Disease is an evasive condition and tends to mimic other diseases. Misdiagnosis is common, and delayed treatment can lead to permanent hearing loss. A simple test for Lyme Disease can rule it out early on.
Sleep Apnea
A recent study of nearly 14,000 participants found that disrupted sleep patterns due to untreated sleep apnea was strongly associated with hearing loss. This compounds on the growing evidence that hearing problems are affected by a lack of sleep in general.
Osteoporosis
Men and women affected by osteoporosis are nearly twice as likely to suffer from sudden deafness, according to a recent study. Considered a medical emergency, sudden deafness needs to be treated within 24-48 hours for the best chance of a full recovery. Despite what was originally believed, osteoporosis does not appear to affect the small bones of the middle ear, and researchers are still trying to understand the connection.
Diabetes
As a disease that is known for the damage it can wreak on blood vessels, researchers aren’t baffled by the growing connection between diabetes and hearing damage. The tiny hair-like nerve endings in the inner ear that detect sound vibrations depend on adequate circulation for their survival, and the delicate capillaries that feed them are prime targets for degeneration in diabetes patients.
Convertibles
Unless highways are completely avoided, the noise level experienced in a convertible car going 55 mph or faster can result in hearing damage. Researchers found that noise consistently reached over 85 decibels when driving in a convertible with the top down, which is when damage to the inner ear typically begins. Although they noted that short durations of exposure to these levels can be tolerated, they recommended that longer drives at high speeds happen with the top up and windows closed, to avoid increased risk of hearing damage.
Stress
Interestingly, chronic or sudden stress can have the same impact as diabetes on hearing. This is because of the negative effect both stress and diabetes have on circulation. In the case of stress, the release of adrenaline and cortisol can reduce and even stop the flow of blood and nutrients to the tiny hair cells within the ear. As a result, intensely stressful events have been known to cause sudden deafness in some patients, and chronic stress is linked to the loss of hearing over time. Luckily, sudden deafness is treatable when dealt with immediately, and stress management practices are useful for overall health management.
It’s never too late to take steps to protect your hearing. And because hearing damage is often the result of several compounding factors experienced over time, implementing a few more protective measures now can help mitigate further loss down the road.