If someone had told you on New Year’s Day January 2020, that in a few short weeks the world would be facing a pandemic, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century, and that almost every business would be shut down to stop its spread, you probably would have laughed at them. Who could have predicted the past few months?
But that’s exactly what’s happened, and during this time, everyone has learned things about themselves, their partner, their family and their friends that they never knew. In good times, many of us take our hearing for granted, but with unprecedented stay-at-home orders in place, many of our patients have realized just how important hearing is to their life experiences and relationships, especially when quarantined for weeks.
Here are a few of the lessons we’d like to share with you.
- Don’t delay treating your hearing loss. During the pandemic, many patients who had had their hearing tested months ago, but who decided they would wait on hearing aids, suddenly found themselves in dire need. Spouses, partners and families were in close quarters with one another day after day. Not being able to hear one another clearly suddenly became a critical communication issue, and a source of tension. Initially, we were only able to help patients who had an emergency. Eventually, as care has opened up, we’ve been seeing more and more patients who’ve come to the realization of how important their hearing is. Indeed, we’ve heard hearing aids described more than once as a “marriage saver!” To avoid being in a tight spot, keep your hearing aid technology current.
- Keep necessary supplies on hand. Batteries, wax filters and drying systems that use UV light are just three of the essentials that many patients with hearing loss have needed during the pandemic. Batteries, in particular, are important. Without them, even the latest technology won’t function properly. We can ship them, but it’s a good idea to stock up, just in case.
- Dizziness and balance issues don’t stop just because there’s a pandemic. Our vestibular program with Danielle Dorner, Au.D., vestibular audiologist, has remained very busy throughout the pandemic. During this time, she’s been able test, diagnose and treat individuals with issues such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. The condition can be safely and effectively treated in the clinic, keeping patients out of overburdened hospital emergency rooms, and reducing their risk of exposure to the virus.
- Staying connected is more important than ever! During the pandemic, families and friends found creative and interesting ways to stay in touch. From Zoom calls to Facetime, digital communication has exploded. But many people also have found it tough to hear the conversations in those calls. Of course, there are always “choppy” visuals that relate to streaming speeds, but sometimes, not being in the same room with the person you’re talking with can be a barrier. We’ve seen an increased interest in hearing aids equipped with Bluetooth technology, making call streaming possible. What some people considered as a nice “option” before the pandemic, is now considered essential!
- We’ve been watching a LOT of TV lately! Whether you’ve spent the past few weeks watching TV, or streaming YouTube videos on your laptop, many have spent more time in front of our screens. Again, Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids allow viewers to stream the audio from these screens directly to the hearing aids. And for those whose spouses have been working from home, it’s a great way to listen to your programs, while not disturbing the other person’s work day.
- Tinnitus also has been on the rise during the pandemic. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is a common problem for many, but stress actually contributes to tinnitus, and this has been one of the most stressful times in modern history. Our tinnitus expert, Susan Smittkamp, Au.D., Ph.D., has been able to help a number of patients who have experienced an increase in their tinnitus over the past few weeks.
- Good hearing is critical to good mental health. As the pandemic has stretched on and on, we’ve seen more and more people who are struggling with hearing issues and mental health. It’s vitally important to recognize that good hearing and good mental health go hand in hand. Studies have shown that depression is linked to untreated hearing loss, and with the pandemic creating an environment that’s also depressing for many (job loss, illness, shortages, quarantines), it highlights the need to reduce the risk of isolation, and improve communication.
- Wearing a mask is the “new normal.” To try to stop the spread of this virus, health officials are recommending we all wear masks, even just a cloth face covering helps, and we agree. But, many masks loop over the ears. If you wear behind-the-ear hearing aids, be careful when you take your mask off. We’ve had reports of patients whose hearing aids have popped off with the elastic, and a few that have lost them. There are several creative solutions available that remove the stress off the ear by extending the loops behind your head.
- We CAN see patients, even during a pandemic, and see them safely! The first few days of the pandemic, we developed strict protocols following CDC and state guidelines which have become part of our daily routine. We have curbside services if you just need a quick repair or cleaning. If you need an appointment in the clinic, we’re following all health precautions, including required mask use, social distancing, and protocols for infection control and prevention.
- Audiologists provide an important service. The pandemic has highlighted for all of us what an important service we provide for our patients and community. We may not be on the front lines in the ICU or the emergency room, but good hearing and balance are important to daily living and quality of life. We’ve seen this over and over again as we’ve helped patients resolve dizziness, or those desperate to hear loved ones in hospitals, in nursing homes and just in everyday conversations. Helping our patients during this difficult time has been a rewarding experience for us all, and has renewed our commitment to better hearing and balance, no matter the challenge.
If you need us, Associated Audiologists is “hear” for you. Schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist today.