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Monday, October 14, 2019

Safety Tips for Cycling with Hearing Aids

Back in August I did a post about why cyclists should get their hearing checked for safety reasons. (Namely because one in five adults have suffered hearing damage.)


Since then however it occurred to me I should probably do a 2nd post about hearing aids that includes some practical safety tips.

#1. Avoid Stupid Risks by Staying Safe on the Road

It doesn’t matter if you have hearing loss or not, staying safe while cycling in traffic should be your top priority. Accidents can happen to anyone, no matter how much experience they have or the quality of their equipment. However, there are ways to improve road safety.

The basics go for all cyclists:
  1. Make sure your brakes work properly by having your bike tuned regularly
  2. Wear a helmet
  3. Always tell someone where you’re going
  4. Try not to follow the same path every day
  5. Bring a phone
  6. Stay hydrated over the course of your trip
  7. Avoid heat exhaustion and dehydration
  8. Possibly invest in a handlebar mirror
People with hearing aids have to take extra precautions to stay safe on the road.

  1. Wear your hearing aids, actually wear them. Don't bring them and forget to use them.
  2. Adjust them to block out the wind. It’s hard even for people with excellent hearing to make out the sound of traffic over the wind, so make sure that your audiologist helps you set up a noise-cancellation mode.
  3. You can also wear a cap or headband over your hearing aids to help block out the wind. Many regular cyclists will do this to help block out noise as they speed down the road, and it works the same for those with hearing aids. Myself I wear a toque as I like to keep my ears and head warm when I am cycling.
  4. While you cycle alone, be extra aware of your surroundings. Your hearing aid settings are even more important if you plan on taking solo trips, because nobody else will be around to alert you via visual cues.
  5. Avoid cycling alone. Cycling with friends is always safer, regardless of how well you hear.

#2. Try Group Cycling

There is a variety of safety and social benefits to cycling with a group or club, but especially for people with hearing aids.

Even people without hearing aids choose to cycle in groups when they can. Along with the benefit of companionship, it also improves the safety of your journey. The more of you there are, the safer you’ll be.

When cycling in groups, you can establish cues to warn each other about traffic and other dangers. With multiple people keeping an eye out for cars and motorcycles, at least one person is going to notice oncoming vehicles or danger. Cyclists are also more likely to take breaks when others are around, which makes the activity less strenuous.

Drivers are much more likely to notice a pack of cyclists than a single cyclist. Cycling in groups boosts the awareness of drivers around you. While a driver might overlook a lone cyclist, they have to make more accommodations for a group. They’ll give your group more berth, lowering the chances of an accident.

If you don’t have friends or family members to cycle with, try joining a cycling group in your area. Even if you’re shy or inexperienced, most groups are happy to accept new members. They can give you pointers, and help you learn how to cycle safely and efficiently. It doesn’t matter who you are, it’s always good to have someone watching your back.

#3. Adjusting Your Hearing Aids

Your bike, helmet, and hearing aids are the biggest tool at your disposal. Staying vigilant is easier when you can hear the world around you, so it’s important that you get your hearing aids adjusted properly. The best way to do this is to visit your audiologist. Explain the situation and ask them to create a special “cycling” setting. Or possibly even two different settings for louder and quieter areas. If you don't have an audiologist yet, try visiting Omni Hearing in Vaughan, which provides free hearing tests and also has a free online hearing test if you are unsure if you have hearing damage.

Your cycling setting should include the use of an omni-directional microphone setting. This is a special setting that allows you to pick up sounds from all directions, including behind you. While this might not be the best setting for conversations or parties, it can save your life while on the road. You’ll need to hear cars approaching from the sides and rear, and an omni-directional microphone setting can pick up the sound of their approach.

Next, you’ll need hearing aids with a wind-cancellation feature. This noise-filter should be turned all the way up. You should reduce the strain of hearing over wind as much as possible. Even people with fully-intact hearing have trouble hearing traffic or voices in windy situations, and it can be even harder for hearing aid wearers.

#4. Choosing a Helmet

Once your hearing aids are adjusted, it’s time to find a helmet that can accommodate them. Never buy a helmet without trying it on first, and always wear your hearing aids when shopping for a helmet. There’s no guarantee that the helmet you buy will fit comfortably with your hearing aids, so you need to make sure of that before taking it to the register.

You want the helmet to fit snugly, without smashing your ears or hearing aids. If you plan on wearing something on your head underneath the helmet like a cap or headband or toque, make sure to wear that too.

After buying your helmet, consider buying accessories to help block out the wind. You can find special straps and wind blockers online and in sports catalogs.

#5. Caring For Your Hearing Aids

Whether you’re cycling in the heat or the bitter cold, moisture is a serious concern. While getting waterproof hearing aids is a good idea, what if your current hearing aids are not waterproof?

In the heat, you’re going to sweat. To avoid moisture damage, you might need to stop and wipe down your ears and hearing aids. Sweatbands can reduce the amount of sweat reaching your ears, but you should still stop and wick away moisture with a towel. Water-stops are a great opportunity to do this. Drink some water and wipe down your hearing aids before hitting the road again.

When it’s cold, condensation is the concern. While you’re still going to sweat, your hearing aids are going to collect moisture from the air around you. Your batteries will also drain faster because of the cold, so make sure to bring a change of batteries if you plan on going for a long trip.

#6. Protecting Your Hearing

This section applies to everyone, regardless of their level of hearing. Recent studies have shown that cyclists’ hearing tends to degrade over time. Many professional and hobbyist cyclists suffer from high rates of noise-induced hearing loss as they grow older, as cyclists are more exposed to loud noises on street level than pedestrians or car drivers.

This is due to loud sounds, particularly wind-noise. Wind can become extraordinarily loud, and prolonged exposure can wear on your hearing. This results in sensorineural hearing loss, a degradation of the nerves in your cochlea. While sensorineural hearing loss is incurable, you can take measures to avoid it.

It has also been theorized that the air pressure of the wind going past your ears can also cause hearing damage, although this has yet to be scientifically proven. (Ear barotrauma is a type of ear damage caused by air pressure differences between the middle ear and the outer ear. Scuba diving and air travel are common causes of ear barotrauma. Symptoms can include ear pain, ringing in the ears, dizziness, ear bleeding, and temporary or permanent hearing loss.)

As mentioned above, headbands and other head coverings can be used to filter out wind noise. It’s also important that you take it easy after windy bike rides. Avoid loud music and concerts, and give your ears a chance to recover before taking another long ride or going anywhere noisy.

While you can’t always avoid cycling through the wind, you can do your best to protect your ears in the process. Fully protecting your ears is difficult, since earplugs and muffs can reduce your spatial awareness. Do what you can, and get frequent hearing tests. If your hearing does start to deteriorate, you’ll want to catch it early. Letting hearing loss fester can cause a myriad of other issues, including depression and mental fatigue because your brain has to strain harder to understand the messages it is getting from your ears.

Those who use hearing aids aren’t the only ones who can benefit from information on aural health. Many people don’t realize how delicate their hearing is, and what they can do to protect it. Indeed many people are walking around (or cycling around) without even knowing that they are suffering from permanent hearing loss.

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