Having a hearing loss should not prevent a person from participating in sports and activities with his or her hearing peers. Here are a few tips and tricks to help make your or your child’s athletic experience fun!
Time Out! I Didn’t Hear You is a book available in its entirety as an online PDF. The book includes an introduction to hearing loss, various devices, assistive technology, and communication strategies. Some of this information, which was written in 1996, is outdated, but basic information and diagrams about hearing loss provide a simple introduction for coaches or PE teachers. The introductory chapters also include information on the legal rights of athletes with hearing loss (or any other disability) to participate with their typical peers to the fullest extent possible. Chapter Five of the book is a Communication Needs Assessment, which helps parents, teachers, coaches, and athletes predict communication needs at various points of the activity (try-outs, practice, games, tournaments, etc.) and troubleshoot solutions to problems before they occur. The book also includes sports-specific suggestions for everything from archery to wrestling, interviews with athletes and coaches who have hearing loss, and a resource directory of sporting organizations for people with hearing loss (though this contact information may be outdated due to the age of this publication).
Water sports present a particular challenge for athletes who listen and talk and use devices like hearing aids, cochlear implants, or Bahas, but this challenge does NOT mean that full participation in these sports is impossible. Some athletes choose to use waterproofing methods and continue to wear their cochlear implants in the water. Many cochlear implant brands now offer either a waterproof processor or accessories that can make the processors ready to go for water sports. Other hearing technology users who do not have waterproof options rely on lipreading, instructions written on dry-erase boards, or visual signaling devices (strobe lights, flags, etc.) to communicate in the water. When teaching small children with hearing loss to swim, pre-instruction is key. Discussing and practicing techniques on dry land, when the children have their “ears” on, and establishing expectations and rules for safety in the water, can help to head off any problems once their listening devices are removed in the pool.
Athletes must take care to protect their hearing devices from moisture and perspiration during and after sports and exercise. A regular sweatband worn between the head and the hearing instrument can help serve as a barrier to protect hearing aids or cochlear implants from moisture. With added elastic loops, the sweatband can do double duty and serve as a retention device as well. Other solutions to prevent moisture fit around the hearing device itself, and include Hearing Aid Sweat Bands, Super Seals, and Ear Gear. Regular use of a desiccant system, like a Dri Aid kit, Dry N Store device, or, in a pinch, an airtight container of uncooked rice (a natural desiccant) after exercise can help remove any moisture that may have entered the device during your workout.
Keeping hearing devices from flying off during vigorous activity is also a concern. Ear Gear and Oto Clip systems can be used to attach hearing aids or cochlear implants to clothing. Mic Locks or earmolds attached to the earhook can help hold cochlear implant processors more securely on the ear. For Baha softband users, retention is usually not an issue, but for those with implanted Baha systems, some users find that attaching the processor to the abutment with a loop of fishing wire provides a discreet solution with an added measure of security. Bandanas, Nammu hats, Buff Bands, or nylon skull caps/do-rags can help hold equipment on the head on their own, and are also especially helpful for keeping hearing aids, cochlear implants, or Bahas from shifting around under helmets or other protective headgear.
Exercise equipment can pose issues of static for cochlear implant users. The risk of damage to cochlear implant programs by static shocks can be reduced by following a few simple static precautions. In particularly static-prone situations, like using a treadmill, jumping on a trampoline, or flipping into a foam pit for gymnastics, some cochlear implant users may choose to remove their external equipment.
Most people with hearing loss should be able to participate in athletic activities with few, if any, restrictions. Some people with hearing loss due to Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome may choose to avoid contact sports due to the risk of losing additional hearing, and some cochlear implant surgeons suggest that implantees avoid contact sports. As always, all such decisions should be discussed with your/your child’s physician before participation in any sport or athletic activity. When SCUBA diving, cochlear implant recipients should contact their implant’s manufacturer for specifics on the depth and pressure to which their implant is safe to be submerged.