American Pharoah: Triple Crown Winner Uses Ear Plugs!

American Pharoah WEB May 2015 Barbara Livingston

American Pharoah sprinted to win the first Triple Crown in 37 years. His trainer, Bob Baffert selected brown ear plugs—rather than the typical white cotton used with other horses—that better match the bay colt’s coloring. Many race horses wear ear plugs.

Horses have a wider range of hearing sensitivity than humans. We typically hear from 20 Hertz out to 20,000 Hertz. Horses hear out to 35,000 Hertz. This means they hear a lot of sound not perceived by human ears.

Breeders carefully mate and breed thoroughbred horses to become highly valued racers that perform at exceptional levels. A horse needs a certain amount of alertness to perform at the top, however, galloping hooves, yelling jockeys, cracking whips and cheering fans create a cacophony of noise. Even urban noise such as rescue vehicle sirens on city streets nearby can be heard on the track.

This creates a sound environment that might increase startle responses and make the horse skittish. Because of the noisy environment and the need for a high level of performance, trainers condition them to run at their best with a ‘noisy crowd’ live audience and with unusual noise distractions down on the track.

Some thoroughbreds, like American Pharoah, find this excessive noise unsettling and confusing. They lose focus and become nervous, distracted and might not perform as expected. Ear plugs offer damping and filtering of noise to assist the horse to focus on the race. They are not worn as hearing conservation but rather as a way to calm the horse.

Interesting facts about American Pharoah:

  • Foaled February 2, 2012
  • Owned by Ahmed Zayat
  • Trained by Bob Baffert
  • Ridden by Victor Espinoza (for most races)
  • 12th Triple Crown winner in history
  • Name is misspelled, through an error in registration of the name but is now permanent. Pharaoh is the correct spelling
  • Both the correct and incorrect name spellings are registered so another horse cannot use the correct spelling.

 

Pamela Mason, MEd, CCC-A, is ASHA director of audiology professional practices. pmason@asha.org.

Nothing Smaller Than Your Elbow Please

Elbows
(Photo credit)

Ear wax: We all have it. We all want it gone.

Most audiologists are often asked about ear wax. What is it? Why is it sticky? Why do I make so much? How can I get rid of it?

Say “yes” to ear wax.

Ear wax actually helps to keep your ears clean.

The wax traps dirt, dust and debris such as dead skin cells from the ear canal, dried shampoo and shave cream and possibly the occasional flea or gnat. This debris is held together by oil and wax secreted by glands living in your ear canal. The secretions also have natural antibiotic properties that help keep bad bacteria from growing in the warm dark and cozy environment of ear canals. And you thought it was just a nuisance!

What kind of wax do you produce?

Ear wax or cerumen comes in two varieties: wet (honey-colored and sticky) and dry (grayish and flaky). Ear wax type is highly heritable and considered a Mendelian trait that follows the laws of genetics. The trait of wet or dry ear wax was once attributed to a single gene but today, research has identified another gene contributing to this sticky situation. Your ear wax type was determined by your ancestry. Almost all people with European or African ancestry have wet wax. If you have northeastern Asian ancestry will most likely have the dry and flaky variety.

People have no trouble cleaning belly button lint and removing mucus from the nose, but most have no clue how to safely take care of excess ear wax. For most people the ear is self-cleaning and ear wax is removed by the natural flow of the wax out of the ear. Ear wax problems are typically self-inflicted. If you listen with ear phones for long periods of time, (at safe loudness levels please) wax can become trapped because the natural flow of wax out of the canal is blocked with the ear phone. However, most problems arise when the wax becomes impacted up close to the ear drum— down deep in the ear canal. This usually occurs from attempts to clean ear wax using implements of destruction such as cotton swabs, hair pins and tooth picks. If you choose to use these tools to clean your ears, you run the risk of puncturing the ear drum (ouch!) or impacting the wax in the canal in an area beyond the oil secreting cells. The soft wax dries up into a hard ball and can cause a temporary hearing loss or dizziness until it is professionally removed. Contact an audiologist if you think ear wax may be the cause of your hearing or dizziness problems. Audiologists will advise you on how to prepare for a professional ear cleaning. They often provide ear wax removal. And if you make more than is typical, the audiologist will schedule appointments once or twice a year to keep things under control.

Do you have too much of a good thing?

Stress (even physical exercise) and anxiety can increase wax production as well as medications that either activate or diminish the “flight or fight” response. Anatomical structures of the ear canal can cause wax to become trapped. When the ear canal twists and turns or narrows a bit, the wax will not easily flow from the canal. Even normal aging increases wax production.

Just as grandmother reminded us…put nothing smaller than your elbow in your ear and let Mother Nature do her work.

What other common questions do you get from patients in your audiology practice?

Pamela Mason, M.Ed., CCC-A is the director of audiology professional practices at the ASHA national office. She is a member of ASHA’s SIG 8, Public Health Issues Related to Hearing and Balance.

Hearing Aid Battery Precautions for Audiologists

Batteries

Photo by James Bowe

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published an article in the June issue of Pediatrics on the significant increase in pediatric button battery ingestion and resulting serious complications.

The button batteries of greatest concern are the batteries containing lithium. Batteries with lithium can cause severe burns and even death if swallowed. Lithium batteries are often found in remote controls, cameras and other household electronic devices. Two studies highlighted in the article report devastating injuries such as destruction of the wall of the esophagus and trachea and vocal paralysis. Ingested batteries need to be removed within two hours to prevent these medical emergencies.

While hearing aid batteries do not contain lithium, precautions still need to be taken to prevent accidental ingestion. Audiologists should be educating patients and families on battery safety. I remember my grandmother telling me (before I was an audiologist) that she had lined up all her morning pills to take with breakfast and had also lined up a hearing aid battery to remind her to replace the one in her hearing aid. She popped the battery into her mouth along with her medications and swallowed! As an RN she was aware of possible irritation and danger and carefully monitored her digestive system over the next few days. Apparently the battery passed safely through her gastrointestinal tract with no negative effects! This is what happens most of the time when a hearing aid battery is accidentally ingested; however, even zinc-air batteries contain trace amounts of the heavy metal mercury. Poisoning is possible after ingestion if the battery disintegrates and the casing opens.

Beginning in July 2011, some states began requiring all hearing aid batteries to be mercury-free. Mercury is considered an environmental hazard and toxic to our environment when it ends up in a landfill. Check with your state for current regulations and look for batteries that have no mercury.

Along with your hearing aid orientation and battery instructions, here are some additional tips to share with your patients:

  • Seek medical attention right away if a battery has been ingested. Children and pets may exhibit these symptoms: anorexia, nausea, vomiting and very dark stools.
  • Do not dispose of batteries in a fire…they can explode and release toxins.
  • Recycle batteries (Do you as an audiologist have this value-added feature in your practice? If not, Radio Shack will recycle batteries.)
  • Make sure that hearing aids for children are fitted with locking battery doors and activate the locking mechanism at all times when the child is wearing the devices.
  • Alert other family members to secure batteries out of reach of small children.
  • Don’t mistake the battery for a pill!
  • National Battery Ingestion Hotline: 202-625-3333.
  • Batteries in the nose and ear must also be removed quickly and safely to avoid permanent damage.

 

Interested in Public Health Issues Related to Hearing and Balance? ASHA’s Special Interest Group on Public Health Issues Related to Hearing and Balance’s  mission is to address public health issues related to hearing and balance through a transdisciplinary approach. SIG 8 sponsors continuing education via Perspectives  and short course and panel presentations at the ASHA convention, and SIG members have access to a private group in the ASHA Community for professional discussion and resource sharing. Consider joining SIG 8 today!

 

Pamela Mason, M.Ed., CCC-A is the director of audiology professional practices at the ASHA national office. She is a member of ASHA’s SIG 8, Public Health Issues Related to Hearing and Balance.