Playing Sport With Hearing Loss
Published: December 9, 2020
Updated: July 20, 2022
Having a hearing loss should not stop you from doing the things you love. Technology has become so advanced to assist with playing sport with hearing loss that there is no reason you should not be able to participate in hobbies and sporting events. However, having a hearing loss and especially a severe hearing loss can pose some unique challenges to participating in sporting events.
Deaf celebrities and sports stars
Many famous deaf athletes have recently been in the news. Heather Whitestone became the first deaf contestant to win Miss America in 1995. She wowed the judges by dancing a classical ballet solo on pointe. Because she could not hear the music, she counted the beats in her head to synchronize her dancing and the music. Her victory prompted a big awareness campaign for the hearing-impaired competing in different sports.
Derrick Coleman is another famous deaf athlete. He became the first legally deaf offensive player in the NFL. He was also widely praised for his commercial of Duracell batteries in 2014, inspiring a whole generation of deaf athletes.
Safety in sport and hearing loss
One of the challenges individuals with hearing loss face while playing sport is ensuring that safety is a top priority. Localization can be difficult when you have a hearing loss. This is the ability to determine where a sound is coming from. In a contact sport such as football, for example, this can place players at a disadvantage as they may not hear an oncoming player coming in for a tackle. While participating in a solitary sport such as running, it can be dangerous if you do not hear oncoming traffic.
People with a high-frequency hearing loss can struggle to hear indicators of the game, for example, a whistle indicating a time out. Luckily, several visual indicators (such as using colored flags) are available to use in a sporting event.
Unfortunately, there are no hearing aids on the market that are completely waterproof. This makes swimming a difficult sport to participate in when having a hearing loss. Luckily, there are several accommodations that you can make, such as watching the scoreboard to know when it is your turn to swim. Always inform your coach or the lifeguard of your hearing loss so that they know to get your attention visually rather than auditory.
You could also become an activist for change in your specific sport. Incorporating hand signals or visual indicators in your sport can be of benefit even to normal hearing teammates and is relatively easy to do. You can also consider having a hearing “buddy” to alert you to signals and changes in the game. This will make playing easier and safer for you and your teammates.
Wearing a hearing aid while playing sport
Type of hearing aid for different sporting codes
Using a CIC (Completely in the Canal) or IIC (Invisible in the canal) hearing aid will work better if you are playing a contact sport. For something solitary like running or dancing (or even just doing an aerobics class) this type of hearing aid will also work well as it is less likely to fall out when you are jumping/running.
This type of hearing aid is however not appropriate for all hearing losses. If a behind-the-ear hearing aid is more suited to your hearing loss, you might want to invest in something that will keep your hearing aid in your ear. Depending on the intensity and movement of the sport you do, starting with a sports lock on your hearing aid may be sufficient. A sport lock is a small plastic tube attached to your hearing aids to keep it securely in the ear. Hearing aids often come standard with this.
Other options to keep your behind-the-ear hearing aids more securely in place during activities are oto-clips, headbands, straps, or double-sided tape (also known as taupe tape)
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Advantages of wearing a hearing aid
If you haven’t been wearing your hearing aid while playing sports up until now, it may be time to reconsider. Not hearing your teammates can affect your ability to win a game. Wearing your hearing aids makes communication so much easier and has a definite safety benefit if playing sport with hearing loss. Being aware of your surroundings is important in both solitary and team sports. Several hearing aids on the market can directly stream music into the ear, which can be a big motivator while exercising.
Keeping your hearing aid dry
Playing sports with a hearing aid could lead to moisture damage on your hearing aid. Luckily, most modern hearing aids have a nano-coating over the hearing aid- which makes them water-resistant. If you can get a closed unit rechargeable hearing aid, your hearing aid will be even less prone to moisture damage as there is no battery door where moisture can get in. Hearing aids are also built more robust than it was in the past, meaning your hearing aid will be much more likely to withstand sweat, dust, and moisture.
Sweat has a different composition than water so it does have the potential to damage your hearing aid. A simple sweatband can help absorb sweat and keep it from doing damage. It is very important to make sure you have a good drying kit. Usually, your hearing aid will come standard with de-humidifying capsules to absorb moisture. Make sure you change these tablets regularly. Most of them have some indicator as to when you need a new capsule. (e.g. changing color)
If you play sports often and are intending to wear your hearing aids, investing in an electronic drying kit is a good idea. These kits protect your hearing aids from moisture by using UV lights to dry them out. It will be an additional expense initially but can save you a lot of money on repairs.
With some adjustments, there is no reason that your hearing loss should be the reason that you cannot participate in any type of sport. There is no need to let your hearing impairment get in the way of playing your favorite sports. Wearing a hearing aid while playing sports can have several advantages, but there may also be a few disadvantages. It is therefore a very personal choice if you do decide to wear your hearing aid. Chat to your hearing health professional about what specific sport you play, to ensure that you get the best hearing aid that will work for you.