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3 tips for playing contact sports with hearing aids

Do you wear your hearing aids when you play rugby? This is the most common question I get as an athlete with hearing loss, both from others who wear hearing aids and from those who don’t. There are some challenges when playing contact sports with hearing aids, but I’ve found a few ways to make it work. 

The simple answer is, Yes. I do wear my hearing aids when playing rugby. I couldn’t play rugby at the level I do without the ability to hear and communicate efficiently. There is so much communication in rugby, and I believe I wouldn’t be able to cope if I didn’t wear my hearing aids. 

There are many things to consider for someone who wants to wear their hearing aids to play a high intensity contact sport.

Here are three tips for playing contact sports with hearing aids: 

Wear Head Guards or Helmets 

In order to wear hearing aids while playing rugby, one must wear a head guard. Not only to protect themselves from any impact around the head, but also to protect anyone else from connecting with the hearing aids and cutting themselves. The head guard also keeps the hearing aid in place behind the ear.

I often get asked which head guard I use and if I have had it modified. My advice is always try on the headgear to make sure it is comfortable for you, as everyone’s head is a different shape and all the head guards are slightly different. It is important to find a head guard that each individual is happy with. 

I personally use a head guard from Gilbert Rugby, which has also sponsored me for the last five years. But, I wouldn’t have signed up with the company if I wasn’t first comfortable with their head guards.  

When wearing headgear you may struggle with feedback from the hearing aid. There isn’t a great deal that can be done to eliminate this. However, for me, as someone who struggles to hear high pitched sounds, if I turn the hearing aid volume down slightly, I can bring it to a level that I physically can’t hear the frequency that the feedback is producing.

Have Well-Fitting Earmolds 

It is also important to have a good fitting earmold when playing contact sports with hearing aids. I have found that soft silicon molds allow the mold to flex in the ear and maintain a good connection with the ear to reduce feedback leakage.

The second reason for soft molds is for injury prevention within the ear canal. As rugby is a physical sport, you lead with your head/shoulders when making a tackle or clearing a ruck the chance of pressure against the ear is high. The soft molds help reduce the pressure that is caused. In my 6 years as a professional rugby player, playing in the highest leagues in the world, I can honestly say I have never noticed any impact or suffered injury to the ear from a collision.

Protect Hearing Aids from Moisture

The main issue I have with the hearing aids while playing rugby is dealing with moisture coming from sweat and rain. For those that don’t know, moisture in the hearing aid causes it to go into “meltdown” and it starts making all sorts of noises. I have tried many things over the years to try and give the hearing aid added protection from the elements, particularly on wet cold nights in west Wales or the North of England, where it always seems to rain.  These include, taping the hearing aid with insulation tape, putting a water balloon over the aid, and wrapping the hearing aid in a plastic bag and taping it in place.

I’ll be happy to report my findings are as follows:

aids_in_balloonsThe water balloon, while it is the easiest method use, simply doesn’t work. As the hearing aid batteries are zinc oxide, meaning they require oxygen to work, the water balloon starves the hearing aid of the oxygen causing the battery to die very quickly, which isn’t an ideal scenario.

Wrapping the hearing aid in tape, however, does work – but maybe not ideal. The tape keeps the moisture out of the hearing aids and with minimal tape around the battery door it allows to battery to keep working. The only issue with taping the aid, is after the game when you take the tape off, you end up with sticky tape residue over the aid. If you wear Naida 9s, like I used to, then then tape lifts out the microphone covers, which isn’t a massive problem as they can be easily replaced.

I have found that the best solution for playing contact sports with hearing aids is to loosely wrap the hearing aid in a plastic bag with a bit breathing space around the battery. It keeps the hearing aid dry, the battery can still work, and there is no tape residue left after the game.

I hope this short video will show you how I do it.

 

Whilst all these techniques may reduce the sound slightly, it is better than the hearing aid malfunctioning due to the moisture content in the microphones being too high.

I must add, I haven’t had a chance to play rugby yet in my new Naida V hearing aids.  Looking at the design of the hearing aids, and how small and how deep the microphones are set in the hearing aid, I am hopeful that these will be the best hearing aids yet for dealing with sweat and heavy rain, therefore meaning I will not have to add any additional support.

I fully appreciate that wearing hearing aids to play sport is not for everyone, and it is personal preference, but I hope I have answered the question sufficiently for those who wish too.

In the video below, which is an extract from an interview I did for Sky Sports Rugby Club, Will Greenwood, a 2003 World Cup winner with England talks about the importance of communication in rugby.

The video highlights the need for me to wear my hearing aids to play a professional level of sport.

Do you have any any techniques to deal with the issues I have mentioned when playing contact sports with hearing aids? Please let me know in the comments. 

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