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Helmets and Hearing Aids
10/6/2010 5:01:14 PM

Helmets and Hearing Aids


Summary: Hearing aids can be hard to accommodate under a bike helmet, and sweat can cause problems as well. We have suggestions, but do not recommend ever reducing the liner foam and the protection of the helmet.

We are aware of several different problems that hearing aid users have when using helmets. Children are said to be hard to fit when using a hearing aid. Adults complain that when they sweat while riding, the hearing aid is affected. Those using bone-conductive aids or cochlear implants have a different problem altogether.
We don't have good answers for most of those problems. If you do, please send us an email!

Children
We do not know of any helmets made for children with space for cochlear implants or hearing aids. Since the aids may vary considerably in size and shape, it could be difficult for a manufacturer to design specifically for them.
Toddler helmet standards require more coverage than adult helmet standards, usually resulting in a helmet that covers the ears. The solution may be to move up to a "youth" helmet in the smallest size. It will be cut higher and will leave the ears untouched. It will require lots of fitting foam to adapt it to a small head. It may or may not have enough room for a cochlear implant.
The fitting foam in a helmet (the squishy pads, not the rigid styrofoam) can be moved around to accommodate a hearing aid without affecting impact performance. That may require the next size larger helmet, with more fitting foam used all around. That in turn requires very careful strap adjustment to make sure the helmet will stay on the rider's head in a crash. Removing any of the styrofoam (the rigid foam) to accommodate a hearing aid would compromise the impact performance of the helmet in that spot. The thickness of the foam is a key element in reducing the shock of the impact.
If the design allows separating the bulky part of the device further from the ear, it may be possible to locate it below the helmet.


There are helmets on the market for children that have a ring-fit system, and do not use foam pads. The dealer buzzword is "one size fits all." Depending on the configuration of the hearing aid, a ring-fit system may work better than the adjustable foam pads. We have a page on ring fit helmets.

Nobody will advise parents to hollow out an area of the helmet for the hearing device because that will compromise the protection in that spot. Removing any of the stiff foam reduces impact protection. We are aware that when the child cannot wear a helmet unless a parent reduces the foam to accommodate the hearing device, some parents do decide to remove some foam. We don't recommend it. Drilling a hole to expose an ear mike is likely to be less problematical than hollowing out an area for a larger device. The less foam removed, of course, the better. The danger is that the child will hit where the device is, instead of some other location. Just removing foam might not provide protection to the area around a cochlear implant.
For helmet choice, we always tell buyers to look for a helmet with the thickest foam possible. That is likely to be one of the less expensive helmets, because the pricier ones are made with huge vents and thin, hard foam. It may be possible to find a discount store helmet model with thicker foam where the device has to be accommodated. And one of the skate style helmets with a hard ABS shell may bridge a hollowed out area better than the standard bike-style thin shell. (We are speculating on that, since we have no research data on the problem.) We have a page up with a list of dual-certified bike and skateboard helmets. The down side of skate helmets is that they always cover the ears and extend further down in the back than bike helmets.

Adults
Most adult bike helmets are cut well above the ears except for skate style helmets, which can come further down and may impinge on a hearing aid worn behind the ear. Adult helmets do not impair hearing, and in some cases actually make it more acute by the edge of the helmet reflecting sounds from the ground back into the ear. But any helmet that does cover the ear will of course impair hearing. In that case we would recommend avoiding a skate style helmet and using a bicycle style helmet. If the helmet is for in-line skating this poses no problems, but if the helmet is for skateboard use with repeated crashes, or trick skating with repeated crashes, a multi-impact helmet is necessary. Look for a bike helmet with EPP (expanded polypropylene) foam if you can find one. A search for EPP or the word multi in our most recent Helmets for This Season page will find what is available. We also have a page up with a list of dual-certified bike and skateboard helmets.

There are helmets on the market now that have a ring-fit system, and do not use foam pads. Depending on the configuration of the hearing aid, a ring-fit system may work better than the adjustable foam pads. We have a page on ring fit helmets.
For the adult sweat problem a similar caveat applies. You can do some creative shaping of the fitting foam to try to channel sweat away from the ears, or use a thick cotton headband to absorb sweat. The cotton will have to be swapped for a dry one when it saturates. In either case, do not cut the styrofoam liner, which compromises the impact performance of the helmet in the spot where you remove the foam, and refit the helmet straps with the sweatband in place to be sure it will stay on your head in a crash.

We have been told that there is one company that makes a "waterproof" hearing aid: Rionet. There is another company called Just Bekuz Products that makes Super Seals, a latex cover for a hearing aid to protect it from moisture. Ear Gear makes hearing aid covers for different sizes and types of hearing aids that protect against sweat. They come in many colors.

Solution in Search of A Problem?
A company in South Africa introduced in 2006 a product called Slipstreamz Spoilers. It consists of a pair of plastic pieces that bend the side straps of a helmet to stick out from the head. The company claims that this inproves hearing by setting up a wind burble away from the ear. We have a sample pair but have not tested them yet. We did not like the way the plastic bends the strap, since the strap's basic adjustment would be affected. It would seem a lot simpler just to extend the plastic to do the wind redirection if that is really an effective method, and not interfere with the way the strap should lie flat on the face.

Email feedback we have received

• There are answers for cyclists with hearing aids. One solution is to wear a sweatband positioned so that it fits between the head and the hearing aid, protecting the hearing aid from perspiration. You might have to replace the soaked sweatband with a dry one after a while, but I've found that one sweatband of a type that is not too absorbent will do fine all day. I rode across Iowa twice in summer heat and found this method to work well. On one of those trips I used small plastic booties that are made to cover behind-the-ear hearing aids, sort of a condom for hearing aids. It worked well. It is not easy to get on and off, so I left the covers on both of my BTE aids for several days. They protected the aids from rain, sweat and greasy fingers, which cyclists always get from handling their chains and tires, etc. An Internet search will turn up the protectors I've mentioned here. Of course, it always helps to have a short haircut.
David in Tacoma, Wash.


Reference:
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
4611 Seventh Street South
Arlington, VA 22204-1419 USA

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