Hearing aids are being redefined

Posted by Soundbites Admin on

Computer science and biomedical science operate on two different time scales. In the hearing industry, these two sciences are influencing each other, speeding the pace of change. 

Conventional wisdom about hearing loss dates from the 19th century. 

The hearing industry as we know it today is based on the best scientific thinking of the 19th century, where the root cause of hearing loss was believed to be mechanical damage – wear and tear on the physiological structures of the ear. Conventional wisdom, derived from this outdated understanding, is that there are only two things that can delay the inevitability of hearing loss – avoid loud sound and noise, or plug the ears to reduce sound levels. 

Most people know noise damages hearing, and may be worried about it, but tend to ignore the risks because they don’t think there’s anything practical they can do. Most of us can’t avoid noise or the risks that come with it. Ear plugs and muffs are mainly used where they are mandated because they interfere with the ability to do a job or fully enjoy social interactions, entertainment and recreation. You likely remove your ear plugs if you need to have a conversation while you’re wearing ear protection. You may need to get close and shout to be understood if you’re in an intensely noisy environment. 

Hearing aids don’t solve the problem. 

Hearing devices have been the default treatment for hearing loss since the ear trumpet was introduced in 1800. Hearing aids are designed to amplify wanted sound (signal) while filtering out background sound (noise). Noise cancelling earbuds and headphones are based on the same principles. With apologies to the hearing aid industry, the following is meant only as a candid assessment of customer realities, not a rant against hearing aids, because as many who wear hearing aids will tell you, the devices improve hearing, which is a good thing. 

But there are other not-so-good things about hearing aids.The tech can be a mixed bag. The shopping experience is often frustratingly complicated, and the devices themselves tend to be costly, but none of the cost is covered by Medicare or by private medical insurance plans unless additional special coverage is added, all of which disproportionately affects hearing aid purchases in low income populations.

The result is that according to the hearing industry, only about 16% of those who could benefit from hearing aids purchase them, and about 20% of purchasers end up not using them. 

Hearing preservation is the future.  

It’s fairly obvious that the current hearing industry model isn’t adequate for addressing the scope of the hearing loss problem, which currently affects about 1.5 billion globally, and hearing aids can’t do much of anything to prevent early hearing loss, a real risk for more than 1.1 billion people aged 12 to 35.

The hearing industry is evolving quickly to address the problem. Hearing therapeutics companies like Soundbites and dozens of tech companies are redefining the meaning of ‘hearing aid’ through the lens of preventive care. 

An increasing variety of affordable hearing preservation-oriented products are becoming available. Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) – earbuds and headphones with and without noise cancellation that monitor sound levels, and enable lower-volume listening by improving signal quality and isolating  noise – along with relatively more affordable, programmable, over-the-counter hearing aids that are likely to be approved for sale soon by the FDA.

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