The ability to hear should never be taken for granted. Hearing empowers us and helps us live our everyday lives without limitations — enabling us to socialize, work, and communicate. Also, hearing can help us stay connected to the outside world and even keep us safe by warning us of potential danger.
Difficulties With Hearing Loss
Unfortunately, there are so many people who do not have the ability to hear and suffer from hearing loss.
Hearing loss can be minor or severe and is caused by dysfunction of the inner ear, the cochlea, auditory nerve, or even brain damage. This kind of hearing loss is normally due to damaged hair cells in the cochlea. Though plenty of people are born with hearing loss and can learn from an early age how to successfully maneuver through life, there are a lot of people who begin to lose their hearing as they grow older.
Hearing Loss Statistics
Here are some interesting statistics pertaining to hearing loss:
- 1.1 billion people age 12 to 35 are at risk of hearing loss, according to The World Health Organization (WHO).
- About 28.8 million U.S. adults could benefit from using hearing aids.
- The global hearing aid market is expected to cross over $10 billion by the end of 2024.
- About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears.
- More than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents.
- Age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss among adults aged 20 to 69, with the greatest amount of hearing loss in the 60 to 69 age group.
- Men are almost twice as likely as women to have hearing loss among adults aged 20 to 69.
- One in eight people in the U.S. (13%, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.
Importance of Technology
Technology has revolutionized nearly every industry across the globe — and the hearing loss sector is no exception.
Let’s take a look at how tech has helped those with hearing issues in the past, what’s happening now, and what the future of hearing technology looks like.
How Technology Has Helped With Hearing Loss In The Past
Hearing aid technology has significantly grown over the last few decades. A specific milestone came about in the late 1990s when digital instruments were first introduced. Digital tech allows a hearing aid to process sounds from the surrounding environment and make complex decisions in real-time. Still, because of this tech, hearing aids can still be manually adjusted whenever necessary.
These digital hearing aids have caused even more advancements with current hearing loss tech:
- Improved battery life
- Wireless capabilities
- Minimizing background noise and maximizing speech understanding
- Maximizing speech understanding
Some of the other tech innovations that have helped those suffering from hearing loss include frequently modulation systems, infrared, induction loop systems, personal amplification, teletypewriters, Voice Carry Over Telephone (VCO), Internet Protocol (IP) Relay Service, Video remote interpreting (VRI), real-time text, and remote and video captioning.
How Technology Is Helping With Hearing Loss Currently
Additionally, hearing aids are now equipped with Bluetooth technology, which makes them far more convenient and easier to use. Some hearing aid manufacturers are even utilizing in-the-ear (ITE) and behind-the-ear (BTE) models, as well. Streaming is becoming a popular option across the hearing aid tech sector, as well — and many companies are using additional devices that are worn around the user’s neck or placed inside of a pocket for hands-free use. In fact, Oticon is now producing a device called Opn, which enables a user to actually stream audio directly into the hearing aid. The Opn, currently, can sync with iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches.
Apple has recently released a new product that significantly helps with hearing loss, as well. The Apple WatchOS 6 now can be equipped with the Noise App.
The app’s main function is to warn someone if the sound levels in their environment are over 80 decibels, which can lead to potentially severe noise-induced hearing damage. When the app alerts a person that they are nearby harmful noise levels, the app will recommend what to do in that exact situation, like encouraging the person to leave the loud area or suggest wearing additional hearing protection.
Another great app-based invention developed at the University of Washington allows users to actually detect ear infections, avoiding a potentially costly trip to an ENT doctor.
Ear infections occur when there is a buildup of fluid in the middle ear, behind the eardrum. Because of the vague symptoms associated with ear infections, this condition is often difficult to diagnose. This new app simply uses a piece of paper, a smartphone’s speaker, and a microphone to detect unnecessary fluid inside of the ear.
The phone can then make a series of audible, soft chirping sounds into the ear through a small paper funnel. Depending on how the chirps are reflected back into the phone, the app can then determine the likelihood of fluid present with a probability of detection around 85%. This method is on par with the current approach used by specialists to detect ear infections, which involves specialized tools that use acoustics or a puff of air.
How Technology Can Help With Hearing Loss In The Future
As hearing aid devices connect to more and more devices, we’re finding ways to improve battery life, offer rechargeable batteries, and far more high-tech advancements are being researched each day.
Hearing aids aren’t going to look clunky and awkward anymore. Wireless connectivity will turn hearing aids into a remote control and future hearing aids could even utilize artificial intelligence (AI).
Artificial intelligence-powered hearing aids will do much more than just mimic human hearing — they’ll make advanced hearing possible. This extends beyond voice recognition, faster response times, and clearer sound processing.
These technologies — and many more on the way — will undoubtedly help and improve the lives of around 466 million people worldwide, including 34 million children.