The bad news around hearing health is that hearing loss is expected to start sooner in adults and to affect more and more adults in the next few decades due to the rising use of personal listening devices. The good news, however, is that new research is leading to a better understanding of hearing processes and to innovative treatment options.
Hearing aids, in particular, have undergone dramatic changes in design and functionality by adopting modern technologies. The technologies advanced the standard models of hearing aids to deliver higher-quality results, but the basics stayed the same with most hearing aids using air-conduction to transmit sound through the air near the inner ear.
A few years ago, an altogether new type of hearing treatment was introduced to the market: laser-based hearing aids. These hearing aids use laser light pulses to mechanically stimulate the eardrum directly to gain amplification. They consist of two parts:
- A Tympanic Membrane* Transducer (TMT) – custom-fit and placed directly on the eardrum. The TMT contains a photodetector.
(*The tympanic membrane is a thin membrane that separates the middle and inner ears. It vibrates in response to sound and then sends those vibrations to the inner ear.)
- A Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Audio Processor – placed on the outer ear and connects to an ear tip which sits in the ear canal. The ear tip houses a laser diode.
How Does a Laser-Based Hearing Aid Work?
The BTE audio processor captures sound waves and then converts them to electronic signals. The electrical signals are processed and amplified by the BTE before being sent to the ear tip. The laser diode in the ear tip takes the electrical signals and converts them to infrared light pulses which shine on the photodetector located in the TMT. The photodetector converts the infrared laser pulses back to electronic signals that stimulate the eardrum directly. Some believe that the positioning of the device directly on the eardrum may eliminate some of the feedback and distortion that can occur with traditional air-conduction models. The eardrum placement and custom-fitting of the TMT may also allow for better results along the frequency range than with standard hearing aid devices.
Who Can Use a Laser-Based Hearing Aid?
Laser-Based hearing aids are indicated for people with mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss, according to FDA guidelines. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common kind of hearing loss and accounts for almost 90% of all hearing loss. It is the result of damage to the inner ear, most often to the hair cells responsible for amplification and conversion of sound signals. Once damaged, ear hair cells cannot regenerate. Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by aging, sudden loud noises, certain medications or long-term exposure to elevated noise levels.
Schedule an appointment with us to determine the best course of treatment to meet your personal goals and needs. We’re here to answer your questions about new research and technologies and we’re here to make sure you get the hearing help you need.