Earbuds Can Perform As Hearing Aid


Researchers are exploring a new possible hearing aid solution as they study the sound amplification feature of Airpods.

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Poor hearing can have a significant impact on a person’s social and emotional well-being, as well as their ability to fully participate in daily activities. It is important to address hearing loss early and seek treatment, such as hearing aids or other assistive devices, to prevent further deterioration and improve overall quality of life.

Recent studies have shown the effectiveness of earbuds in this situation. According to these studies, commercial earbuds can be adapted as sound amplification hearing aids for individuals with hearing loss. Wearing a hearing aid seems like a social stigma. Apple introduced a feature called “Live Listen” in 2016 that allowed people to use earbuds for sound amplification.

Researchers, in a recent study, tried to examine whether these earbuds can also serve as an alternative option to hearing aids. The study was conducted by a group of researchers led by Yen-fu Cheng, an otolaryngologist at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital. The team compared Airpods 2 and AirPods Pro—the model with the noise canceling feature—with a class of premium hearing aids and a basic pair of hearing aids. In particular, AirPods Pro meets four of the five technology standards for hearing aids. It is also observed that both models of Airpods are cheaper than the basic as well as the premium hearing aid.

The researchers tested the devices with 21 participants by reading a short sentence, such as “electricity bills just went up,” to the participants, who were asked to repeat their word verbatim wearing the tools. The results showed that AirPods Pro performed equally well compared to basic hearing aids in a quiet environment and slightly inferior to premium hearing aids. AirPods 2, while having the lowest performance of the four, helped participants hear more clearly compared to not wearing a hearing aid. In a noisy environment, AirPods Pro showed comparable performance to premium hearing aids when the noises came from the lateral direction of the participant. But when the noises came from in front of the participants, both models of AirPods failed to help the participants hear better.

Ying-Hui Lai, the co-author of the study and a bio-engineer at the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taipei shared the reason for such a difference in performance, “It may be related to the trajectories soundwaves travel, as well as of advanced signal. processing algorithm by premium hearing aid.” “This finding will hopefully encourage engineers to design hearing aids and personal sound amplification products that are more sensitive in certain directions,” he added.

Reference : “Smartphone-bundled earphones as personal sound amplification products for adults with sensorineural hearing loss” by Heng-Yu Haley Lin, Hoi-Shan Lai, Chii-Yuan Huang, Chih-Hao Chen, Shang-Liang Wu, Yuan- Chia Chu , Yu-Fu Chen, Ying-Hui Lai and Yen-Fu Cheng, 15 November 2022, iScience.
DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2022.105436


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