Hollywood has popularized lasers with films that feature starships blasting aliens out of distant galaxies. Although this is entertaining, it is not entirely plausible at this time. However, lasers do serve many purposes for making our lives better. Medicine employees the use of lasers in more practical ways. Eye surgery, cancer treatments, spine surgery, and plastic surgery all utilize the benefits of laser technology. Hearing aids are now the latest medical devices to use lasers, and the future of laser-based hearing technology looks and sounds very promising.
A Laser for Hearing
A hearing aid can improve daily communication as well as improve the quality of life of a person with a hearing impairment. The new laser-based hearing aids give individuals a new option to enhance their hearing by amplifying sound over a broad spectrum of frequencies. Today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is allowing the marketing of hearing aids that use a laser diode and vibration of the eardrum to amplify sound.
A New Design
The EarLens CHD is a laser-based hearing aid intended for use by persons with mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss. The unit consists of two parts: a tympanic membrane transducer (TMT), placed deep into the ear canal and a behind-the-ear (BTE) audio processor that sits on the outer ear. External sound waves are received by the BTE processor and converted to electronic signals. After digital processing and amplification, the electronic signals progress to the ear tip, which contains a laser diode. At this point, the signals become pulses of light. The laser light then shines onto a photodetector in the TMT, is converted back into electronic signals, and sound vibrations are transmitted directly to the eardrum.
A significant benefit of a laser-based hearing aid is that the ear receptor is not surgically bound. It is directly placed in your ear during an office visit and held in place with oil. A few other benefits include:
- Bandwidth – A larger bandwidth means that sound processing from a laser-based hearing aid is superior to a traditional hearing aid.
- Less feedback – Laser technology eliminates the annoying feedback that often occurs with standard hearing aids which improve word recognition.
- Open ear – Occlusion is the stuffed up feeling in your ears that usually happens with hearing aids. The system makes it so that the ears are less blocked, and have an open-air feel.
Clinical data in support of the safety and effectiveness of the EarLens CHD included several assessments over a four-month period. Word recognition improved 33 percent in the 48 subjects studied after a 30 day period. Users also experienced a clinically significant functional gain of 30.5 decibels (dB) on average.
The laser-based hearing aid is a promising new device for the enhancement of hearing. For those individuals with mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss, this hearing aid provides the benefits of a more extensive bandwidth, less feedback, and no blockage of the ear. So take another look at laser technology, it is not just for blasting aliens anymore.