Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hearing Aids That Use A Laser?

Blue light

You know that old saying, "Don't stick anything in your ear, unless it's a laser." Okay, that's not exactly how the saying goes. And you might be a little worried about the idea of a laser in your ears, but hearing aids that use laser diode technology are safe, have been approved by the FDA, and are available now.

The thought of a laser anywhere near your head probably conjures up something like this scene in an Austin Power's movie.

Thankfully, that's not the kind of laser that EarLens has in mind. It's a lot smaller. And is delivered through your typical behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid. Well, maybe not typical.

The Earlens' BTE flashes laser light via an ultra-thin tube to a receptor inside your ears. This receptor or what Earlens calls a tympanic membrane transducer TMT, is placed inside your ear directly over your ears own tympanic membrane.

In case you were wondering, your tympanic membrane conveys air vibrations to the eardrum, initiating the process that changes sound vibrations to electrical signals for your brain to interpret. Thanks, tympanic membrane!

As you can imagine, the tympanic membrane is tiny. That's what makes laser so beneficial here. According to NASA, "laser light beams are very narrow and can be concentrated on one tiny spot." So from it's tiny spot on your tympanic membrane, the Earlens TMT directly absorbs pulses of non-visible light sent via the BTE tube.

These pulses of light contain sound waves that have been digitally processed and enhanced. Lasers that read or convey sound aren't all that new, think CD or DVD. Anyway, the TMT inside your ear absorbs that light-sound and interprets it as vibrations against your tympanic membrane, which, as we've already mentioned, starts your own natural hearing process. So how is this unseen laser light show more beneficial than the current technology?

First you should know that the tiny ear receptor aka TMT isn't surgically bound to anything. It is placed inside your ear during a routine office visit and held there by, "a droplet of mineral oil." Aw, that sounds so soft. Having something that small deep within your ear means the sound is delivered more efficiently and directly, causing less distortion--especially in the higher frequency ranges. Other benefits include:

  • Wider bandwidth--Wider bandwidth means better sound processing. It's kind of like fiber optics for your ears.
  • Less feedback--Feedback is an annoying reality that many hearing aids actively work against and this technology all but eliminates it.
  • Open ear--Occlusion is the stuffed up feeling in your ears that can happen with some types of hearing aids. This small fiber delivery system makes it so that the ears are less blocked, giving the open ear feeling that many people prefer.
  • The Earlens hearing aids are only currently approved for people with sensorineural hearing loss. And if you're still not sure about how lasers can make sound, here's a video that helps explain exactly what the EarLens does!


    Healthy Hearing
    National Institute of Health

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