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Posted on Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How the little world of nanotechnology protects hearing aids

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Nanotechnology studies and manufacturers very small materials. Not just small. Little. Tiny. Itty bitty. Still the uses for these minuscule materials is big. Huge. Gigantic. Especially when it comes to protecting the delicate and sophisticated parts inside a hearing aid.

Nanotechnology is the study and engineering of very small materials. How small? Nano.gov has provided some useful examples of the almost unimaginable smallness.

How small are we talking here?

  • There are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch
  • A sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick
  • On a comparative scale, if a marble were a nanometer, then one meter would be the size of the Earth
  • Yep. These materials are tiny. So tiny that they behave in ways that are completely foreign to the world our gigantic eyes can see. For example, at the nano level gold can appear red or even blue. That's because the thickness of the material that reflects light and creates color changes.

    Although the nanoscale has been around for, well forever, the word nanotechnology was first used at the University of Tokyo in 1974. And it wasn't until the 1980's invention of scanning tunneling microscopes that scientist could see and manipulate at the nanoscale. Today scientist can create these very small things.

    The inspiration of nanostructures that exist in nature have led to the development of nanostructures for commercial and medical uses that are stronger and more flexible. These tiny structures can be used for many purposes including to make things we already use stronger and more resistant to water and damage. According to Nano.gov, "Nanoscale thin films on eyeglasses, computer and camera displays, windows, and other surfaces can make them water-repellent, antireflective, self-cleaning, resistant to ultraviolet or infrared light, antifog, antimicrobial, scratch-resistant, or electrically conductive." That's where hearing aid technology comes into the picture.

    Hearing aids are delicate and important medical technologies that are exposed to some harsh conditions. Wayne Staab in a 2011 article he did for Hearing Review titled, Nanoscience Applied to Hearing Aids described a problem with hearing aids this way, "Hearing aids are often subjected to moisture and water penetration, build-up of cerumen and body chemistry that leads to battery contact corrosion and reduced reliability."

    It doesn't take much imagination to see that a delicate and sophisticated piece of medical technology exposed to some nasty elements is the perfect match for a technology so small that provides a solid barrier to these substances. ReSound has a good video that explains exactly how well these technologies work together.

    Nano manufacturing provides resolves a few pesky problems for hearing aid manufacturers. Take for instance Oticon's Sensei SP. This hearing aid for children uses a hypoallergenic nano-shield to protect it and the child. Likewise ReSound’s Up Smart™ 5 uses high level of nano coating to protect the hearing aid from dirt, water, and all those things kids can get into. And smear around.

    In addition to helping to protect from goo and ear wax, nanotechnology has upped the ante on waterproof hearing aids. Many hearing aid manufacturers are using it to coat the entire hearing aid allowing these hearing aids to be submersed in water. Beltane’s Ally has developed its own HPF80 NanoBlock™. According to the manufacturer, "An invisible protective shield, HPF80 NanoBlock safeguards the sensitive circuitry and delicate components on the inside and outside of your hearing aids. By repelling moisture and debris such as ear wax, HPF80 NanoBlock extends the life, and lowers the maintenance of your hearing aids."

    There are many more hearing aid manufacturers who use this exciting new tiny technology to fully coat and protect their hearing aids. In addition, there are also some manufacturers who prefer to use nanocoating to cover the most delicate and at risk parts of the hearing aid. Check with your hearing health provider to find out the level of protection on your hearing aid. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

    Resources

    Wayne Staab, Nanoscience applied to hearing aids. Hearing Review. Taken on Jun 28, 2016 from http://hearinghealthmatters.org/waynesworld/2011/nanoscience-applied-to-...

    What is nanotechnology. Nano.gov. Taken on June 28th 2016, from http://www.nano.gov/nanotech-101/what/definition

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