The hearing aid industry is facing an Uber moment. Or is it?
The market is being disrupted by newcomers armed with new technology at a cheaper price. If that sounds familiar remember the fate of the taxi industry. It too was sheltered by regulation but along came Uber and Lyft who skirted or ignored the rules.
The threat to the established order in the hearing aid industry comes in the form of personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs which, by the way, have a rather unappealing pronunciation: PEE-saps.
There is no cure for sensorineural hearing loss, the type that 90% of us with fading hearing have. But thanks to some deaf chickens, there is hope.
The primary problem is the hair cells in our cochleas. They convert vibrations into the electrical signals that flow to the brain. Like all mammals we are born with a finite number of hair cells and as we age they start dying off or are killed by high decibel sounds. They are never replaced and so begins the hearing loss.
But what if the genes can be tweaked to re-grow hair cells?
This incredible short video by the BBC has amazing visuals that show you how your brain receives sound. Sadly, and somewhat ironically, the audio mix is so bad that’s almost impossible to hear the voice over.
The psychological impact of hearing loss is well documented. Depression being the number one symptom. Frankly, that’s not particularly surprising since losing your hearing is obviously depressing since it disconnects you from the world. But it’s also associated with a range of other mental issues including, yes, your sex life.
Hearing aids are expensive. But that’s for another post. There is government financial assistance available for Canadians. The amount and your eligibility depends on where you live.
It’s not easy to come up with a definitive cross-country guide since many of the rules and regulations are confusing to say the least. (Any clarifications or updates are welcome) So consider this a rough guide:
Background noise, music and hard walls that turn the restaurant into a noisy, echo chamber. It all makes conversations with your dinner companions difficult or impossible.
In part, that’s because even the best hearing aids have trouble separating the voices of your companions from the sounds of other conversations around you. All that hubbub submerges the voices you want to hear.
Another major factor is the acoustic design (or lack thereof) of most restaurants and bars. Many owners prefer a loud establishment. They crank the music up, use reflecting surfaces such as concrete walls or mirrors that amplify the general noise. They want to create a lively, busy ambience.
So a couple of tips for anyone looking for a little peace and quiet on a night out:
They are known as “The Big Six” for a reason. Together they control about 98% of the global market for hearing aids.* And it’s a big and rapidly growing market that brings in about six billion dollars annually.
The late, great Dr. Oliver Sachs was at his office one day when his assistant announced she was leaving work early to “go to choir practice.” Sachs said no problem, and wished her well. It was only after she left that he began to wonder.
There are roughly 200 drugs that have been shown to cause hearing loss, including some that may already be in your medicine cabinet.
They are known as ototoxics, oto meaning ear and toxic, of course, means poison. They can result in temporary or permanent damage. If you are already suffering from hearing loss you should be aware of that these drugs may cause you to lose more.