Hearing The Light

Is this the future of hearing aids?

Courtesy Earlens

A laser aimed at your ear drum. That is at the heart of what may be the most radical rethink of hearing aid technology.

Last September the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Earlens Contact Hearing Device and it’s currently being rolled out for sale across the U.S.

In a nutshell, the Earlens device consists of a standard behind-the-ear microphone and processor. But unlike conventional hearing aids which use tiny speakers to pass on the amplified sound to vibrate the ear drum, the Earlens uses infrared light.

Sound is converted to light waves using a laser diode aimed at the eardrum. The pulses of light are received by a custom fitted “tympanic-membrane transducer” that is placed against the eardrum and held in place by a thin layer of mineral oil.  Much the same way contact lens are held in place by surface tension created by the moist surface of your eye.

The laser pulses make the transducer and the eardrum vibrate in sync with the sound.

Normally it’s sound waves in the air that cause the eardrum to vibrate. With the Earlens the eardrum is vibrated directly by the device.

And the end result is the same when those vibrations are then passed through tiny bones and into the cochlea which sends electrical signals to the brain.

This video was produced by the company to illustrate how it all works:

According to the FDA, this “enables amplification over a wider range of frequencies for some hearing impaired persons”.

The Earlens is now available in the U.S.  No word yet on when it might be available in Canada.  I’ll keep you updated.

Company website: earlens.com

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