New developments in the audiology field

Contributed by | Monday, October 27th, 2014

If you talk to any hearing healthcare professional who’s been in the field for a long time, they’ll give you a variety of opinions on what they believe is the most significant advancement in hearing health technology. And while their answers are varied, the one characteristic that connects them is that each advancement they mention has been developed in the past 10 years. In fact, new developments in the world of audiology are happening all the time. Here are some new discoveries and advancements which have happened this year.


Oticon iPhone App

In June 2014, Oticon launched their made for iPhone App, allowing more than two million Oticon hearing device users to control the sound sources and volume levels of their hearing aids with a single tap of their finger.

Oticon released a made for iPhone App in June, 
allowing users to adjust their hearing device 

with a tap of their finger! 

Oticon, a leading manufacturer of hearing solutions, first launched wireless hearing solutions in 2007. Their upgraded StreamerPro works with iPhone through the Oticon ConnectLine App so users can switch seamlessly from FaceTime to phone call to music player – or any other input source.

In related news, Apple filed for a patent which will detect and integrate portable electronic devices and hearing aids. Currently, users must change settings on their hearing aids in order to be able to conduct conversations on their cell phones. The new technology will use a magnetic field sensor in the handset to automatically detect if the user has a hearing aid in T-coil mode, making it unnecessary for the user to switch settings before making or receiving the call.

Cochlear implants

Traditionally, cochlear implants are reserved for those with severe to profound hearing loss; however, a hybrid cochlear implant approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March, has become a game-changer.

The Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant System combines the function of a cochlear implant and hearing aid. The device is approved for those 18 years and older with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss of high-frequency sounds in both ears, but can still hear low-frequency sounds with or without a hearing aid. The electronic device consists of an external microphone and speech processor that picks up sounds from the environment and translates them into electrical impulses.The impulses are transmitted to the cochlea through implanted electrodes to create the sense of sound the user learns to associate with mid- to high-frequency sounds they remember. The hearing aid portion of the system is worn in the outer ear to amplify low-frequency sounds.


Have we found a cure for hearing loss?

Well, not quite, but recent scientific discoveries are definitely leading us closer. Zebrafish and baby chicks are helping researchers study the tiny hair cells in our inner ear and how we might be able to reverse sensorineural hearing loss or prevent it in the first place.

Hair cells in the human ear are responsible for translating the noise our ears collect into electrical impulses. Once translated, they travel along the auditory nerve to the brain, which interprets them as recognizable sound. Until now, scientists believed these hair cells could not be regenerated; however, new research indicates it might be possible in the near future.

Larval zebrafish have hair cells on the outside of the body that they use to detect water currents much like human beings use them to detect sound. Researchers hope they can use a screening process to identify genetic responses to ototoxic chemicals and create new drugs which will prevent hearing loss and balance disorders.

Baby chicks can regenerate their hair cells following noise- or drug-induced hearing loss so researchers are working to identify the cellular and molecular events that cause this regrowth and apply them to humans.

The research is being conducted by Ed Rubel at the Virginia Merrell Bloedel Hearing Research Center at the University of Washington.

Magnetic fields and balance disorders

Johns Hopkins researchers believe a MRI magnet may eventually help individuals afflicted with balance disorders. The scientists discovered that patients with dizziness and balance disorders displayed different eye movements when they were placed in the MRI tunnel. These movements varied depending upon which ear was affected. Scientists believe the strong MRI magnet pushes on fluid in the inner ear to produce the effect.

A second study with MRI magnets and zebrafish produced similar results. Zebrafish have vestibular systems anatomically similar to humans. Scientists hope the discoveries will lead to useful ways to harness the impact of a MRI magnet on the inner ear.

Both studies were led by Brian Ward, M.D., a resident in the department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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