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December 29, 2019

New Technology Is Changing How We Listen and Hear

An inescapable feature of modern life is noise pollution: the nearly constant exposure to sound, much of which borders on or exceeds safe hearing levels. One of the ways many people try to cope is by wearing headphones. While headphones can help block noise pollution, using them safely requires some care while listening.

Given the ubiquity of earbuds and other audio products in the lives of consumers, audio companies have developed technologies to help make their products safer. Some companies design their products to comply with international standards for safe listening, limiting maximum volume, for instance, to 100dB. Many others feature active noise cancellation to filter out noise and allow users to listen at lower volumes. While earbuds are popular on the go, on-ear headphones are recommended over in-ear devices. Earbuds sit in the ear canal, close to the eardrum. On-ear headphones give the eardrum a greater distance from the sound source.

In fact, the devices themselves are becoming tools to help users track and maintain healthy hearing. Some limit ‘acoustic shock’ created by spikes in sound, using controls to prevent average daily sound exposure from exceeding eighty-five decibels. Others monitor and visually display ambient noise in decibels in real-time and can send a notification if sound starts to reach harmful levels — there’s also an option to make the high-volume notice a popup window that stops the audio stream and doesn’t restart until the user clicks okay. It’s just one more step users can take to protect their hearing. Some devices can be controlled via a smartphone app. Wearers can use these apps to tune the sound of their headphones, track their daily hearing, measure duration and volume — even program reminders to take a break from all that listening.

So what does the future of this technology hold? Sound therapy apps are already in use, including ones that claim to help with tinnitus or ringing in the ear, which affects about twenty per cent of people. Hearing aids using Bluetooth wireless technology cannot only be tuned and controlled with a smartphone app but can directly link to audio sources in equipped movie theatres and museums, or at home to TVs and stereo systems.

And the best may be yet to come. Scientists have proposed using miniature wearable cameras in ordinary eyeglasses to aid hearing with artificial intelligence–assisted lip-reading. And as billionaires Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg explore brain-computer interfaces that will allow people to directly send thoughts to each other or to machines, researchers believe brainwave monitoring could help computerized hearing aids identify a wearer’s focus of attention and tune microphones to that sound source while filtering out others.

In the meantime, the best approach is to protect your hearing: listen at safe volumes, monitor your exposure to loud noise, and get your hearing tested regularly.

HearingLife and its Network Partners have over three hundred clinics across the nation. Your membership with ARTA makes you and members of your household eligible to receive exclusive benefits to help you on your path to better hearing. Contact HearingLife toll-free at 1-844-284-7414.