Researchers are looking at ways to apply new signal processing strategies to the design of hearing aids. Signal processing is the method used to modify normal sound waves into amplified sound that is the best possible match to the remaining hearing for a hearing aid user. NIDCD-funded researchers also are studying how hearing aids can enhance speech signals to improve understanding.
In addition, researchers are investigating the use of computer-aided technology to design and manufacture better hearing aids. Researchers also are seeking ways to improve sound transmission and to reduce noise interference, feedback, and the occlusion effect. Additional studies focus on the best ways to select and fit hearing aids in children and other groups whose hearing ability is hard to test.
From the Research Lab
Another promising research focus is to use lessons learned from animal models to design better microphones for hearing aids. NIDCD-supported scientists are studying the tiny fly Ormia ochracea because its ear structure allows the fly to determine the source of a sound easily.
Scientists are using the fly’s ear structure as a model for designing miniature directional microphones for hearing aids. These microphones amplify the sound coming from a particular direction (usually the direction a person is facing), but not the sounds that arrive from other directions.
Directional microphones hold great promise for making it easier for people to hear a single conversation, even when surrounded by other noises and voices.
Why wait? You don’t have to live with hearing loss.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss is fairly common and might explain why you can hear a pin drop, but not be able to make out what your partner is saying. You’re born with tiny hairs called cilia in your inner ear that move when sound waves are present. Nerves translate the movement of these tiny hairs into information that goes to your brain where it gets interpreted into distinct sounds and frequencies.
The better the movements are interpreted, the more easily you’re able to hear distinctions between sounds such as “D” and “T” or hear letters like “S”, “H” and “F”. Unfortunately, the cilia are extremely delicate and can be harmed by loud noise or other trauma.
Cilia also help your brain determine how loud a sound is, where it’s coming from, and how far away it is.
The Most Common Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss happens when these tiny hairs are damaged. Often, this type of hearing loss is gradual, which is why many people associate it with aging. It’s thought that animals are able to regrow these hairs and regain their hearing when their cilia get damaged, but humans don’t seem to have this ability naturally.
Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are:
Head injuries or other trauma
Diseases like diabetes or autoimmune disease
High blood pressure
How to Deal with Sensorineural Hearing Loss
While there are no current medical treatments to heal cilia, you can successfully address sensorineural hearing loss with hearing technology such as hearing aids.