A friend told me about a young boy watching videos from his parent’s smartphone. He was listening to the video with earbuds in his ears. Suddenly out of nowhere and without warning, an emergency alert notification blared into his eardrums. The noise instantly damaged his eardrums to the point of no return. He is now deaf. His parents have since sued the manufacturer for damage.
Not all stories end up with an unfortunate account. Now earbuds have taken a new twist for those with hearing loss.
I don’t know if you realize how earbuds got invented. Earbuds’ purpose was to allow people to listen to music or audio handsfree. The earbud was an improvement from headsets that covered the ears. Soon after, companies borrowed insights from hearing aid designs. They gradually copied features into earbuds like the sound quality and clarity.
Either that or the earbuds manufacturers are guilty of damaging people’s hearing. This is because so many people’s hearing is deteriorating from wearing earbuds. So as part of damage control, they are changing the earbuds into hearing aids for continuous wear.
Just a thought.
Hearing aids are regulated by the FDA. That often means a lengthy process to sell, distribute and even put the aids into someone’s ears. Earbuds are quite the opposite. The best earbuds for hearing aid users can be instantly made and sold. These devices will be recognized as hearing enhancement gadgets. As enhancement products, earbuds can be bought anywhere without any medical intervention.
Earbuds fall into the new category of devices. Since 2017, the FDA has introduced a new class of hearing devices for people with mild and moderate hearing loss. For example, people with a slight hearing loss can’t exactly hear the fridge humming, people breathing or the coffee machine brewing. In addition, suppose you need others to repeat what they said in a noisy environment. In that case, you probably have a mild to moderate hearing loss. And earbuds may give you the clarity you need to hear better.
For now, the FDA is calling these new categories over-the-counter hearing aids. They are searching for a unique name because they don’t want to use the word hearing aids anymore. Hearing aids are already in use and have a whole other meaning. Hearing aids are for people with moderate to profound hearing loss. The one that is regulated and you can only purchase through an audiologist or a hearing specialist. The one where manufacturers need a medical license to sell. The FDA will not be monitoring earbuds for health and safety.
Over-the-counter hearing aids are like camouflage. They are camouflaging what should be a hearing aid. Similar to a cheetah hiding in a field of tall yellow-orange grass. The electronic parts inside over-the-counter devices, like earbuds, have the same feature as that in a hearing aid. The only difference is that one is regulated and the other isn’t.
In anticipation of the new category, you probably noticed and have seen a lot of promotion of earbuds. But, again, they can’t say it’s a hearing aid. Otherwise, you need a medical license. But, of course, no business would like to bother with the lengthy process of getting a license if they can’t get away with it. So these hearing enhancement devices, a.k.a. earbuds have been showing up all over the place. They are supposed to function similarly to a hearing aid giving you the best clarity of sound.
I’m curious to see if these devices would be able to pass for people with a more extensive hearing loss. I wonder if these devices are something we can wear in situations where we don’t require a lot of hearing. Could earbuds act as spare hearing aids? Would they work while going to the gym, when we are sleeping or at other moments when we put our hearing aids aside? It is too soon to tell, but these devices amplify 30 dB to 50 dB. That is it. Depending on your baseline for hearing, you’ll know how much sound coverage you’re getting and what sounds you’ll miss.
If you currently have any hearing aid – in-the-ear or receivers in the canal type hearing aids, you’ll not be able to wear earbuds with your hearing aid. I think that would be really uncomfortable. Also, if you feel you can swap tools like sound adjustment apps from one hearing aid manufacturer to connect with your earbuds, that wouldn’t work either.
Earbuds are known to have the same features as hearing aids. The only difference, as mentioned before, is that you can’t call an earbud a hearing aid. However, in some cases, you can get the same function as a hearing aid with an app added to it. So, what could work is if you had a hearing enhancement app that listens and processes sound from the smartphone and funnels the sound to the earbud. For that to work, your earbuds must be compatible with the smartphone app before even exploring this option.
Not everyone has hearing loss that is perfect or nearly the same in both ears as mine. The earbuds you buy should allow you to do the same. The first thing you should look for is earbuds that you can purchase not as a pair but as a single one. If you have that option, you will likely have a brand you can work with.
Secondly, if you can control the audio with an app. Look for features that allow you to change from stereo to mono. This will enable you to move the sound from two speakers from each earbud into one earbud.
Fill out a brief form with your needs.
The options below are more suitable for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
One of the founders of Nuheara, Justin Miller, has single-side hearing loss. So we must assume the earbuds will help those with single-sided hearing loss. Moreover, these earbuds work well for those who need to control their hearing based on the environment or situation. You’ll get more than 40 hours of listening with these earbuds. Also, the complimentary app will allow you to focus on any direction of the sounds. You’ll be able to manipulate sounds to your liking or even block sounds that are unnecessary for listening. Furthermore, you can use Nuheara on both iOS and Android devices.
With all the glory of these devices, Nuheara, like many Bluetooth devices, can lose connection when using Bluetooth to use the app. Move your phone a foot away from your earbuds, and the connections can get lost. Also, charging the earbuds comes with a bit of a pain when you think your earbuds are charging but are not.
If you are familiar with brand names like ReSound or Beltone, Jabra is under the same family company called GN. These earbuds are developed with the expertise of hearing aid design and manufacturing. Jabra allows people with mild hearing loss to benefit from using their iPhone app to make audio adjustments without needing an audiologist. First, however, you need to buy these earbuds from selected stores. They are not easily purchased online.
These earbuds give you the ability to use them for day-to-day use. However, it isn’t exactly the kind you should use for long periods. These earbuds only have 10 hours of daily use before they need to return to the charger. Most of us are up for 18 hours a day at least, which may not work. Also, the audio quality isn’t as good as a hearing aid in noisy places, according to CNet. Still, you can get around with small tasks like phone calls or listening to audio content.
I’m not sure Steve Jobs’ vision was to get into the hearing aid business. Instead, apple now wants to join the hearing care business. However, Apple has recently been doing a lot of work supporting people with hearing loss with several accessibility features. Added to the list, their latest AirPods Pro allows people to gain situational awareness to avoid blocking sounds around you that might be relevant.
People with hearing loss will love the easy integration with other iPhone and Apple devices. You won’t experience the issue with the lost connection as with other Bluetooth connections. By itself, the AirPods Pro doesn’t add any value for someone with hearing loss. However, combine it with the Headphone Accommodation feature, and you can get the hearing enhancement you want.
Let’s be real. These are hearing aids, and these devices come with the hearing aid prices but with the look of an earbud. I’ve added this to the list if cost is not an issue for you. With this earbud-looking device, you’ll also get the full service that comes with hearing aid purchases. You’ll be able to connect with audiologists and adjust your earbuds as you need with a human available to support you. You may be able to try it before you buy. Something you can’t do with earbuds.
As with a hearing aid, you will get the clarity you should expect with this device. However, you don’t get to use the Bluetooth headset mode feature on the iPhone. So hand-free features are out of the question. Overall, these are genuinely hearing aids in disguise as earbuds. It’s capitalizing on people who are self-conscious about the idea of having a hearing aid but want to be seen as wearing an earbud.
It’s hard to tell if the future of hearing aids will be earbuds. I can say that many people need more clarity of sound in their surroundings. They need a little more boost in volume to hear better in a particular situation. But, of course, they can’t be bothered by the high cost of hearing aids. They can find their answer in earbuds.
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