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 such an unfortunate account. And why am I sharing this story? While the boy was hearing before and used earbuds, he can still continue to wear earbuds but this time as hearing aids. It’s strange how earbuds are the gift that keeps giving. One for recreational use and now the other for hearing aids.
I wish there were more conversations about the ramifications of wearing earbuds when you have hearing and how to properly use an earbud to avoid damaging your ears.
But if you have hearing loss, you probably don’t care and wondering how well it can work for me.
Can Deaf people wear earbuds?
Update (May 2023): My answer keeps changing over time. At first, I was adamant that there could be no possibility for someone with over 100-decibel hearing loss to wear earbuds.
But I changed my mind. The technology is improving. At first, I thought that earbuds for deaf people were not medically possible and the technology didn’t exist yet.
Someone who now wears hearing aids could possibly make the switch to earbuds. Depending on how well their brain can process the sound to make it clear. However, I haven’t seen the possibility of someone choosing between a cochlear implant and an earbud yet.
What I do know is that there are a few things that we need to happen technologically for this to occur.
Better battery power is needed.
The amount of power needed to amplify or convert noises in our environment and alter them audibly inside our ears requires a lot of energy. As a result, many hearing devices are much larger for those with severe to profound hearing loss versus those with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Developing a smaller and more compact energy source may appear sooner than we think. Luckily for us, climate change has pushed for new development in the energy sector, and plenty of capital investments are creating new battery power. This could open up new doors for the battery to be compact and powerful enough to artificially make the noises we need to hear.
The algorithm used to make artificial sounds needs improvement.
Most digital hearing aids or cochlear implant uses some computer algorithm that clarifies sounds to be easily processed by our brains. This software runs on hearing devices to filter noises, make speech clear and help us hear better in various situations. I understand hearing devices can’t solve every possible communication situation for many people. The algorithm will need improvement to handle a wide range of noisy environments.
The algorithm will also need to improve by using less power. The more tasks the manufacturers give an algorithm to handle, the more power the algorithm needs to complete the tasks. This goes back to the point that we need innovation in energy technology.
A good fit is important
Even if the technology works for your hearing loss, you still need your audiologist to take a good impression or shape of your ear to ensure the earbud fits in well. You will need custom fitting to avoid feedback. When the earbud is loose, and the volume is loud, the microphone hears itself creating the whistle noise.
Earbuds can pass as medical devices.
Hearing aids are regulated by the FDA. People with severe and profound hearing loss are still under the FDA rules and need to adhere to specific manufacturing guidelines. It also means a lengthy process to sell, distribute and even put the aids into someone’s ears.
Earbuds, which are hearing enhancement gadgets, are quite the opposite. As enhancement products, earbuds can be bought anywhere without any medical intervention. However, the best earbuds for hearing aid users can’t be instantly made and sold. It will still need to be custom fitted individually.
Earbuds work for people with slight hearing loss.
Earbuds fall into a 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 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 mild to moderate hearing loss. And earbuds may give you the clarity you need to hear better.
For now, the FDA is calling this new category over-the-counter hearing aids. Hearing aids, the word by themselves, are for people with moderate to profound hearing loss. You can only purchase these ones through an audiologist or a hearing specialist. These ones are where manufacturers need a medical license to sell. The FDA will not be monitoring earbuds for health and safety.
Are earbuds the same as hearing aids?
Over-the-counter hearing aids are like camouflage animals. They are camouflaging what is the same in a hearing aid. Similar to a cheetah hiding in a field of tall yellow-orange grass. The electronic parts inside the 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. One can amplify sounds to a certain decibel, and the other can amplify as loud as it can under regulation.
You probably noticed and have seen many earbuds promotions on the market. To my knowledge, almost all of them are for mild and moderate hearing loss. Most earbuds are hearing enhancement devices. They are supposed to function similarly to a hearing aid giving you the best sound clarity. In the list of brands below, you will see two earbud-looking devices that functions as a hearing aid and can be used with people with mild or severe hearing loss.
Amplifying earbuds for hard of hearing
I’m curious to see if these devices could pass for people with 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 putting our hearing aids aside? It is too soon to tell, but hearing enhancement earbuds can amplify 30 dB to 50 dB of sound. 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.
Can I wear earbuds with hearing aids?
If you currently have any hearing aid that is 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 uncomfortable.
Also, remember that some earbuds will come with an app to help you make sound adjustments. Your hearing device manufacturers may also have one as well. These two devices or apps may not be compatible or work together.
Can Bluetooth earbuds be used as a hearing aid?
Earbuds are known to have the same operating features as hearing aids. There is a certain threshold of features that can make the earbud FDA-approved.
However, in some cases, you can use the Bluetooth feature on your earbud with a 3-rd party hearing enhancement app that listens and processes the sound using your smartphone and funnels the sound to the earbud. For that to work, the app must make Bluetooth connections, and your earbuds must have Bluetooth features before even exploring this option.
Also, Bluetooth is known to cause audio transmission delays. There could be a delay when you listen and respond to the conversations and sounds around you. Also, remember anything that acts like a hearing aid requires FDA approval and can be offered not off the internet but through your audiologist.
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Wireless earbuds for single-sided deafness
Not everyone has perfect hearing loss 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, 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.
Best wireless earbuds for deaf
ReSound Custom Made: ReSound.com
For those with severe hearing loss, ReSound might be your best solution for your hearing loss. It has the same technology used in Jabra (see below), just packaged differently to help those of us on the more severe end. People with high degrees of hearing loss (i.e. those as high as 100db) found benefits from their recent purchase of these brands.
I can’t say how much everyday use you can get with owning these earbuds, but they can be a great spare hearing aid for recreational activities like jogging or recreational use. It has a coating to protect the device from too much moisture.
The options below suit people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Nuheara IQbuds: Buy on Amazon
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 is a bit of a pain when you think your earbuds are charging but are not.
Jabra’s Enhance Plus: Jabra.com
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.
AirPods Pro: Buy on Amazon
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 them 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.
Signia Active Pro: signia-pro.com
Let’s be real. These are hearing aids, which come with 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 having a hearing aid but want to be seen as wearing an earbud.
Hearing clearly with earbuds
It’s hard to tell if the future of hearing aids will be earbuds. I can say that many people need more sound clarity 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. Perhaps, soon we’ll find the answer in earbuds.
The Hearing Loss Persona Test
Which one are you?
Discover your hearing loss persona and unlock your potential!
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