New technology developed by UK-based engineering and design consultancy, Plextek, could provide early diagnosis and treatment of debilitating hearing conditions, such as tinnitus, for people working in high-risk environments, such as manufacturing, construction, and entertainment, the technology consultancy announced.
Plextek’s technology can reportedly be integrated into both standard commercial headphones and industry standard noise-prevention headsets to help detect the early signs of tinnitus, well before symptoms become apparent, according to the company’s announcement. By syncing with a smartphone app the technology could also be used to alert the wearer to potential problems and encourage early medical help or preventative action.
The integration of Plextek’s solution into normal headphones could have a “major impact” for those working in high-risk, loud noise environments such as manufacturing plants and nightclubs. The technology works by accurately monitoring subtle changes to Auditory Evoked Potentials (AEPs), a signal sent from the brain by an acoustical stimulus that measures an individual’s auditory ability level.
“Daily, we are besieged by a cacophony of sounds: background noise from bars, roadworks, gyms, personal music players, shops, public transport. All of these sounds can contribute to hearing loss and related disorders such as tinnitus,” said Dr Nigel Whittle, head of medical & healthcare at Plextek.
“Studies have suggested that up to one in four adults may suffer from hearing damage, so it is no wonder that the WHO has described background noise as ‘an underestimated threat’,” said Whittle. “Hearing loss is both irreparable and preventable, and has a huge impact on both personal health and economic activity. Not only does it cost the UK an estimated £18 billion ($23 billion USD) in lost productivity, but also the UK insurance industry pays out over £70 million ($89 million USD) a year in hearing-related claims. Early detection of hearing disorders, and measures to limit workers’ exposure to loud noises, will reduce the personal and economic impact of these conditions.”
Plextek is continuing to develop the technology and looking to partner with other developers and manufacturers to integrate the system into standard products.