A new innovation developed by UK-based engineering and design consultancy Plextek could reportedly have a far-reaching impact on the early diagnosis and treatment of debilitating hearing conditions such as tinnitus, that affects over 300 million people worldwide, Plextek announced.
Plextek’s new prototype has been designed for integration within standard everyday consumer headphones and has been proven to reliably detect the early signs of tinnitus well before a person would become aware of the symptoms, the company says. By syncing with a smartphone app, the technology could also be used to alert the wearer to a potential problem and encourage them to seek out early medical help or take preventative action.
According to the World Health Organization, 50% of all hearing issues would be preventable with some form of primary intervention. However, existing technologies used to detect conditions like tinnitus are currently restricted to use within clinical and hospital environments and, therefore, are only used during intermittent health checks or when patients are already experiencing advanced symptoms.
Plextek says that the company’s solution integrated into commonly used in-ear consumer headphones would remove this clinical barrier and could play a game-changing preventative role in the treatment of tinnitus, while also particularly benefiting those within high-risk environments such as loud noise environments, the military, or music venues.
Plextek’s solution reportedly works by accurately monitoring subtle changes to Auditory Evoked Potentials (AEP)—a signal sent from the brain by an acoustical stimulus that measures an individual’s auditory ability level. Using a standard laptop and USB audio card, the tests proved it was possible to record ABR waveforms using in-ear headphones, with the experiments using everyday brands, such as Sennheiser and Sony, to successfully demonstrate its mass audience appeal.
“For those not within perceived high-risk environments such as the military, the danger of hearing damage is not always immediately obvious,” said Collette Johnson, director of medical & healthcare at Plextek. “However, our modern lifestyle has meant loud music and noise pollution is commonplace, resulting in a large amount of the population suffering from hearing problems. By placing easily accessible detection technology within consumer products, everyone can constantly self-monitor and act quickly on a condition like tinnitus, that often has life-changing effects on sufferers.”