One of the aspects of audiology that I believe is incredibly important is to stay cutting edge and aware of any new technology and rehabilitative approaches that will help people suffering from a hearing loss.
Hearing aids have made huge advancements in the last ten to fifteen years, but one thing that hasn’t changed is their mechanism of action, that speaker technology … until now.
One product I’m excited about is the Earlens Contact Hearing Solution. Named one of Time magazine’s list of best inventions of 2020, it’s a different product with a different concept, and I know it will be useful to the local people in the La Grande community we serve.
What Is The Earlens Contact Hearing Solution?
Earlens is a product that Dr. Rodney Perkins, who founded the California Ear Institute at Stanford and who also founded ReSound, began working on in 1991. He thought he could improve on the hearing aid technology available along the lines of sound, quality, speech, understanding, and performance.
And he did! Earlens Contact Hearing Solution is a tiny lens that’s placed on the eardrum to directly vibrate the eardrum. Its goal is to move the eardrum more in its reaction to sound waves, thus providing the wearer with exceptional sound quality and clarity.
How Is The Earlens Different To A Regular Hearing Aid?
Regular hearing aids use air pressure to move the eardrum, whereas the Earlens actually moves it physically, so it’s much more efficient in its delivery of sound.
The lens is very precise and is able to give broader bandwidth 2.5 times more than most hearing aids, depending upon how they’re coupled in the low and high pitches.
Our brains need both the ultra-high frequencies and the lower frequencies so that we can hear better in noisy environments. Wearers hear better, especially in restaurants or meetings, which a 2020 pilot study confirms.
Hearing aids have made big advancements in terms of broader bandwidth, but their speaker technology limits it. The sound quality the Earlens delivers is more natural because of its mechanism of action and broader bandwidth, and there’s no feedback!
With the Earlens, the listening effort overall is significantly reduced because it helps you make the decisions on what to pay attention to.
It gives you needed spatial awareness that has been downplayed till now. Knowing where sound is coming from is critical to better hearing.
We haven’t had anything offer that before. If people didn’t thrive with hearing aids, yet they weren’t surgical candidates, they were told that hearing aids were the best we could do. We actually have something to provide these people now. We can fill that gap!
How Does The Earlens Work?
The Earlens works via an inductive system – a low power radio signal transmits audio data to the coil on the lens from the ear tip, gently vibrating it. The vibrations amplify the sound rather than speakers.
Rechargeable – The Earlens is rechargeable. The processor that sits on the back part of the Earlens is similar in appearance to a receiver in the ear style hearing aid, and it can be charged nightly in the included charger. The lens does not require a battery.
Streaming – Apple patients can stream their phone calls or any media, such as YouTube or Netflix, directly into their lens devices. There is no Android app available yet.
Software updates – are provided at no charge.
Read more about the Earlens in this PDF.
How Does The Earlens Fit In The Ear?
It’s a bit like having a contact lens made to perfectly fit your eye – the lens is placed right on your eardrum. It stays there because it’s made perfectly for your anatomy. And just like a contact lens, you forget it’s even there.
Impressions are taken for both the Earlens placement and the ear piece/tip, so it’s a two-part impression to get the anatomy of the ear perfect. This way, we can custom fit it well so it will stay in place and be comfortable, as well as discreet – the ear tip fits down into the ear, and you can barely see that wire.
Just like a contact lens stays in place thanks to drops, the Earlens is kept in place with little spritzes of mineral oil a few times a week.
When I first learned about the lens, I wanted to put it on everyone, but one of the bigger limitations right now is that it can’t be fit on everyone, only on people who are in the candidacy range.
How Do I Find Out If I’m A Good Candidate For The Earlens?
A hearing test will give me a good picture of your type of hearing loss and will tell me if you’re within the fitting range to qualify for your lens.
The requirements are centered on those whose brains still accept high-frequency or low-frequency information.
- The Earlens might not be a good option for people with more severe to profound hearing losses. It works best on those with a mild to moderate hearing loss.
- It won’t fit in a really narrow ear canal or in an ear canal with bony growths.
- It might not be a good fit for anyone with a history of middle ear surgeries or any kind of perforation or abnormality of your eardrum or tympanic membrane.
Also know going in that fitting an Earlens requires more of a time investment and financial investment than with a regular hearing aid.
What Are The Steps To Buying The Earlens?
- First, you’ll need to come see me for a hearing assessment.
- If I give you the green light on being a good candidate, I’ll refer you to an otolaryngologist for a check.
- You’ll get your specialized, custom impression(s) done.
- This info will be sent to Earlens, and they’ll spend two weeks creating your unique device.
- The ENT physician receives your lens.
- You get your lens placement, which is a very simple procedure. The ENT physician oils the ear and it slides right in place.
- I’ll do calibration to verify it’s placed appropriately.
- I’ll do full programming, similar to what you would have with traditional hearing aids.
- You have a 60-day trial – the fitting optimization period, as it takes some time for the brain to figure out what’s going on; although some patients notice a huge difference right away.
- Sometimes, I have to make modifications to get your custom fit just right. You might be hearing beautifully, but I like to make sure it stays that way long term. Each person needs sound settings for their own specific preferences, their listening environments, their world, so I get great feedback during the trial period that helps me know what to fine-tune.
How Much Does The Earlens Cost?
The Earlens currently costs $12,000 a pair. Compare this with our high-end hearing aid technology that costs an average of $6,040.00. The lens and audiology care costs are similar – about $8,000 for the two devices, but the ENT costs must be added on.
The two impressions/fittings cost about $1,000, and the office visit for the first ENT check costs more, plus all follow-up ENT visits for three years.
There is more ongoing care involved too, covered by the three-year warranty and service agreement. This covers all the parts and any changes you need to make each year.
The cost includes a card you can use for follow-ups at any audiology clinic. You’re covered everywhere in the US, no matter how often you travel.
One positive aspect of the cost is that while more hearing aids companies will only sell their hearing aids in pairs, Earlens sells single devices = half the device price. We have quite a few patients who are only wearing Earlens in one ear.
Although most insurance plans won’t cover the cost of the Earlens yet, we provide financing at our clinic for those who are interested.
I’m Still Unsure About Getting The Earlens
While I can’t create a demo lens because it needs to be customized perfectly for your anatomy to work, I do have a device that has a lens in it at our hearing center.
You can compare and contrast it and get a feel for how it would sound, which I think is really important before you make this investment.
We had a lady recently who was able to compare how the Earlens sounded in comparison to traditional devices, and because hearing outside is so important to her as a visually impaired woman, it was so good to hear her exclaim, “Oh gosh, this is worth it. I do need this for a higher quality of life.” And I was pleased that we could provide that for her with the Earlens.
I have a real heart for the smaller rural areas, so I love that our La Grande community now has access to cutting edge technology of the Earlens. They’ll get better understanding and better sound quality right here in Oregon. And I’m so proud that we can offer it.
Book your Earlens consultation with us to see if you’re a good candidate for the Earlens. I hope you are because the improvement in hearing is fantastic. It’s such a neat product that I really think is going to revolutionize the way we can manage hearing loss.