As technological advancements surge, new health care opportunities are being created across medical disciplines, and with over 5% of the world’s population suffering from some degree of hearing loss, hearing health and hearing loss prevention has reaped the benefits of this exponential progress. Unfortunately, society has not kept up with the pace of new technology, as entirely preventable hearing loss such as work-related noise exposure continues to account for 24% of hearing impairment cases. With new preventative measures, almost one-fourth of all hearing loss cases could be prevented in the workplace, and new technologies that control, measure, and limit sounds such as mobile apps, AI-powered hearing aids, and voice-activated devices are paving the way.
In 2019, over 5 billion people are reported to own a smartphone, touching every inch of the globe in even the most impoverished countries. As Android and Apple have over 2 million applications each in their respective app stores, thousands have been designed for those with hearing loss and impairments that are updated and improved on a daily basis. These new apps have empowered those with hearing loss, giving critical tools and information that would otherwise be given by doctors directly to patients. Smartphones can now replace expensive instruments, measuring noise levels and protecting those from harmful sound exposure, or crowdsourcing information regarding environmental noise levels, steering you towards hearing friendly restaurants or reporting sound levels to a workplace safety professional.
Though these are extremely helpful for being proactive about hearing protection, the greatest advancement in mobile apps lie in their ability to perform reliable hearing tests in workplace locations. Despite the technological limits, these mobile apps yield results sometimes comparable to tests audiologists perform with sophisticated instruments, with more research underway to meet international sound and hearing measurements.
With a global rise in wearable fitness trackers like the Fitbit and Apple Watch, mobile health systems could be adapted to not only measure your heart rate but protect your hearing as well. Sensor technology is the current roadblock to achieving these goals, but as sensors improve, it’s clear your watch or bracelet could soon be measuring noise levels and sending that data to your healthcare professional or workplace.
As new and exciting advancements in Artificial Intelligence are happening on an almost monthly basis, big names such as Google, Apple, and hearing aid companies are utilizing this new technology in the hearing health field. With AI-powered “hearables”, these new devices aim to learn about the user’s environment, canceling unwanted background noise and delivering an improved hearing experience.
Voice-activated devices have exploded in popularity with Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Home, with pushes to allow control over noise inducing objects with the sound of your voice. Creating a network between hearing and the internet, companies aim to help people become proactive about hearing protection through control of household or workplace objects such as the television, music players, or machinery on command.