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Hearing Aid Technology Has Come a Long Way in a Short Amount of Time

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A recent NPR story highlighted a terrible hearing loss disorder that afflicts those who suffer suddenly and without warning. Composer Richard Einhorn may have been one of the unluckiest who suffers from hyperacusis, an acute hearing disorder that causing sudden deafness. Einhorn recalls literally waking up one Sunday morning with a horrible ringing sound in his ear and realizing that he was completely deaf in it. Given his profession, it was particularly devastating to lose his once optimal hearing. In fact, Einhorn says that prior to the hyperacusis, he could walk into a room and know instantly whether or not it would be a good space for a symphony.

Knowing that his lifeblood was on the line, Einhorn went in search of a device that would help him regain some of his invaluable sense of hearing. He was able to buy a top-of-the-line digital hearing aid, as well as devices to help him hear while talking on the phone, in a noisy restaurant and when he's composing or listening to live music. If he had tried to purchase these gadgets just a few years ago, he would've been out of luck. In fact, hearing aids have come a long way in just a short amount of time.

In the 1980s, some hearing aids were as big a refrigerator, but by the 1990s they were small enough to wear behind your ear. However, with an analog hearing aid, you still got sound distortion when sounds got too loud. Digital hearing aids have nearly solved that problem and can amplify only those sound frequencies that a person has trouble hearing like high frequency sounds. The amazing thing is that some hearing aids are attached to bluetooth technology that can receive audio from a cellphone, and some are waterproof and allow users to wear them while swimming. Others are small enough to fit entirely inside of the ear canal. However, there are still some problems with current technology; Einhorn says that he misses hearing the subtle sounds like the swish of towel landing inside of a hamper. In addition, noisy restaurants and classrooms are still a problem and often require the use of a microphone. It will be amazing to see what new technologies in hearing aid devices come about in the next ten years, given the rapid advancement of the technology so far.