How Light Might Help You Hear

Picture of sunlight in hands.

Light can travel through the vacuum of space. Sound needs a medium through which to travel — solid, liquid or gas. Both can be reflected and refracted. But only sound can travel through a solid object. One we see. The other we hear.

They seemingly have very little in common. But what would you say if we told you that light might actually help you hear better?

Recent scientific studies are exploring this possibility. Let’s take a look at their research.

The Research

A study currently being performed at Western University’s National Centre for Audiology located in Canada seeks to determine how well light pulses can transmit sound in the human ear. Can light improve how we hear?

The premise is that sound can be converted to light outside the visible range. Those beams of light can then be projected onto a lens on the eardrum to interact with the normal hearing system of the person wearing the light-producing device.

Previous Studies

Science is constantly building on its past findings, so it’s important to note past studies that have led up to this one.

Previous studies conducted by scientists from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria have shown in animal trials that laser light pulses can impact the little hair cells in your inner ear much the way sound waves do. Infrared light is absorbed through the eardrum, into the liquid behind it.

There, it triggers an auditory (hearing) response.

What The Current Study Will Look At

They will be testing an existing hearing aid that is using this technology. The hearing aid company has some awe-inspiring light-based technology that could revolutionize how hearing aids are made.

They believe that this light method can enhance the quality of sounds. This device is said to provide an extended bandwidth that no other device on the market currently offers.

The light appears to refine and improve sound on testing equipment. However, currently, they don’t have the scientific proof to back up whether the human ear can actually benefit from this refinement. Can the human ear hear the difference?

That’s what Western University’s National Centre for Audiology and the hearing aid company want to find out.

In the U.S. and Canada, as you know, companies that provide health-related products or services must not make claims that haven’t been proven through scientific studies. The FDA in the U.S., and Health Canada in Canada regulate this.

The Method

This human trial will be conducted as a double-blind study.

This means that the participants will be divided into two or more groups. At least one group will receive this light-based technology. Another group will get a placebo hearing aid. Neither group will know whether they have the light technology or the placebo.

Additionally, since it’s double-blind, the researchers will be kept in the dark about which group actually received the light technology.

In this way, they can ensure more valid and reliable results.

Each participant will complete several hearing tests to capture a wide range of hearing situations like listening to music or having a conversation in a noisy room. The scientists will make note of which individuals did better on the test. They will then reveal to themselves which device each person was wearing.

Will those with the light-based technology do better on the tests? We will soon find out.

The hearing aid company is excited to have this opportunity to prove that their light-based technology can improve the quality of sounds actually heard by the wearer. We’re eager to find out the results of this currently ongoing study.

Want more information?

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