2020 was quite the year... However, despite all the chaos, there was some good news to come out of the world of audiology. From new technologies to groundbreaking research, here are some of the best stories from the field of hearing care that happened in 2020.
A Greater Focus on Tele-Audiology
While the COVID-19 pandemic mainly affected hearing care negatively (especially considering audiology practices were deemed a non-essential service), one good thing that came from it was a greater focus on tele-audiology. Beforehand, tele-audiology was seen as a luxury for practices that wanted to extend their geographic reach and reduce overhead costs. Now, it is being looked at as a viable solution to providing hearing care services with less contact.
As a result, audiology equipment manufacturers have put more focus into bolstering their tele-audiology offerings. For example, MedRx released a new tele-audiology booth setup and GSI put resources towards making their AMTAS products a more viable solution for tele-health services. Additionally, Interacoustics released more versions of its Remote Audiology System (RAS) to make it more accessible to clinics with smaller budgets. Now that we know the drastic effects a global pandemic can have on our industry, tele-audiology will become much more important in the immediate future.
Cerumen Removal Made Easier
Extracting cerumen can be a difficult task without the help of costly irrigation equipment. For those who don’t have budget for such a device, the EarWay Pro wax removal system provides an effective and affordable alternative. Released this year by AuDNet and Earways Medical, the EarWay Pro Wax Removal Helix is designed to rotate inward into the ear, collecting the cerumen and extracting it from the ear canal as a single cluster. It ensures that cerumen is not pushed back into the ear canal during extraction and enables access to the ear canal without need for expensive visualization equipment.
New Innovative Hearing Assistive Technology
Sometimes great solutions come from unexpected places. A few months ago, a Russian student created a vibrating glove that may be able to help restore hearing function. Initially, the glove was designed to allow people to play computer games with only one hand, but then was reimagined into an innovative hearing assistive device. As to how it works, here’s an exerpt from The Hearing Review:
“A glove microphone amplifies the audio signal and transmits it to a spectrum analyzer that splits the audio range into separate frequency bands. Each tactile module corresponds to one sound strip. The strength of a tactile stimulation is proportional to the amplitude of sound vibrations in the corresponding frequency band.”
To read the full article, click here.
Innovation in Visual Reinforcement Audiometry
Traditionally, visual reinforcement audiometry (VRA) requires two professionals: The tester and the assistant. The new MedRx VRA completely changes that, allowing one hearing care professional to perform the assessment on their own. Developed in partnership with National Acoustics Laboratories, the MedRx VRA allows the clinician to adjust level, frequency, presentation ear, presentation and visual rewarding from the MedRx iVRA iOS app adjust level, frequency, presentation ear, and visual rewarding from the MedRx iVRA iOS app. It also comes with 29 animated videos, a monitor the size of your choosing, multiple testing modes, and much more!
Auditory and Vocal Similarities Between Humans and Animals
Much research was conducted on the similarities between the hearing of animals and humans in 2020. One report showed that humans’ ears perk up similarly to animals when novel, unusual, or goal-relevant sounds are heard. The researchers, who are from the Systems Neuroscience & Neurotechnology Unit (SNNU), believe that these findings may lead to the development of better hearing aids. They think the devices would be able to amplify the sounds that the wearer is trying to hear, while suppressing the noises that they are trying to ignore.
Deafness Potentially Curable?
It seems that each year, researchers come closer and closer to finding ways to cure deafness. Back in June, a Harvard experiment restored partial hearing in mice that had a recessive mutation for deafness. This was the first successful example of using genome editing to fix a recessive disease. The experiment targeted a recessive mutation in TMC-1 that deteriorates hair cells on the inner ear that animals rely on to hear. Basically, the gene therapy sent cells with healthy versions of the gene in among the unhealthy to counteract the disease-causing mutation. In the end, the mice were able to respond to the sounds of researchers clapping their hands. Of course, more work needs to be done before this is attempted on humans, but it’s still a big step in the right direction.
More recently, researchers from Frequency Therapeutics released a study showing that their sensory hair cell regeneration drug, FX-322, stimulated hearing regeneration in humans. The latest results, which were released in mid-September, showed that patients treated with FX-322 demonstrated sustained improvement in hearing ability up to 21 months after initial dosing. While this is encouraging, the audiology community urges caution given the small study size. The drug is a combination of two molecules designed to affect progenitor cells in the inner ear. It will be interesting to follow future developments to see if FX-322 could become a legitimate treatment for deafness.
Hearing Aid Fitting Made Compact
Lastly, another innovation came out of the hearing aid fitting field. The Interacoustics Affinity Compact released early in 2020 and has made quite an impact. Giving you the ability to combine audiometry, REM, HIT, and visible speech mapping in one small, but mighty, device, the Interacoustics Affinity Compact represents a new peak in hearing aid fitting. From binaural REM to listen-to-coupler functionality to realistic stimuli, this instrument gives you everything you need to perform successful hearing aid fittings.
While 2020 had many lows, its few highs were truly special. We hope this trend of exciting new technologies and groundbreaking research developments carries on into next year. Also, we hope that 2021 will be a much safer, more prosperous, and enjoyable year for everyone.