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Contact Lenses for the Ear - Invisibly providing natural hearing experience for Europe's 52 million hearing-impaired people

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The first contact lens for the ear using microsystems technology

Existing hearing aids are mainly behind-the-ear or in the outer ear systems: loudspeakers in or outside the ear canal amplify sounds. An EU-funded project will revolutionise the market with the first hearing solution based on the Hearing Contact Lens® with superior sound quality.

Health

Hearing loss affects millions of people worldwide, with significant implications for their quality of life and social interaction. Nonetheless, the majority refuse to use hearing aids mainly due to social stigmatisation and their dissatisfactory experience with existing technologies. Hearing aids currently on the market cannot locate the origin of noises or identify voices in groups of people and suffer from distorted hearing sounds.

Hearing solutions that boost the natural hearing process

With all this in mind, the EU-funded Hearing Contacts project developed the world’s first contact lens for the ear based on microsystems technology. Directly placed on the ear drum, surgery is not necessary. “Real innovations arise when looking beyond what is expected,” emphasises Jonathan Schächtele, CTO of Vibrosonic GmbH. During their research, the team experimented with a loudspeaker technology that used a vibrating membrane similar to the natural eardrum. They began to develop ideas on how this similarity could be used, which led to the invention of the Hearing Contact Lens®.

The Hearing Contact Lens®

The Hearing Contact Lens® employs microsystems technology and can be worn directly on the eardrum. “Designed to support the natural hearing mechanism, The Hearing Contact Lens® can thus significantly improve the auditory experience of people with hearing impairment,” explains Schächtele. Instead of loudspeakers in the ear amplifying the sound, the sound is transmitted by direct mechanical stimulation of the eardrum without obstructing the ear canal, boosting the natural hearing process. The first CE-certified hearing solution, Vibrosonic alpha, consists of three components: the Hearing Contact Lens®, an auditory canal module and a behind-the-ear module. The Hearing Contact Lens® and auditory canal module remain firmly in the ear canal, whereas the behind the ear module can be flexibly removed.

Advantages and future prospects

Initial studies show that the Hearing Contact Lens® can improve the perception of sound in people with mild to moderate hearing impairment. Unlike most conventional hearing aids, it provides very good sound quality due to an extended sound spectrum and a no-occlusion-effect. As a result, it significantly reduces disturbing noises caused by feedback. With one in four people projected to have some kind of a hearing problem by 2050, there is an imminent need to treat this disability globally. The Hearing Contact Lens® may constitute a significant advancement of existing technologies. It is expected to be largely accepted by society as compared to commercial hearing aids and may improve the quality of life of hearing-impaired individuals. Future plans of the Vibrosonic team include the miniaturisation of all components such that they can be worn deeply in the ear canal. This would make the hearing solution truly invisible.

Keywords

Hearing Contacts, hearing contact lens, hearing aid, eardrum, natural hearing, invisible, hearing impairment

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