New device for hearing loss acts like a contact lens for the ear

Earlens is much like a contact lens in the ear canal that allows patients to hear much higher frequencies than a traditional hearing aid.
Earlens is much like a contact lens in the ear canal that allows patients to hear much higher frequencies than a traditional hearing aid.

BALTIMORE, Md. – As many as 15% of all American adults have trouble hearing by age 65, and one in three people report having hearing loss. Hearing aids help amplify the sound, but they’re not perfect.

At the theater or inside busy restaurants, 68-year-old Alan Bergstein struggled.

“I couldn’t hear conversations at all. It’s like people were mouthing things, but all I heard in background was other people talking or noise or whatever,” Bergstein said.

For more than a decade, Bergstein wore hearing aids. They amplified conversation, but the background noise got louder, too.

Bergstein shared, “When you put them on, it’s like putting on the world’s worst PA system in your ear.”

Ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Seth Oringher offers a new device to patients called the Earlens. Doctors insert a small piece, much like a contact lens in the ear canal. A molded light tip fits inside the ear. It communicates with a sound processor on the outside. When the processor picks up sound, the lens vibrates and sends the sound to the eardrum.

“The difference with Earlens is that it covers a much larger bandwidth than traditional hearing aids. So, it allows them to hear the much higher frequencies than compared to a traditional hearing aid,” Seth Oringher, MD, FACS, Chief of Otolaryngology at Sibley Hospital at Johns Hopkins Med, noted.

Dr. Oringher stated, “It makes sound much crisper and allows them to do much better hearing, especially in noisy environment.”

Alan says he noticed an immediate difference when he began wearing the Earlens. His hearing’s not perfect, but it’s the best he’s heard in years.

“I can hear pretty much what a 30 year-old would hear in most environments,” Alan exclaimed.

The Earlens is approved by the FDA. The Earlens is not covered by most insurance companies. The cost is about $12,000. Alan considers it an investment in his health, since it has made a difference in how he feels in social situations.