Today’s hearing aids are sleek and advanced technological wonders. They can connect to, and be controlled by, a smartphone. They can sync to sound systems at home and at a theater. They have omnidirectional microphones, app-connecting capabilities, and intelligence that allows them to identify background noises to be dampened to allow conversations to be heard more clearly. With faster processing speeds and better audio quality, the time for hearing enhancement has never been better.
The act of improving hearing enhances our lives and our health. Hearing loss has been linked to anxiety, depression, feelings of social isolation, and declines in cognitive acuity. We know that treating hearing loss can be therapeutic in ways that go far beyond hearing sound again, but what if our hearing aids could do even more by monitoring our vital signs?
Wearables have been around for a long time and can track everything from our daily steps to our resting heart rate. Smartphones, watches, and wristbands are some of the common forms of wearables we see today. Researchers out of the Imperial College of London have taken wearables to the next level by developing an ear-worn sensor to monitor heart, brain, and lung function. Their recent study suggests this new device has the potential to monitor the heart and may provide new ways to identify and manage heart conditions.
The researchers say the device works by using an electro-mechanical sensor to detect dilation and constriction of blood vessels in the ear canal. In essence, it may act as a mini-electrocardiogram (ECG) but would be a more convenient, long-term and accessible way for healthcare providers to monitor their patient’s hearts. Instead of clunky, 24-hour monitoring devices, an earpiece could be worn for several days or weeks to collect important data. Hearing aids are the perfect platform to incorporate this innovative technology and there’s great reason to be optimistic about a future hearing aid/health monitor hybrid.
A 2010 study noting the link between heart disease and hearing loss makes this new potential technology even more exciting. The study provided a comparative review of more than 60 years of research and found a “negative influence of impaired cardiovascular health on both the peripheral and central auditory system.” However, the promising news from this study is that improved cardiovascular health has a beneficial impact on auditory systems with significant improvements seen among older adults. If future studies can confirm these findings, new treatment plans can be implemented to address underlying issues that may be contributing to hearing decline.
It’s not surprising that the tiny and delicate blood vessels in the inner ear would be susceptible to vascular issues such as high blood pressure. To protect your inner ear blood vessels, and all of your other blood vessels, stick to a healthy diet and exercise often. Schedule an appointment with us to discuss your hearing health, your overall health, and to create an optimized hearing health plan just for you.