A revolutionary device about the size of a dime and is helping some of the millions of Americans who have trouble hearing.
Traditional hearing aids make sounds louder through tiny speakers in the device, but new technology uses a small lens to gently vibrate the eardrum to make sounds clearer and more natural. It’s done without surgery, and the settings can be adjusted with an iPhone.
Cindy Griswold said she suddenly lost about 90% of the hearing in her right ear in 2008. She has worn traditional hearing aids since.
“Over time, I felt that I just needed more,” she said. “I was missing out on conversations when there was a lot of noise in the background.”
When she learned about the Earlens device, she decided to try it.
“I was just, like, floored about how much I could hear,” she said. “I could hear the radiator ticking. I could hear everything.”
Dr. Seth Oringher, an ear, nose and throat specialist with Feldman ENT Division in Chevy Chase, Maryland, calls the device a game changer for people who have trouble hearing -- a condition that impacts up to 48 million Americans.
“Earlens offers the world's first and only FDA approved non-surgical lens that directly vibrates the eardrum without a speaker,” he said. “So, you really get a much richer, much clearer, more natural sound, and that's really what's been a game changer.”
The process takes two visits to the doctor’s office. First, they make a mold of the patient’s ear, including the ear drum, and send it to the company to have the device custom built for each patient. Two weeks later, a tiny lens is placed into the eardrum and patients get it custom programmed by an audiologist.
“Even with the small lens, they can swim, they can bathe, they can shower,” Oringher said. “The lens can stay in potentially for years without having to be removed.”
“I don't have to mess with the little buttons on the back of my ears,” Griswold said. “I can just pick up my phone like I'm texting somebody and I can turn it up, I can turn it down, I can turn it off, I can put it on restaurant mode.”
Because it’s Bluetooth, she can also listen to podcasts and audiobooks from her new hearing aid.
She's had the device since July and says she's grateful for it.
“I get emotional about it, because you miss out on so much when you can't hear and you don't realize it until people say, ‘Well, I told you blah, blah, blah,’ or, you know, ‘Don't you remember blah, blah, blah?’ And you don't. It's really life-changing.”
The Earlens is more expensive than a traditional hearing aid but less expensive than the devices that must be surgically implanted into the ear. It costs $12,000 for a pair, but health insurance may cover some of the cost.