Can the headphones work as OTC hearing aids?

Can the headphones work as OTC hearing aids?

Every Friday The Washington Post Help Desk answers readers’ questions about technology in their lives. This week we heard from an 82-year-old reader in Atlanta who wonders if people who use hearing aids can also wear in-ear headphones and if tiny in-ear headphones can completely replace hearing aids.

This is a great moment to answer this question – this month the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to give the green light to the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids. For the first time, Americans with hearing loss can access hearing aids without a prescription. It also gives tech companies the ability to tailor their in-ear headphones to FDA regulations and sell them as hearing aids. Sony, for example, has said it plans to launch over-the-counter hearing aids. Audio company Jabra already makes hearing-enhancing headphones that it calls “medical-grade.”

For people who already wear hearing aids, most current hearing aids come with Bluetooth capability, says Lindsay Creed, associate director of the audiology practice for the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association. This means that you can connect them to your audio source without any cords. Check with your audiologist or manufacturer to find out if your hearing aids are Bluetooth enabled and how to “pair” them to a sound source such as a mobile phone, computer or MP3 player.

Coming soon to your phone near you: a new wave of accessibility

If your hearing aid does not have Bluetooth, the manufacturer may sell an adapter that acts as an intermediary between your phone and the hearing aid. Audiologists have told me that in the absence of this, you can always use a pair of over-the-ear, over-the-ear or in-the-ear headphones – just make sure you keep the volume around 50 percent to avoid further damage. .

As for whether a pair of good headphones can completely replace a hearing aid, it depends, says Payal Anand, director of the department of audiology at the University of California, San Francisco.

“In-ear headphones can provide some amplification, but they will be limited in terms of how much amplification they provide and how much they can be tuned,” she said.

So-called in-ear headphones, or hearing-enhanced in-ear headphones, can be great for people with mild hearing loss or problems in noisy environments, Anand says. Apple, Beats, Bose, and Panasonic are the brands her patients have had the most luck with in terms of amplified or noise-cancelling wireless headphones, she says.

How to adjust your headphones to hear better

If you have older Apple or Beats headphones, Apple devices allow you to adjust the sound level using an audiogram or a hearing test. The test performed by an audiologist gives the best results, but as a last resort, the audiogram app can assess the level of hearing loss. I used the Mimi Hearing Test app to measure how high and low sounds I hear at different volumes. I then shared my results with the Apple Health app. Finally, I went to Settings -> Accessibility -> Audio/Video -> Headphone placement. I toggled the green slider to on, then tapped Custom Audio to tell the phone to use my unique audiogram to set gain, transparency, tone, ambient noise reduction, and conversation boost levels on my AirPods.

Your custom AirPod settings should remain the same even if you use your headphones with an Android device.

To adjust the sound settings on your Android phone, try going to Settings -> Sounds and Vibration -> Advanced Sound Options -> Sound Quality and Effects -> Customize Sound. Select your age and “listen” to the audio to see if the adjustment is helpful. Go to Settings -> Accessibility -> Hearing Enhancements to enable “hearing aid support” to improve sound quality, adjust left/right ear balance when using headphones, or switch to mono audio (only for one ear ).

Remember: you can always ask your otolaryngologist for help choosing headphones or over-the-counter hearing aids.

While headphones with advanced features such as fall detection and AI audio adjustment may soon be approved as OTC hearing aids, they are likely to still have limitations in terms of battery life and adjustability. compared to standard hearing aids. to Anand. In short, they will be an economical resource for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, or for those who want a specialized extra pair for exercise or other specific use.

For example: Creed once asked a 90-year-old patient to bring in a pair of old hearing aids for fine-tuning. She made a “wish list” that included skydiving and didn’t want her newest hearing aid to fall from 10,000 feet.

“She went skydiving three or four times with those old hearing aids,” Creed said.

In-ear headphones with trendy hearing enhancement software are an important step towards making hearing devices more accessible and affordable. (Only one in five people with hearing loss gets the treatment they need, Creed noted, and some studies link hearing loss to dementia.) But if you have moderate to severe hearing loss, don’t throw away these traditional remedies. just for now.

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