Optical hearing enhancement
Worldwide, about 6% of the population suffers from a limiting hearing impairment.
The treatment of hearing impairment largely involves the use of classic hearing aids, which also significantly improve hearing ability for many patients. These pick up the sound signal from the environment, perform complex signal processing and emit an acoustic signal into the patient’s ear canal. Even though classic hearing aids are used successfully millions of times, they still have disadvantages. For example, the ear canal must be closed, which leads to amplification of the body’s own sounds and poor ventilation of the ear, thus reducing wearing comfort.
Optical stimulation of the auditory cells in the inner ear is already being investigated in cochlear implants as an alternative to electrical stimulation. The advantage of optical stimulation is a higher spectral selectivity and thus better hearing than is possible with electrical stimulation. However, cochlear implants are used much less frequently than traditional hearing aids. Many patients would benefit from a new technology that replaces the sound amplification in a classic hearing aid.
In our project, the possibility of optical stimulation directly from the ear canal – as in classical hearing aids – is being investigated. Advantages over classical hearing aids with electromagnetic transducer are a higher, achievable bandwidth and the lack of need to close the ear canal. The project takes place in cooperation with Deutsches Hörgeräte Institut GmbH and the Department of Otolaryngology of the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH).