Researchers in Taiwan have found that a pair of Apple headphones can help some people hear almost as well as hearing aids.
In a study published Tuesday in the journal iScience, the authors found that a sound amplification feature on the AirPods Pro helped adults with mild to moderate hearing loss almost as well as two hearing aids.
The study compared the AirPods Pro and AirPods 2 with two hearing aids – “premium” and “basic” – from other companies, looking at electroacoustic characteristics and comparing performance when supported with each hearing aid.
The AirPods Pro with a smartphone met most standards for personal sound amplification products (PSAPs): PSAPs are portable electronic devices intended for individuals with normal hearing.
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In comparison, AirPods 2 only met two of the five criteria.
The study said no significant differences were found with regard to speech understanding between AirPods Pro and hearing aids in quiet environments, but not with the presence of background noise.
While the AirPods Pro didn’t meet Food and Drug Administration standards for hearing aids, they amplified sound as well as less sophisticated devices.
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AirPods Pro, they wrote, could have the potential to be a hearing aid for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Nevertheless, the authors argued that more research is needed to explore the safety and feasibility of using earphones bundled with other smartphones such as those PSAPs, noting that previous studies have reached similar conclusions.
Limitations of the study include the small sample size, that people with severe sensorineural hearing loss and other types were excluded, that additional information related to the subjects was not collected, that there may have been observer bias, that the first -fit setting was used from real-ear measurements, and that the PSAPs under investigation were made by the same manufacturer and may not be applicable to other products.
PSAPs are cheaper over-the-counter products that can be applied by users.
In the US, the average out-of-pocket cost of a single hearing aid is over $2,000, while a pair of AirPods Pro costs around $249.
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“There is also a social stigma associated with hearing aids,” Yen-Fu Cheng, the study’s corresponding author and an otolaryngologist at Taipei Veterans General Hospital, said in a press release. “Many patients are hesitant to wear them because they don’t want to look old, so we started looking into whether there are more accessible alternatives.”
Millions of Americans have hearing loss, the third most common chronic condition. The prevalence of hearing loss in America is expected to double by 2060.