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Scientists invent tinnitus-detecting headphones

Thursday 4th May 2017
Headphones that may help to detect signs of tinnitus have been developed by UK scientists. Image: Halfpoint via iStock
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UK scientists have invented a set of headphones that are able to detect potential signs of tinnitus onset, which could help to protect the hearing of thousands of people every year.

A prototype of the innovative device was unveiled by Plextek last month. It is designed to integrate with standard headphones to detect signs of tinnitus, which is typically characterised by a persistent ringing in the ears.

By the time the condition reaches this stage, it is often too late for it to be treated and can be debilitating for patients.

However, the new Plextek device is able to spot signs of the onset of tinnitus way before a person is aware they have the condition, flashing up warnings on a smartphone app synced with their headphones to urge them to turn their music down or take their headphones out for a while.

The device works by monitoring changes to a person's Auditory Evoked Potentials, which are signals sent from the brain that can affect their hearing function. Changes to these can be very subtle, but by using the latest technology, the Plextek device is able to pick up on even the smallest of signs that a person's tinnitus risk is rising.

The World Health Organization believes that half of all cases of hearing loss across the globe could be prevented with early intervention, so Plextek believes that its new device could help to safeguard the hearing of thousands, if not millions, of people worldwide.

Collette Johnson, director of medical and healthcare at Plextek, commented: "Our modern lifestyle has meant loud music and noise pollution is commonplace, resulting in a large amount of the population suffering from hearing problems.

"By placing easily accessible detection technology within consumer products, everyone can constantly self-monitor and act quickly on a condition like tinnitus that often has life-changing effects on sufferers."

Currently, it is believed that around 300 million around the world are living with tinnitus, so these new enhanced headphones have the potential to protect a significant number of people, as well as change the audiology landscape for good.

Written by James Puckle

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