Earlens hearing aids


#1

There was a buzz a few years ago about Earlens which is supposed to work on light rather than sound waves. There was a note about it from the recent meetings. Seems like a good idea, but do any members have experience with this new device? Thanks. --Steve


#2

I wore these devices for about 3 months. I am not wearing them now, and I wore them in a relatively early stage of development as part of a clinical study. My impressions:

Positive:

  • Fidelity of streamed audio was excellent. I believe better than three other high-end devices I have worn.
  • Feedback was nearly non-existent.

Negative:

  • They are rechargeable only, no changeable battery option. I ran out of battery before I ran out of day with some regularity.
  • The ‘lens’ that is installed on the eardrum made me hear less when I took the processors off.
  • I had a little bit of discomfort with the ‘lenses’ which are installed on the tympanic membrane. Not horrible, but it takes some getting used to. These are actually in contact with the eardrum all the time, sometimes creating a sensation kind of like you are on a plane and you need to ‘pop’ you ears.
  • They are large. For me, it is not about vanity or discretion, it is about comfort; I want to be able to lay my head on a pillow comfortably.
  • You need an otologist to install the lenses. Not sure that I understand how their business model will work in this industry with that constraint.

Of interest:
The company never asked me for my opinion(s). I am full of opinions. The voice of the customer is quite important in product development, I was really surprised no one engaged me regarding my experience. I am practically in their back yard and essentially beta-tested these devices and no one bothered to ask the simple question you did.

Happy Hearing!


#3

Thank you for that detailed and helpful review. It looked like a good idea, but these are some pretty big negatives. It would be hard for me to get by with even less unaided hearing, like on the beach, when I can’t wear my HAs. Another negative I just discovered is the price. Their local dealer told me they charge $6,000 per aid ($12,000 per pair). but assured me that “it’s worth it.” You would think the manufacturer would subsidize the price during the initial launch.


#4

I wonder about the implication of touching the ear drum all the times 24/7. Do you need to have it taken off once in awhile for cleaning or maintenance? Does the lens ever go bad or get worn out?


#5

It’s not a great sign that an approach that seems so revolutionary is attracting so little attention on our website. --Steve


#6

Yeah, but they have so many things going against them.

  1. An exorbitant price (well, compared to Costco pricing at least).

  2. The need to have a doctor insert the instrument. And possibly remove and reinsert periodically for maintenance. How much does it cost to involve an ENT for such a regular maintenance?

  3. Interference with regular hearing when not worn. This implies that only folks with severe hearing loss may be willing to entertain this approach more. Folks with moderate hearing will be served by regular hearing aids just fine.

  4. Unknown long term consequence of having the lens touch your ear drum 24/7. Will it be a host to invite collection of wax and other things attracted to it? Not sure if it’s a natural thing to be touching such an internal delicate human part like an ear drum all the times like that in the first place. I think this physiological aspect is a big unknown or at least not well explained enough to alleviate any concern.

  5. How do they even attach this lens to the ear drum with enough precise accuracy to sensitize it just enough but not too much excessive pressure?


#7

I completely agree. Not just Costco, but they cost twice as much as an average expensive audiologist or hearing aid dispenser. I’m sure glad I didn’t invest in this startup!

Do you like your Oticon OPN RITEs? I’ve got a similar high frequency loss, but not so steep a drop. My Phonak RICs are okay, but far from perfect. --Steve


#8

Your hearing is much better than mine for sure. I like the OPN a lot. Definitely a different concept for sure.

I think the Earlens will have a niche maybe for people with profound loss where the regular hearing aids won’t suffice for them, and it’s a less invasive procedure than cochlear implant.


#9

Well, it seems to be clear that the Earlens is not the solution for me. That’s very encouraging what you say about the OPN. You seem to have more high frequency loss than me, but I’m heading in that direction. There is so much contradictory information (and strong opinions) in this forum about the OPN that I don’t know what to think. In what way has this device been better for you? --Steve


#10

Yeah, the OPN may be controversial because it’s a different concept (paradigm) and how it implements noise reduction is different and not well understood.

I like the open paradigm where I can have the best of both worlds, be able to hear everything yet still understand speech well in noisy environments. Plus the simplicity of using the default program for everything and not have to switch back and forth between different programs for different environments.


#11

None of this makes much sense. Why all the emotion? Why worry about the theory if you can hear better? I switch back and forth between Phonak Audeo RICs and Signia Motion Primax BTEs. I can hear alright with both of them, but I’m lost in noisy environments. With my audiogram, do you think I should try OPNs? You have more loss than me, but you seem to be doing well.


#12

Posting your WRS with the audiogram would help.


#13

I’ll try to find it. I recall that my WRS is in the 80 to 85% range for both ears.


#14

The OPN works for some people and not others mainly because of personal preferences. Some people don’t care to hear anything but the speech they want to listen to, especially in noisy environments. Other people don’t mind hearing more noises and are more open to letting their brain work harder to do the noise filtering (instead of letting the hearing aids do it).

The OPN does reduce the noise when speech is present, but ONLY while speech is present. But it’s not like things are all quiet all of a sudden as soon as (and as long as) the person is speaking. It’s more like despite all the noise going around, even while the person is talking, the clarity of the speech is good enough to understand. But the trick is, can you (or do you even want to) train your brain to just focus on that speech and tune out the noise?

The trade-off is that the brain has to work harder and focus more. But why would anyone want to hear noises? Well, what’s noise one minute can become a desired sound the next minute. What if a waiter from behind asks if everything is OK? If it’s for another table, it’s noise. If it’s for your table and for you, it’s desired sound. So it’s also a matter of awareness. How well aware do you want to be to the soundscape around you?

Anyway, I really can’t say if the OPN may work better for you or not in noisy environments. It’s really a personal preference. And I’ve even known of some folks here who really gave the OPN a try but in the end, it didn’t help them. So it’s not just a matter of personal preference only, but it’s also a matter of whether your brain can adapt to it or not as well.


#15

Thank you so much for taking the time to explain this. I don’t think I’ll ever know until I try it, so I think it is worth doing a trial. I’ll call my audio and see if I can get things going. --Steve


#16

Volusiano, et al:

Some more info about the Earlens ‘lens’:

  1. The mounting skid for lens is 3D printed from a custom mold made for your ear. This means the fitting process is a little different than just getting a mold for a custom dome of CIC HA because they have to actually get the ‘goop’ all the way onto the tympanic membrane. No little ball of cotton on a string; they fill your whole ear. They use a slightly different ‘goop’ as a result.

  2. The lens ‘floats’ on the tympanic membrane. The routine is to apply a couple drops of mineral oil into the ear a couple times a week. The oil ends up on the ear drum and the lens ‘floats’ similar to how a contact lens floats on the moisture on the eye. Because the lens is custom built to the shape of your eardrum, it stays in place. (I also think it doesn’t really have any place else to go)

Happy Hearing!


#17

Thanks for this additional info, MrAerodynamic!

This prompted me to go on the Earlens website to learn more about it. It looks like they provide you with a new Earlens every year for the first 3 years during the 3 year warranty period. They also recommend you have a check up by your ENT annually. I must assume that during this check up, you’d ask your ENT to remove the old lens and replace it with the new lens.

I wonder how much it costs for a new lens after your 3 year warranty expires, combined with a trip to the ENT to get it replaced.


#18

I bet you they already know all the shortcomings you experienced so they never bothered asking you. I’m guessing that the main purpose of the clinical study was to see if there’s any long term physiological effect of the lens-on-the-ear-drum approach. If you had developed some kind of physiological issue after wearing the lens for 3 months, you would have reported it to them, and that’s probably all they wanted to know at that point.

I think while the idea is good, unless they can fix the economics of their product to be more competitive price wise, they’re not going to be able to justify that kind of cost on the only 2 differentiations they have (no feedback and better fidelity) to the mainstream hearing aid users. The conventional hearing aids already pretty much have gotten feedback management under control more or less, and the higher fidelity is not worth that kind of price because most people are already happy enough with being able to hear better just within the speech spectrum, which conventional hearing aids also already deliver as well.

That leaves them with just the niche of rich folks who are also music aficionados, or severely or profoundly hearing impaired folks who are not good enough candidates for convention hearing aids, and who don’t want to get cochlear implants.


#19

Volusiano and Mr. Aerodynamic, This exchange has been informative and sensible. I fit into the music lover category, but not profound, and my hearing aids are good with speech. I am not a CI candidate, but I would do that in a heartbeat if and when I could not longer make out speech.

The Earlens seems to have several major impediments:

  1. The cost. Most makers of medical products and medical devices subsidize the cost during the trial period. Apparently Earlens does not.
  2. The potential long term consequences. Will this device negativly impact my eardrum or my residual hearing?
  3. The benefit. Many hearing aid manufacturers make exaggerated claims. Most hearing aid users know the benefits of new technology are subtle and incremental.

So, do you think the Earlens will make that much difference with music? Does the theoretical difference in its sound spectrum translate into an actual benefit?

I think I am going to give the Oticon OPNs a try, hoping that they will enhance my music enjoyment. I’ll let you know. Thanks again for this high level discussion.

–Steve


#20

Simring,

It sounds like your phonaks have not been fit correctly. Everything is highly subjective, of course, but I would say that if music doesn’t sound that great, and you are having trouble in noise, then it might be worth persevering with your audiologist. One thing that helped me was a REM (Real Ear Measurement). This checks if the aids are delivering the right amount of amplification for your loss.