• The result, presented recently in the journal iScience, could help a large proportion of people with hearing loss access more affordable sound amplification devices.
• "There's also a social stigma associated with hearing aids," Yen-fu Cheng, the study's corresponding author said.
Experts have discovered that some commercial earbuds can perform as well as hearing aids.
The result, presented recently in the journal iScience, could help a large proportion of people with hearing loss access more affordable sound amplification devices.
Typically, a hearing aid costs about Sh50,000 while cochlea implant surgical procedures go for approximately Sh2.5 to Sh3 million.
Hearing loss has broad health impacts, but professional hearing aids are expensive and require multiple visits to otolaryngologists and audiologists for tuning.
These factors lead to major barriers for many to access professional hearing aids.
One study estimates most people with hearing problems do not use hearing aids since they are very expensive.
"There's also a social stigma associated with hearing aids," Yen-fu Cheng, the study's corresponding author said.
"Many patients are reluctant to wear them because they don't want to appear old. So, we started exploring if there're are more accessible alternatives."
In 2016, Apple came out with a feature called "Live Listen" that allows people to use its wireless earphones, Air Pods, and iPhone for sound amplification.
The feature makes Air Pods functionally similar to a personal sound amplification product, which is designed for people with normal hearing for certain occasions like birdwatching.
The researchers wanted to see whether AirPods, which are widely available devices, can serve as alternative hearing aids.
The team compared Airpods 2 and AirPods Pro, the models with a noise cancelling feature, with a type of premium hearing aids and a basic pair of hearing aids.
The premium hearing aids cost Sh1.2 million ($10,000) while the basic type cost Sh182,970 ($1,500).
Both models of AirPods are significantly cheaper than hearing aids, with AirPods 2 costing Sh15,735 ($129) and AirPods Pro costing (Sh30,373) ($249).
They found that AirPods Pro met four out of five technology standards for hearing aids.
This finding will hopefully inspire engineers to design hearing aids and personal sound amplification products that are more sensitive in certain directions.
Air Pods Pro appeared to perform better than Air Pods 2, likely because of its noise-cancellation feature.
"These wireless earbuds are of course not perfect, but they would be a good starting point for many patients who don't have access to professional hearing aids. They will see an increase in quality of life even with these earbuds." Cheng says.