New technology detects early warning signs of tinnitus

New technology detects early warning signs of tinnitus
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Up to 75% of workers in construction develop tinnitus or permanent hearing loss …

New technology developed by UK-based engineering and design consultancy, Plextek, could provide early diagnosis and treatment of debilitating hearing conditions, such as tinnitus, for people working in high-risk environments, such as construction sites. Tinnitus, a condition in which a person can hear sounds that come from within their body, including buzzing, humming and whistling, currently affects one in ten people within the UK, according to official NHS statistics.

Dr Ross Dineen, an Australian audiologist, has found that “over 75 per cent of construction workers were experiencing hearing and communication problems.” The study suggested that workers who are regularly exposed to high noise levels can develop permanent tinnitus.

Plextek’s technology can be integrated into both standard commercial headphones and industry standard noise prevention headsets to reliably detect the early signs of tinnitus, well before symptoms become apparent. By syncing with a smartphone app the technology could also be used to alert the wearer to potential problems and encourage early medical help or preventative action.

According to the World Health Organisation, 50% of all hearing issues would be preventable with some form of primary intervention, but existing technologies to detect conditions like tinnitus are currently restricted to clinical and hospital environments.

The integration of Plextek’s solution into normal headphones would remove this clinical barrier and could have a major impact for those working in high-risk, loud-noise environments in the construction industry. The technology works by accurately monitoring subtle changes to ‘Auditory Evoked Potentials’ (AEP) – a signal sent from the brain by an acoustical stimulus that measures an individual’s auditory ability level.

“Daily we are besieged by a cacophony of sounds: background noise from bars, roadworks, gyms, personal music players, shops, public transport. All of these sounds can contribute to hearing loss and related disorders such as tinnitus” says Dr Nigel Whittle, Head of Medical & Healthcare at Plextek.

“Studies have suggested that up to one in four adults may suffer from hearing damage, so it is no wonder that the WHO has described background noise as ‘an underestimated threat’. Hearing loss is both irreparable and preventable, and has a huge impact on both personal health and economic activity. Not only does it cost the UK an estimated £18 billion in lost productivity, but also the UK insurance industry pays out over £70 million a year in hearing related claims. Early detection of hearing disorders, and measures to limit workers’ exposure to loud noises, will reduce the personal and economic impact of these conditions”. 

Plextek is continuing to develop the technology and looking to partner with other developers and manufacturers to integrate the system into standard products.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ohl/manufacturing.html
  2. UK Hearing Conservation Association http://hearingconservation.org.uk/
  3. Noise and hearing in the construction industry: a study of workers’ views on noise and risk on a Victorian site / Janice Milhinch and Ross Dineen
  4. World Health Organisation

 

New technology detects early warning signs of tinnitus

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