One of hearing loss’s most perplexing mysteries might have been solved by scientists from the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the future design of hearing aids could get an overhaul based on their findings.

The long standing belief that voices are isolated by neural processing has been debunked by an MIT study. According to the study, it may actually be a biochemical filter that enables us to tune in to specific sound levels.

How Background Noise Impacts Our Ability to Hear

Only a small fraction of the millions of individuals who suffer from hearing loss actually use hearing aids to manage it.

Though a major boost in one’s ability to hear can be the outcome of using a hearing aid, environments with a lot of background noise have traditionally been a problem for people who wear a hearing improvement device. For example, the constant buzz surrounding settings like parties and restaurants can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to discriminate a voice.

Having a conversation with somebody in a crowded room can be upsetting and frustrating and individuals who suffer from hearing loss know this all too well.

Scientists have been meticulously investigating hearing loss for decades. The way that sound waves move through the ear and how those waves are distinguished, due to this body of research, was believed to be well understood.

Scientists Identify The Tectorial Membrane

But the tectorial membrane wasn’t discovered by scientists until 2007. You won’t find this microscopic membrane made of a gel-like material in any other parts of the body. The deciphering and delineation of sound is achieved by a mechanical filtering performed by this membrane and that may be the most intriguing thing.

Minute in size, the tectorial membrane rests on delicate hairs within the cochlea, with small pores that control how water moves back and forth in response to vibrations. Researchers noted that different frequencies of sound reacted differently to the amplification produced by the membrane.

The middle tones were found to have strong amplification and the tones at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum were less affected.

It’s that progress that leads some to believe MIT’s groundbreaking breakthrough could be the conduit to more effective hearing aids that ultimately allow for better single-voice recognition.

Hearing Aid Design of The Future

For years, the basic design principles of hearing aids have remained relatively unchanged. A microphone to pick up sound and a loudspeaker to amplify it are the basic components of hearing aids which, besides a few technology tweaks, have remained unchanged. This is, regrettably, where the shortcoming of this design becomes apparent.

Amplifiers, normally, are unable to differentiate between different frequencies of sounds, because of this, the ear gets increased levels of all sounds, including background noise. Tectorial membrane research could, according to another MIT scientist, result in new, innovative hearing aid designs which would provide better speech recognition.

The user of these new hearing aids could, in theory, tune in to an individual voice as the hearing aid would be able to tune specific frequencies. With this design, the volume of those sounds would be the only sounds amplified to aid in reception.

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