New technology could help provide early diagnosis for the up to three quarters of those working in the construction industry suffering from tinnitus or permanent damage to their hearing.
Developed by UK-based engineering and design consultancy Plextek, the technology could help sufferers receive essential early treatment and, crucially, preventative action. The solution 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.
According to the World Health Organisation, 50 per cent 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 invention into normal headphones would remove this clinical barrier and could have a major impact for those working in high-risk 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,” said 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.