UWM engineer develops more accessible hearing aid

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A UW-Milwaukee engineer aims to introduce a new, cheaper and more accessible hearing aid to the market next year.

Yi Hu is an associate professor of electrical engineering at UWM and founder of a startup called My Hearing Care. He created a prototype over-the-counter device that, when paired with a smartphone app, would allow patients to test their own hearing and adjust the device to suit their needs.

“The main factor that makes a hearing aid very expensive is because of the medical tests required by the audiologist,” he said in a recent interview. “If you don’t visit the audiologist, the price will be much lower…it removes the barrier to using hearing aids.”

According to the Department of Health Services, adults in Wisconsin can currently purchase traditional hearing aids from an audiologist or hearing aid specialist, while children under 18 must be seen by an audiologist. DHS says federal officials in October 2021 proposed regulations for over-the-counter hearing aids and were gathering feedback before issuing final guidelines.

“These devices are not yet available and will be for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, such as non-prescription reading glasses,” DHS said in a statement to WisBusiness.com. “The concerns raised relate to people receiving hearing aids that may or may not meet their needs without proper hearing assessments.”

Hu said he expects the Food and Drug Administration to release the guidelines on these products in the near future and is preparing for a 2023 product launch in Wisconsin in the meantime.

“At the moment, we really don’t know what the directive looks like,” he said. “For new over-the-counter hearing aids, I think the FDA will likely issue guidelines on how effectiveness will be assessed. For example, they may require hearing aid companies to submit trial data. clinics.

If so, Hu says My Hearing Care will need to conduct clinical trials to show that the device can improve patients’ hearing ability. For now, he says he is consulting with mentors and raising start-up funds for the business. It has also created an Android app to accompany the device and is also in the process of creating an iPhone app.

He said his entry-level device would ideally retail for less than $150 and be marketed as a lower-cost option for people with hearing loss.

Hu estimates that less than 20% of people who would benefit from hearing aids currently use them. He says upcoming FDA guidelines “could really open up” the market for over-the-counter products.

Hu has been researching hearing aid technology for more than 20 years, beginning with work on cochlear implants as a doctoral student. He said the accessibility challenge prompted him to explore hearing aid technologies, as well as his own grandfather’s struggles with hearing loss.

“Over the years I’ve learned more and more about hearing aids,” he said. “In 2015, the NIH released documents showing that accessibility is an issue preventing American adults with mild to moderate hearing loss from accessing hearing aids. It gave me more motivation to enter this field.

–By Alex Moe

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