Early diagnosis of tinnitus requires a visit to the audiologist, but a set of headphones paired with a smartphone app may alert consumers to this hearing condition. The technology developed by Cambridge, UK-based Plextek is intended to take tinnitus testing and prevention out of the clinical environment.
The company incorporated electrodes and other components into off-the-shelf headphones, and developed both over the ear headphones as well as in-ear buds that record auditory evoked potentials (AEPs). These electrical signals produced by the cochlea are transmitted to the brain, and in patients with tinnitus, AEPs generate without external audio stimulus. Detecting AEPs while there is no sound can be indicative of the onset of tinnitus.
The electrodes within the headphones and ear buds are able to gather enough of these signals for a computer to isolate and process them to detect signs of tinnitus.
Tests conducted with a standard laptop and USB audio card demonstrated the capability of in-ear headphones to record auditory brainstem response waveforms. The use of Sony, Sennheiser, and other familiar brands should enhance device appeal to consumers and promote self-monitoring.
Tinnitus — ‘ringing in the ears’ — is a common health condition in which a person hears buzzing, humming and whistling. While typically not a serious health condition, it can cause stress and insomnia for sufferers, and is often difficult to fully cure.