Apple AirPods may work as hearing aids, study shows

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The new Apple AirPods are demonstrated during an event to announce new products on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Apple AirPods may work as hearing aids, study shows

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A pair of Apple’s AirPods may help some people hear nearly as well as costlier hearing aids, a new study suggests.

Sound amplification features on the AirPods Pro aided adults with mild to moderate hearing loss to hear speech almost as well as two traditional hearing aids, according to a study published in iScience.

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“These wireless earbuds are of course not perfect, but they would be a good starting point for many patients who don’t have access to professional hearing aids. They will see an increase in quality of life even with these earbuds,” said Yen-Fu Cheng, an otolaryngologist at Taipei Veterans General Hospital and co-author of the study.

The study compared AirPods Pro and AirPods 2 with two hearing aids, a basic and premium version, from other companies among 21 people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Between the AirPods Pro and the two hearing aids, “no significant differences” were observed. Meanwhile, the AirPods 2 did not perform as well in assisting hearing.

Results indicated that the AirPods met four out of five personal sound amplification product standards, or PSAPs, when using certain features such as Live Listen, which is meant to help amplify people hearing conversations in a noisy area or when someone is speaking from farther away.

Personal sound amplification products are similar to hearing aids as they both amplify sound, but they are not intended to make up for impaired hearing and are instead meant for people with normal hearing to amplify sounds in certain situations, such as birdwatching. Still, some people with hearing loss seek out the products as a cheaper alternative to hearing aids.

The results of the study could prompt more research into the feasibility and safety of using certain Apple earphones as personal sound amplification products. Apple acknowledged last year that it is studying more ways AirPods can be used as a health product, enhancing hearing and reading body temperature, per the Wall Street Journal.

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It comes as strides have been made to make hearing aids more accessible for the roughly 30 million people in the United States who could benefit from one. In August, the Food and Drug Administration finalized a ruling allowing the devices to be sold to people 18 and older without a prescription, medical exam, or trip to the audiologist for the first time in the U.S. Over-the-counter hearing aids are now being offered at stores across the country for as little as $199 a pair.

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