By better understanding how the brain influences the workings of our ears, scientists hope to develop a new generation of bio-inspired hearing aids and implants. Ralph Holme from our Biomedical Research Team finds out more.
Hearing aids and cochlear implants are improving all the time, but as anyone who uses these devices will know, trying to follow a conversation in a noisy restaurant can be a real challenge. Scientists are becoming increasingly convinced that part of this problem could be down to the fact that hearing aids and cochlear implants are ignoring a key part of how we hear.
Sensory hair cells within our cochlea detect sound and activate the auditory nerve to send information about what we are hearing to the brain. Hearing aids can help boost this process by amplifying the sounds we are struggling to hear, whilst cochlear implants work by directly stimulating the auditory nerve. But this is only part of the story. Information is also sent back to the ear from the brain. This feedback loop, called the efferent system, plays an important role in dampening down the ear’s response to sound, protecting it from loud sounds. It may also be important in sharpening up the sounds we want to hear and suppressing the background noise we don’t want to hear. When using a hearing aid or a cochlear implant, this important feedback from the brain is missing.
Carry on reading via Closing the loop – Action On Hearing Loss: RNID.