Can an App Improve Your Hearing? Signs Point to Yes
Wouldn’t it be great if tech provided a way to get customized hearing help on demand? Increasingly, there are options. One example is AudioCardio, a is sound-therapy app that was a finalist in Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards 2021.
AudioCardio got its start five years ago, when Chris Ellis, CEO and co-founder, went on a fishing trip with his grandfather. He saw his beloved relative struggle with untreated hearing loss, social isolation, and cognitive issues.
Chris Ellis and his grandfather in Whitefish Lake, Montana.
Ellis emerged from this experience determined to see if he could create a tool that engaged the auditory system and reduced the risk of cognitive decline that’s associated with untreated hearing loss. From this, AudioCardio was born with the mission “to provide an easily accessible and affordable solution for your hearing needs without the negative social stigma.”
HearingTracker spoke to Ellis to find out more about the app and how it can help people with hearing loss.
What is AudioCardio?
Ellis told HearingTracker, “AudioCardio is an evidence-based mobile app that will assess your hearing to calibrate a personalized and inaudible sound therapy designed to maintain and restore your natural hearing ability using clinically tested threshold sound conditioning (TSC) technology.”
AudioCardio delivers a daily, hour-long sound-therapy session via headphones or earbuds. It does not require active engagement; rather, it works in the background while you listen to music, work, or pursue your other daily activities – even sleep! It can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store or on Google Play and typically costs about $14.99 per month.
What kind of hearing loss does AudioCardio aim to improve?
The kind of hearing loss that AudioCardio targets involves a little knowledge of anatomy. The cochlea is a hollow, spiral-shaped bone found in the inner ear. It contains hearing cells called cilia that capture sound signals and then sending them to our brain for processing. Aging and extended exposure to loud noise can cause the cilia cells to become damaged or die, meaning they can’t function properly. The result is the kind of hearing loss AudioCardio treats.
What is threshold sound conditioning (TSC)?
AudioCardio uses TSC technology—a sound therapy that has the potential to help people with hearing loss. It works by detecting the key frequencies to which the ears have lost sensitivity. It then repeatedly stimulates the cilia cells that are still alive, though damaged, with personalized sound signals just below the audible level.
Repeated stimulation can help cilia cells to fire and connect to nearby cells, forming new pathways. These cells can then send sound signals from our ears to our brain, where this stimulation is interpreted as meaningful sound.
Who can benefit from using AudioCardio?
AudioCardio is intended for people with mild to moderately severe (between 30 dB and 80 dB) sensorineural hearing loss, and for those who want to maintain their hearing health.
Is there research to back it up?
In a recently published randomized, controlled clinical study evaluating TSC in the treatment of sensorineural hearing loss, there was a considerable improvement observed of pure-tone hearing thresholds (the softest sound audible to an individual at least 50 percent of the time).
Ellis told HearingTracker, “More than 78 percent of the participants in a study at Stanford University had a significant change in their hearing by 10 decibels (dB) or more within three weeks.” A white paper about sound therapy can be found here.
Do hearing improvements from TSC last?
“Many AudioCardio customers have reported that they are maintaining improved hearing levels months after discontinuing use of the app,” Ellis said. “AudioCardio doesn't recommend completely quitting once you are satisfied with your progress. Hearing will eventually degrade due to continued aging and a variety of environmental factors. As with diet and exercise, some use is better than none at all to help you maintain your progress.”
What kind of progress do users notice?
AudioCardio users have described a variety of benefits, including enhanced ability to understand speech (including over the phone), gains of 15 decibels of hearing, and a reduction in tinnitus.
My personal experience with AudioCardio
I understood that I wasn't a prime candidate for this therapy, having profound hearing loss (greater than the recommended 80dB) in my left ear and normal hearing in my right. However, I was intrigued to see if I could benefit from the app.
The sound therapy was easy to do, and I tried it at first for three weeks as the app recommends. As expected, the hearing levels in my profoundly deaf ear remained unchanged, presumably because the damage is too severe. However, my hearing-ability scores in my right ear did improve, particularly in the higher frequencies, by 2 to 3dB. I continued the therapy, and by week 6, the gains in my right ear increased to 9dB in the highest frequency.
If you’re curious and want to learn more about AudioCardio, check out HearingTracker’s recent radio interview with Chris Ellis.