When we tend to think of people who experience hearing loss, most of the time we imagine people our grandparents age and older, but believe it or not people are experiencing hearing loss at a younger age. In the United States alone over 48 million people are affected by hearing loss, and people as young as 12 are starting to experience it due to the loud music they listen to while wearing earbuds. If you’re one of the millions who wear earbuds while working out, lounging at the beach or other activity, you’re definitely not alone, I’m guilty of it too. After speaking to Eargo hearing aid co-founder and CEO Raphael Michel recently, I’ve definitely changed my ways. Raphael was kind enough to join me for an interview recently to discuss hearing loss, how it affects personal relationships and how a tiny nearly invisible hearing aid called Eargo is helping people hear and communicate more effectively and confidently.
Candace Rose: Why are people starting to experience hearing loss earlier than ever these days?
Raphael Michel: “Hearing loss is the third largest public health issue in the U.S. after heart disease and arthritis. It affects 48 million Americans, and is a natural part of aging. Everyone develops hearing loss at some point in their life. Typically it starts in your thirties and degrades over time. But now, people are experiencing hearing loss at a younger and younger age, and this is due to noise, actually. Loud noises, loud music and being exposed to those noises and that music while wearing earbuds for hours at a time. That will actually put people at risk for developing hearing loss at a younger age. Actually, a study showed that 20% of teenagers age 12 to 19 now have hearing loss that was created or accelerated by the extensive use of personal music players and wearing earbuds all day long at high volume levels.”
Candace Rose: What are some key indicators of hearing loss?
Raphael Michel: “Typically people will start noticing they have hearing loss if they start having trouble following conversations in noisy environments, let’s say a noisy restaurant or group meeting or family gathering and it’s becoming harder for them to hear conversations. If they start increasing the volume level on their TV, if they start asking people to repeat themselves or feel people are mumbling rather than speaking around them – all of those could be indicators of hearing loss.”
Candace Rose: How does hearing loss affect personal relationships?
Raphael Michel: “Hearing loss can have a dramatic impact on relationships – for the person who has hearing loss it’s becoming harder and harder to follow conversations, and really it gets in the way of communicating effectively with others. But also, for people around that person, it can be quite frustrating when you have to raise your voice or repeat yourself several times and spend a lot of time and energy communicating. It can be really, really dramatic.”
Candace Rose: What are some of the barriers of treatment that people experience with hearing loss?
Raphael Michel: “What happens with hearing loss is people will start noticing they have hearing loss, yet out of 48 million people in the U.S. with hearing loss the vast majority (about 80%) wait a long time, sometimes 10 years and sometimes longer before they do anything about it. It comes down to two things I would say – one is the existing traditional hearing aids are not necessarily the product they want to use. There’s a lot of stigma around hearing aids. A traditional hearing aid is typically worn on the ear or around the ear and people don’t like technologies that you can see. They don’t want to signal that they have hearing loss, they can be hard to use because you have to change low batteries often.
The second reason is that they cost a lot of money. On average the price for a pair of traditional hearing aids in the U.S. is $4200 and typically not reimbursed, so it’s thousands of dollars for technology that people are not too excited about. This is why I started Eargo because Eargo has developed wearable technology that is designed with the user in mind and is designed to fit their lifestyle.
It was invented by one of my cofounders who is an ENT doctor (ear, nose and throat doctor) and ear expert who was on a fly fishing trip and he was tying a fishing fly and got inspired by the very natural design. He said ‘Raphael, what I think is the best wearable technology for the ears is if you can miniaturize electronics and suspend electronics inside the ear using feathers or fibers’ (which is a patented technology called flexi fibers). The reason why it’s important is now you have a wearable technology that can conform to the shape of your ear canal that is very soft and very comfortable because those fibers apply almost no pressure on the ear. It’ll blow the ear so you’ll get good ventilation for health and you also can hear the natural sounds with the amplification from the device and will give you a natural hearing experience.
We took the technology a step further and made it rechargeable because it was important for us to develop wearable technology that is easy to use and easy to incorporate in a daily routine. You get up in the morning, you put Eargo in your ears and you know they’re going to last all day long – they’re fully charged. At the end of the day you take them out of your ears, recharge them and repeat. We’ve even developed a beautifully designed portable charger that you can bring with you on the go. Anytime you’re not wearing Eargo you can keep the devices in the charger and they recharge, so they’re always fully recharged.”
Candace Rose: Where can we go for more information?
Raphael Michel: For more information you can go on our website at Eargo.com or call our customer care team at 1-800-61-Eargo”