Menlo Park

Doctors call high-tech hearing aid developed in Menlo Park a ‘game-changer'

Its makers believe Earlens could help upwards of 38 million people suffering from hearing loss

NBC Universal, Inc.

Music is Lisa Burns’ passion. She’s a standup bass player but she’s always struggled with hearing loss. 

In 2010, it started getting worse. 

“I woke up one morning, and everything was really quiet. Which was scary,” said the Mountain View resident. 

She tried two prior sets of hearing aids, but they didn’t work for her. That’s when her doctor recommended Earlens. 

“It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It has totally changed my world,” said Burns. “And then two days later I went to Beethoven’s 9th, and I sat in the audience and cried,” said Burns. 

Standard hearing aids capture sound and amplify it through a tiny speaker. 

Earlens says it’s the first hearing aid to include a custom lens that is placed onto the eardrum. The receiver then sends it pulses of energy that makes the lens vibrate. 

“Earlens is different from any hearing aid on the market because it gives access to a full range of sound. From very low frequency, 100 hertz, up to very high frequency, 10,000 hertz,” said audiologist, Dr. Ariel Fruendt. 

The company’s CTO, Dr. Drew Dundas claims the design allows for a much broader audio range that allows people to hear music and conversations twice as well as other aids. 

“Realizing that we could drive that middle ear system, activate the natural hearing structures, without having to do surgery, really was the 'aha moment' that allowed us to get this technology pulled together and onto patients,” he said.

So why doesn’t everyone use them? Price.

The Earlens cost around $12,000, including evaluations by a doctor. 

That’s several thousand dollars more than other top-of-the-line hearing aids. And if you have too much hearing damage – it might not work for you. 

For Burns, it’s been worth it. Her bandmates say her playing, and her singing, is better than ever. 

“I just came back from a music festival where I was on stage singing a song I wrote with this amazing backing band. That would never have happened without Earlens,” she said.

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