A stylish hearing aid pitched to millennials

As people spend more time with headphones over their ears, hearing loss is becoming more common, even among the younger set.

So one doctor had an idea: stylish hearing aids for the young.

Dr. Sreek Cherukuri's company, MDHearingAid, makes these very hearing aids—which retail for $549.99. It's a small tube that fits into the ear and is aimed at people who don't want to be seen wearing a hearing device.

MDHearingAid Fit
Source: MDHearingAid

More than a billion teenagers and young adults are at risk for hearing loss because of "unsafe use of personal audio devices," and exposure to "damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment," according to 2015 research by the World Health Organization.

Among people ages 12-35 years, nearly half are exposed to "unsafe" levels of sound from personal audio devices, according to WHO.

"What we design is for people who have hearing loss, but wouldn't be comfortable with traditional hearing aids," Cherukuri said.

It's intended for people who move around rigorously, and enhances hearing in crowded spaces like restaurants or bars, said Cherukuri, a Chicago-area ear, nose and throat surgeon who suffers hearing loss from a history of DJ'ing.

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Studies that randomly test people's hearing have shown an increase in subclinical hearing loss among teenagers over the last 10 years, said Howard Francis, director of the listening center at Johns Hopkins. Sub-clinical means that the damage is quantifiable, even if the person is unaware they've lost hearing.

"The kind of hearing loss that results from chronic exposure to loud noises in headphones presents down the road," said Francis. "A lot of hearing loss can occur before they notice it."

Hearing damage from headphones occurs because the noise is directly next to the eardrum, and doesn't have a chance to dissipate, Dr. Eric Smouha, director of Otology at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital. It's mostly young people that are affected.

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"We've become distressed at the level of younger and younger people seeing damage from wearing ear buds," he said.

Francis said to watch out for hard plastic ear buds because they allow external sounds into the ears that compete with the music. Listeners then tend to turn the music up. He suggests noise canceling ear buds, or tight-fitting, soft plastic ones that shape to the ear.