Less than a quarter of the 26 million Americans with hearing problems routinely wear a hearing aid. Many others would sooner suffer a loss of hearing than a loss of vanity. For the self-conscious, a solution could be in the offing: a hearing aid that's the equivalent of a contact lens.
Developed by Resound Corp. in Redwood City, Calif., the new device uses a tiny magnet, dubbed Earlens, that's affixed directly to the eardrum. Held in place by a drop of oil, just as fluid keeps a contact lens on the eye, it can be inserted by a doctor in just a minute. The Earlens doesn't amplify sound as such--rather, it amplifies the movements of the eardrum that produce the sensation of sound--so the result is better-quality hearing. The eardrum magnet is activated by signals from a tiny receiver that can be worn on a necklace or pinned to undergarments. Resound plans to roll out the devices in Europe next year.