Science News: Hearing aid design could change following ferret research

Posted on July 2, 2013

Researchers for the Wellcome Trust have discovered that the brain can locate where sound is coming from even when hearing is lost in one ear and that could lead to new designs for hearing aids.

It has long been reckoned that identifying location of sound is possible only when the brain is able to compare minute differences in volume and the time when a sound arrives at each ear. Now, the researchers discover, it seems that the brain can locate sound using only one ear. This is due to the design of the outer ear and special filtering of sound for so-called ‘spectral cues’.

Researchers mimicked a condition called glue ear in ferrets by plugging one  of the animals ears. They discovered that ferrets with limited hearing in one ear switched to using ‘spectral cues’ in the good ear and lost none of their ability to locate sound. Once the ferrets ear was unplugged, the researchers discovered that the ferrets returned to the normal way of locating sound by using both ears.

It is hoped that the research could lead to new treatments for glue ear or change the design of hearing aids to enable better sound location.

Read the full report from the Wellcome Trust here.

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