by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Did you ever wish you could wear your hearing aids or cochlear implants so you could hear while swimming or splashing around in the water? How about when you were out boating, or while you were in the shower, or caught out jogging when a sudden deluge soaks you to the skin, or when working outside in the heat with the sweat pouring off you?
In the past, activities such as these often caused problems with hearing aids and cochlear implants that necessitated expensive repairs.
The good news is that this is slowly changing. Today, the trend is to make some hearing aids and cochlear implants waterproof so they can be used under all kinds of conditions without causing any damage to them.
Waterproof hearing aids are not exactly new. Few people know this, but Rion of Japan put out the first waterproof analog hearing aid—called the Dolphin—back around 1996. I wrote about the waterproof Dolphin hearing aid in August, 2008.
Now Siemens is getting into the act with their new Aquarius behind-the-ear hearing aid—the first “waterproof” digital hearing aid. It is rated as IP57— basically waterproof to 3 feet for 30 minutes. You can learn more about the new Aquarius hearing aid, just announced on April 5, 2011, here.
For cochlear implant users, Cochlear Corp. was the first CI manufacturer off the block with their Nucleus 5, a “waterproof” BTE speech processor, released back in September, 2009. It meets the same IP57 ratings for dust and water intrusion as the Aquarius.
Coming in the fall of 2011, assuming all goes well, is Advanced Bionics’ new waterproof speech processor named the “Neptune“, according to their May 24, 2011 presentation.
The Neptune will be a body-worn processor, certified to IP68 standards, in other words, totally waterproof.
If you are interested in exactly what these standards mean, IP stands for “Ingress Protection”. Ingress Protection is how well the hearing aid (or any other device) keeps foreign “stuff” out. The first number relates to solid particles (dust). A level 5—like the Aquarius and Nucleus 5—are “protected against dust, limited ingress (no harmful deposit).” while the highest level for solid particles—6—like the Neptune, is “totally protected against dust”.
The second number is the level of protection against water (liquids). Level 7 (Aquarius & Nucleus 5) means “protected against the effect of immersion between 15 cm [6″] and 1 m [3′]”, while the highest level—8—(the Neptune) is “protected against long periods of immersion under pressure”.
Note that Advanced Bionics has specifically tested the Neptune in both salt water and fresh water pools at depths of 3 meters (~10 feet) for 45 minutes. Since people do not typically swim underwater deeper than 10 feet or so and certainly can’t hold their breaths for 45 minutes, for all practical purposes (unless you are SCUBA diving) you should be able to wear it as long as you want while diving and swimming under water, taking a shower, or any other activity that involves water.