Evaluation of Extended-Wear Hearing Aids as a Solution for Intermittently Noise-Exposed Listeners with Hearing Loss

Laguinn P. Sherlock, Trevor T. Perry, Douglas S. Brungart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Many individuals with noise-related hearing loss continue working in environments where they are periodically exposed to high levels of noise, which increases their risk for further hearing loss. These individuals often must remove their hearing aids in operational environments because of incompatibility with the mandated personal protective equipment, thus reducing situational awareness. Extended-wear hearing aids might provide a solution for these individuals because they can be worn for weeks or months at a time, protect users from high-level noise exposures, and are compatible with communication headsets, earmuffs, and other types of personal protective equipment. The purpose of this study was to evaluate localization ability and speech understanding, feasibility of fitting and use, and acceptability in terms of comfort in a population of noise-exposed, active duty Service members. Design: Participants in the study were active duty Service members who were experienced hearing aid users and were currently using standard hearing aids bilaterally. Participants were fitted with extended-wear hearing aids for up to 14 weeks. Laboratory measures included functional gain, sound localization, and speech recognition (in quiet and in noise). Performance was compared between unaided, standard hearing aids, extended-wear hearing aids, and extended-wear hearing aids combined with a tactical communication device (3M Peltor ComTac). In addition, self-perceived benefit between extended-wear hearing aids and standard hearing aids was compared. Results: The extended-wear hearing aids provided more attenuation of external sound when turned off compared to standard hearing aids. Speech understanding in quiet and in noise was comparable between extended-wear hearing aids and standard hearing aids and was better when a tactical communication device was worn in addition to extended-wear hearing aids. Localization with extended-wear hearing aids was the worst, intermediate with the standard hearing aids, and the best when the ears were unaided. The extended-wear hearing aids and standard hearing aids provided similar self-perceived communication benefits relative to unaided ears. Device failure and issues with extended-wear hearing aids fit and comfort contributed to a high participant withdrawal rate. Conclusions: Overall, the hearing benefits of extended-wear hearing aids for Service members with hearing loss were comparable to those obtained with standard hearing aids, except for sound localization, which was poorer with extended-wear hearing aids. Extended-wear hearing aids provide the additional benefits of protecting the ears from high-level impulsive noise and being compatible with tactical communication and protection systems and other existing personal protective equipment and communication gear. The withdrawal rate in this study, however, suggests that extended-wear hearing aids may not be suitable for active duty Service members in locations where properly trained hearing professionals are not available to replace or re-insert extended-wear hearing aids when needed due to discomfort or device failure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1544-1559
Number of pages16
JournalEar and Hearing
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Acceptability
  • Hearing aids
  • Localization
  • Noise exposure
  • Situation awareness


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