A Medical Device Daily

Vivatone Hearing Systems (VHS; Shelton, Connecticuit) has received a U.S. patent on its revolutionary new open-ear hearing device.

Hearing aids traditionally have been bulky devices that plugged up the ear canal, causing a person's voice to have a "from the barrel" sound.

Vivatone said it "revolutionized" the hearing aid industry in April 2004 with the introduction of its open-ear hearing aid. The company's small microphone and digital sound processor fit comfortably behind the ear and connect to the miniature speaker in the center of the person's ear canal.

Because the Vivatone hearing aid leaves the ear canal open, natural sound continues to flow into the ear around the speaker. In addition to the hearing enhancement provided by the digital sound processor, the wearer enjoys the natural sound of their residual hearing. The tiny device is cosmetically appealing and on most people it's almost invisible.

The growth potential in the hearing aid market is significant, Vivatone said. Some 10% of the population of the industrialized world suffers from some form of impairment that can be helped by hearing aids, according to the company. Despite the potential benefit to these sufferers, 80% of these potential users do not wear hearing aids. Even with only 20% penetration in the U.S., annual hearing aid sales are in the billions.

Vivatone markets a full line of speaker-in-the-ear, open-ear products for sale in the U.S. and globally.