Over the last several years, high Ingress Protection (IP) ratings have become a ‘must-have’ for pediatric hearing instruments. An IP rating for a hearing aid should give hearing care professionals and users an indication of the durability of a device and how the device could be used around water. The first number represents the level of dust resistance as tested in a dust chamber, while the second represents the level of water resistance. The highest ranking awarded for hearing instruments is 68. However, it’s important to note that IP68 ratings are not created equally, but instead can be achieved under different test parameters. In fact, several hearing instruments are currently rated IP68 and at least one of these is considered waterproof with the manufacturer encouraging use during swimming, while the rest are specifically designated water resistant.
So why is it that Phonak Sky™ hearing aids are considered water resistant and what does that actually mean for children and their families? The Sky B and Sky V portfolio of hearing aids have all passed the one-time testing for IP68 and continued to work after being submerged under 1 meter of water for 60 minutes. For us at Phonak, we are confident that our hearing aids can indeed be worn in and around clean water with a few caveats: the devices shouldn’t be submerged under water, they shouldn’t be worn with salt water, chlorine, soap and other chemicals and additional some maintenance is recommended to keep the devices working properly in the long term.
But do hearing care professionals and parents have the same confidence as we do? We’ve found the answer is no. There is some confusion about when our hearing aids can be worn and ultimately the recommendation received by parents is to remove their child’s hearing aids when close to water. We know children with hearing loss need to wear their technology all day-everyday, so the last thing we want is for kids to be forced to take off their devices every time they get around water. Clearly we needed to do more to provide HCPs and families with the same level of confidence that we have in our devices.
In 2017, we asked Andrea Bohnert and her team at the University of Mainz, to put our Sky products to the test with real families in real-life water activities. Over the course of 8 weeks, 7 families using Sky V hearing aids were asked to allow their children to use the devices in at least 2-3 water activities per week (without submerging the devices underwater). The families were asked to complete an activity journal to record their thoughts on how their children responded during the activities wearing their hearing aids versus in the past without their devices. Additionally, they were given specific recommendations about maintenance and asked if these steps were too tedious or troublesome to keep the devices in good working order.
In short, the families reported successful use in the bath (without shampoo and soap), running through the sprinkler and even playing in the pool (keeping heads above water). The parents felt the daily maintenance was manageable and certainly worth the extra effort to ensure their kids could keep their hearing aids on for these activities. They also noticed increased responsiveness and participation during the activities. The kids could hear and fully participate with other children.
The hearing aids used in the study were evaluated by Phonak R&D before and after the 8 week trial. The final evaluations (via electroacoustic measures, listening checks and inspection of the user controls and housings) revealed no signs of damage or reduced function.
Five out of 7 parents expressed new confidence in allowing their children to take part in water activities while wearing their hearing aids. We hope this study instills greater confidence in the water resistance of our Phonak Sky hearing instruments and that hearing care professionals will be more likely to encourage use even when life gets a little wet.
If you would like to read more about the testing and results, here is a recent Field Study News.