As we get older, it’s not uncommon to also gradually lose our hearing from a lifetime of wear and tear. For many of us, that means an expensive hearing aid – but that may not be the case for much longer.

A new study out of Taiwan has found that off-the-shelf wireless earbuds like Apple’s AirPods could provide a decent substitute for specialised hearing aids, whose prices can range into the thousands of dollars, presenting a significant barrier – not to mention the multiple doctor’s visits to tune them.

According to one estimate, says study author Professor Yen-fu Cheng, an otolaryngologist at Taipei Veterans General Hospital, around 75% of Americans with hearing loss don’t have hearing aids.

“There’s also a social stigma associated with hearing aids.”

“Many patients are reluctant to wear them because they don’t want to appear old. So, we started exploring if there are more accessible alternatives,” he said.

The key lies in the capacity of some wireless earbuds to amplify external sound, such as in AirPods’ Live Listen or Samsung Galaxy Buds’ ambient sound functions – which, after all, is the essential purpose of a hearing aid.

When the researchers tested two types of AirPods against basic and premium hearing aids, they found that AirPods Pro performed similarly to basic hearing aids and only slightly worse than the premium ones, while even the cheaper AirPods 2 offered some improvements to hearing.

“These wireless earbuds are of course not perfect, but they would be a good starting point for many patients who don’t have access to professional hearing aids. They will see an increase in quality of life even with these earbuds,” said Professor Cheng.