When you first consider hearing loss, you’re likely thinking, “What about hearing aids or other interventions?” Sure, they do exist. Furthermore, hearing aids have improved significantly over the last fifty years. They are far more sophisticated than they were just two decades ago. Unfortunately, only twenty percent of people who are suffering from hearing loss actually use aids. According to some studies, five to 25 percent of people who own hearing aids never use them.
Nowadays, traditional hearing aids frustrate many patients. Their having to depend on a hearing aid battery can be aggravating. To be seen wearing a traditional hearing aid is embarrassing to many patients. In addition, many hearing loss patients are frustrated by having to manually adjust their aids, and the audio quality of the aids isn’t as good as they would like it to be. People with active lifestyles find the use of hearing aids incompatible with their activities even though there have been recent improvements to the aids.
There are solutions or other options patients can consider. These options are better than hearing aids currently being used.
The Hearing Process
The way a person hears is simpler than you may realize. The first step of hearing takes place as sound waves move through your ear canal. The waves pulse your eardrum which moves the minuscule bones inside your middle ear. These tiny bones tap the cochlea of your ear. The cochlea of your ear is a structure that looks like a snail composed of fluid and thousands of delicate hairs. The job of the cochlea is to convert mechanical signals into electrical signals. Then, these electrical signals go to the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve transmits the electrical signal to the brain where it is processed.
When a person loses some or all of his or her hearing, the part of the ear responsible for the loss determines the best option for helping the person to restore his or her hearing.
Active Middle Ear Implants
If the middle ear is responsible for a person’s loss of hearing, an option for restoring that person’s hearing could be an active middle ear implant (AMEI). AMEIs have a common feature which is a battery that gives power to a sound processor. This sound processor converts a sound into an electrical signal. Attached to the structure of the middle ear is an implanted actuator. This implanted actuator is then driven by the electrical signal.
AMEIs eliminate the distortion of sound that occurs in the ear canal that a person usually would encounter when using a conventional hearing aid. This is because AMEIs directly deliver a signal to the structures of the middle ear.
AMEIs also avoid the effect of occlusion. They do this by keeping the processor against the tympanic membrane and out of the ear canal. If a patient experiences a moderate-to-severe sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), an audiological AMEI is indicated for those not satisfied with their hearing aids.
If a hearing loss patient has chronic otitis externa or is sensitive to molds of the ear canal causing skin irritation, AMEIs are also able to eliminate their skin irritation.
Completely implantable devices can improve a hearing loss patient’s lifestyle significantly.
Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is a result of damaged hair cells in the inner ear. The standard way to rehabilitate SNHL patients is Cochlear implants (CIs). Over time, more and more SNHL patients have qualified to receive Cochlear implants. This is because it is now possible for patients in all age groups and those with residual acoustic hearing to receive a Cochlear implant. These implants electrically stimulate the auditory system of these patients in order to restore some or all of their hearing.
Cochlear implants is an option for patients who are dissatisfied with the use of hearing aids. At first, only patients with total or near-total hearing loss were candidates for a CI. However, patients with a total hearing loss in one ear and a partial hearing loss in the other can now have a CI in one ear and a hearing aid in the other ear.
Cochlear Implants for Single Sided Deaf Patients
Although it was previously believed by surgeons, audiologists, and researchers that single-sided deaf (SSD) patients would not benefit from a CI implant, recent, studies have shown that the speech of patients with SSD and a CI in the deaf ear significantly improved. Some patients are actually found speaking as well as normal-hearing listeners. This certainly seems to indicate that patients with SSD do benefit from a CI in the deaf ear.
Technology can be a great potential option for helping treat and manage hearing loss. As technology continues to evolve, healthcare can continue to offer new and better options for managing hearing loss.