Bionic ears, also known as cochlear implants, have been around since the 1950s and have since become synonymous with improved hearing and a better quality of life for those with severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss.
In recent years, there has been the development of additional electronic devices that allow people to attain hearing when medical or surgical methods or traditional hearing aids fail to restore hearing sufficiently.
These innovative types of bionic hearing technology provide patients with a greater awareness of their surroundings.
Process of Getting Hearing Aids
When diagnosing hearing loss and deciding on clinical treatment and management, is an individualized process. Some patients undergo medical workups to rule out metabolic, infectious, or autoimmune causes. According to the World Health Organization, over 430 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss. It is estimated that by 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people will have some type of hearing loss, and at least 700 million will require some form of hearing rehabilitation.
Patients with various levels of hearing loss may undergo surgery or use traditional hearing aids. However, for patients who fail all of these measures, there are still options for restoring hearing, ranging from cochlear implants to newer electronic devices.
Implants and Their Types
Cochlear implants consist of a microphone, speech processor, transmitter, and an electrode array. They help provide a sense of sound to a profoundly deaf person but do not restore normal hearing. Cochlear implants work by bypassing damaged or non-functional portions of the ear and directly stimulating the hearing or auditory nerve. They differ significantly from hearing aids that amplify sounds so the person can hear them more easily.
Cochlear implants were first designed in 1957 as single-channel devices, and multichannel devices were introduced in 1984. Three FDA-approved devices are available in the United States today: the Nucleus 5 cochlear implant system (Cochlear Corporation), the Clarion HiRes 90K (Advanced Bionics Corporation), and the Synchrony device (MED-EL Corporation).
The clinical conditions that lead to being a candidate for a cochlear implant include congenital hearing loss and prelingual deafness, acquired hearing loss and postlingual deafness, and severe hearing loss that can be aided and that deteriorates to profound loss in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood (perilingual) and coexists with various degrees of language development.
Cochlear implants have a high success rate and a low rate of complications, but the device, surgery, and postoperative training can easily exceed $100,000. Private insurance plans and Medicare typically cover most costs.
Bone-anchored hearing aids (BAHA) implants are designed for patients with single-sided deafness and conductive or mixed hearing loss. BAHA implants capture sound from the environment using an external sound processor and then translate that sound into vibrations sent to the skull's bone.
The device is made of titanium and is inserted into the bone, and it is highly reliable for long-term clinical use with proven reliability. The BAHA implant is an excellent choice for patients who have an intact cochlea or inner ear but damage to the outer or middle ear structures.
The Vibrant Soundbridge is a middle ear implant that was first developed in 2000 and given FDA approval. It is a unique, implantable device that mechanically vibrates the tiny bones in the middle ear behind the eardrum to reproduce sound.
The Vibrant Soundbridge has an external microphone, sound processor and amplifier, and audio processor. The hearing results are similar to the BAHA in select patients. However, it does require the patient to wear a device like a hearing aid and recharge or change the battery.
Electric Acoustic Stimulation (EAS) is a combination of the best features of cochlear implants and hearing aids. It is a wearable device, and no surgery is required.
In conclusion, the development of bionic ears and other electronic devices has revolutionized the way we think about hearing loss treatment. While traditional hearing aids and surgical procedures work for some patients, those who fail to restore their hearing sufficiently have other options available.
Cochlear implants, bone-anchored hearing aids, the Vibrant Soundbridge, and electric acoustic stimulation are all innovative devices that provide patients with greater awareness of their surroundings. With hearing loss becoming an increasingly prevalent problem, the development of these devices gives hope to millions of people worldwide.
While the cost of these devices and procedures can be steep, private insurance plans and Medicare typically cover most of the expenses, making them accessible to those who need them. With the continued development of bionic ears and other electronic devices, the future of hearing loss treatment looks bright.