Space-age technology that has helped the United States explore the deepest regions of the universe can now be put to use much closer to home.
The technology has been incorporated into osteo-integrated cochlear implants to restore hearing in patients with conductive or mixed hearing loss or single-sided deafness.
“It has a 20-year track record in Europe and is now finally widely in use in our country,” explained KSB Ear, Nose and Throat specialist Donald Lewis, M.D. “The system features a titanium implant that goes behind and above the ear.
“The technology comes directly from the space program. What we are doing for hearing is very similar to what the orthopedist does in performing a total hip replacement.”
The implant works in tandem with an external programmable sound processor that captures the sound around a patient and directs it to the implant. The sounds are then sent to the stronger or functioning cochlea thanks to the body’s natural ability to conduct sound via the skull bone.
The vibrations are directed to the inner ear, resulting in 360-degree sound awareness being restored to the patient.
Because the system works through conduction, which serves as a pathway for sound to travel through bone to the inner ear, it is effective even on patients whose ear canal is completely absent or whose middle ear is not functioning normally, if at all.
Dr. Lewis and his partner, Thomas Turcotte, D.O., use the Baha system manufactured by Cochlear. A second implant/transmission system, also available at KSB, is the Ponto by Oticon Medical.
“Our results with the Baha have been fabulous, but part of it is selecting the right patients,” Dr. Lewis said. “It’s most applicable for patients who have single-sided deafness or conductive hearing loss.
“In single-sided deafness, the bone is fine, the ear drum is fine, but the nerve is dead. In conductive losses, the ear drum or ear bones are damaged or there is a mastoid condition that makes it impossible for a traditional hearing aid to work.
“Before this system was developed, those hearing-loss patients were sunk.”
Dr. Lewis so far has performed 15 to 20 of the cochlear implants; Dr. Turcotte is just now beginning to do them after training under Dr. Lewis. Most of the referrals have come from KSB audiologist, William Hudson, Au.D.
“We could do 100 of these procedures a year and not dent the surface of those who need to have the Baha installed,” Dr. Lewis said. “For every patient we do, there are probably three patients in our existing patient population who need to have it done.
“Up to 20% of the hearing impaired population could be helped by this. The key is it needs to be a communicative disorder,” he added. “We would never do this on a nursing home patient who is simply playing bridge daily.
“But if there’s a 75-year-old very active man or woman who needs to communicate with others on a daily basis, and other treatments have failed, they would be the perfect candidate for the Baha system. We can help restore hearing loss for them.”
For more information about the Baha system, please contact Dr. Lewis or Dr. Turcotte at 815-285-5603.