In this article, you will learn about four alternatives to hearing aids. While conventional hearing aids are oftentimes the first thing to try when a hearing loss limits the quality of life the alternatives are considered when the first tries of fittings were not successful or when the hearing loss is not treatable with hearing aids.
Here below you can see a list of alternatives:
- Ear Lens
- Cochlear Implants
- Sound bridge
- Bone conduction hearing device
Each of the alternatives listed has distinct anatomical requirements and can be fitted in a certain range of hearing loss. Your audiologist needs to verify if one of the listed alternatives to hearing aids will be a good fit for you.
Earlens How This Alternative to Hearing Aid Works
Earlens uses a small lens placed directly on the eardrum to vibrate. This vibration sets the auditory ossicles into movement. With this movement, your natural hearing process is activated. Compared to conventional hearing aids no speaker is needed in your ear. Speakers so small as used in hearing aids have limited capabilities to produce the sound you hear.
With Earlens you get more complete sound than any other hearing device on the market because the frequency spectrum of Earlens is broader compared to conventional hearing aids. This system requires no surgery. It is simply extended wear of a highly advanced hearing device.
Soundbridge the Active Middle Ear Implant
The Vibrant Soundbridge opens up new possibilities for the care of patients with hearing loss. Vibrant soundbrirghe is able to treat pure conductive disorders as well as combined hearing loss. This sophisticated system has already proven itself in practice.
Especially in the area of combined hearing loss with 30 to 60 dB sensorineural hearing loss in combination with a sound conduction component of more than 30 to 40 dB. Those cases have been difficult to treat adequately up to now. It is even possible to treat people who have already undergone surgery.
In this case, undergone surgery means a BAHA hearing device did not lead to a satisfactory outcome. In such a case the Soundbridge could be considered as an alternative not only to hearing aids but also to other surgeries. In the next paragraphs, you will get more information about bone conduction hearing aids.
Bone Conduction Hearing Aids / Bone Anchored Hearing Aid
People who suffer from conductive or mixed hearing loss and cannot be fitted with conventional hearing aids may benefit from a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA. This device is also used in cases of deafness in one of the ears to redirect sound from the deaf side to the normally hearing side.
The BAHA consists of a titanium screw that is inserted into the skull bone behind the ear in a minor surgical procedure. A titanium anchor (abutment) is fixed to the screw, onto which a special hearing aid can then be attached. Infants are initially fitted with a headband to which the BAHA is attached.
Bone anchored hearing aids are for patients with ear malformation and without an ear canal (“atresia”).
When the ear canal is malformed inside the inner ear function is still normal in the vast majority of these patients, so that only a maximum conductive hearing loss is present.
Another indication group includes patients with chronic otitis media or externa whose condition cannot be further improved with medication or surgery. These patients usually cannot wear normal hearing aids because of recurrent ear secretion or because of acoustic feedback.
Cochlear implants are electronic hearing prostheses. They are used for a range of hearing disorders, such as sensorineural hearing loss, in which the function of the cochlea has failed or is impaired. In such cases, amplification of sound waves by means of hearing aids is often no longer sufficient.
However, cochlear implants only make sense if the auditory nerve is functioning optimally. Strictly speaking, the cochlear implant is a prosthesis for the inner ear that functionally replaces the organ of hearing. To do this, sound waves are converted into electrical impulses that stimulate the auditory nerve in the cochlea.
The CI system consists of a microphone, a digital speech processor, a transmitting coil with a magnet, and the actual implant, which is composed of another magnet, a receiving coil, the stimulator, and the electrode array with the stimulation electrodes. The electrodes are inserted into the cochlea. The receiver coil is placed behind the ear under the skin. The transmitter coil of the processor adheres to the scalp above the receiver coil of the implant using the magnets.
The microphone behind the ear (similar to a hearing aid) picks up the sound waves from outside and transmits them to the speech processor. It converts the sound waves into electrical impulses and transmits them to the transmitter coil. From this, the signals are sent to the electrodes in the cochlea. They ultimately stimulate the auditory nerve, which transmits these stimuli to the brain.
This alternative to conventional hearing aids helps people when normal hearing aids practically do not benefit anymore. When the hearing loss becomes so severe that reading lips becomes a necessity in a conversation a cochlear implant oftentimes improves the hearing of the wearer a lot. This means for a lot of people communication on the telephone for example becomes possible although the lips of the other person can not be seen.
Nowadays Cochlear Implants and hearing aids are often used in combination to combine the benefits of both of them. The so-called hybrid fitting is used, in a which hearing aid is functionally combined with a cochlear implant. The hearing aid amplifies the low tones, and the CI ensures the perception of the high frequencies that are crucial for understanding speech. The ear thus receives both acoustic and electrical stimuli, which are processed simultaneously.
As you have seen in the example of the Cochlear implant in some cases it is best to combine things. What will be the best solution for your needs to be discussed with your audiologist. Each of the alternatives to hearing aids listed above has its own limitations and benefits. Oftentimes the options are dependent on your hearing loss in combination with your anatomy.