When we start thinking about wearing a hearing aid, we tend to envisage a device that sits either behind or inside our ear. We understand that sound will be amplified and sent by the hearing aid into our ear the same way sound normally travels – through air vibrations.
For some people though, sitting a device in their ear, or ear canal may not be physically possible. Similarly, the use of a traditional hearing aid whereby sound is transmitted down the ear canal via air vibration, may not deliver the best outcome for everyone.
Infections of the middle ear that are persistent and especially those that result in leaky ears, require ventilation in order to promote healing and infection resolution. Putting a hearing aid in this type of ear will interfere with the necessary air flow, creating a humid environment that infections tend to thrive in. Soreness, irritation, infection, and more unpleasant discharging will usually result, and a vicious cycle of intermittent hearing aid use and infection can set in. Not only that, but hearing aids are also sensitive little devices that do not fare well when exposed to moisture and can be permanently damaged when an infected and discharging ear infiltrates its delicate parts.
The shape of our ears also plays a significant role in the type of hearing aid that might best suit us. While all ear shapes are unique, just like your fingerprints, there are some that just will not allow even something customised, to sit securely to provide the benefit sought from a traditional hearing aid.
And then there are those ears that just will not respond to sound at all due to the hearing having been damaged to such a degree that no amount of amplification can be helpful. Hearing loss of this nature in one ear only, where the other ear can hear normally or be successfully aided with a hearing device, is traditionally addressed using two hearing aids known as a Cros or BiCros system. This involves the device fitted to the poorer ear acting as a microphone and transmitter to send sound across to a second hearing aid worn on the better ear, where the sound from the poorer side will then be heard. This addresses the need for a person to detect sound coming from that poorer side, but many people would prefer not to have to achieve this with the use of two devices, especially when one ear requires no help at all.
Fortunately, there are an increasing number of hearing technology options that can not only sit outside of the ear but can also bypass the need for sound to be transmitted by air. Known as bone conduction or bone anchored hearing aids, these nifty devices can transmit sound via mechanical vibration of the bone that houses the inner ear and can be a more effective and successful way to access amplified sound and improve hearing outcomes.
Anchored either surgically or non-surgically to the bony part of the skull just behind the ear, a bone conduction device consists of a mini sound processor that picks up sound just like a traditional hearing aid, but then converts that sound into a very subtle mechanical vibration to transmit sound waves directly to the cochlear – the hearing organ – which resides within the skull bone.
Bone conduction hearing aids are not a specialty of all audiologists, and so may not always be presented as a viable alternative to a traditional hearing aid. Additional training and access to the latest in bone conduction technology options is required for an audiologist to work with these devices and support their use with their patients.
Additionally, the range of bone conduction options to choose from are much smaller than traditional hearing aids and so you might find that an audiologist is only comfortable with one brand of bone conduction device, and therefore a choice of solution is not offered. The Audiologists at Victorian Hearing are experts across the range of surgical and non-surgical bone conduction devices from the three manufacturers currently approved in Australia. We offer comprehensive assessments to see if you are a candidate for this type of device, as well as a trial so you can understand the benefit to be gained before you decide. If you are bone conduction aid – curious, email us, or give us a call on 9558 8842 for independent, objective, and expert advice.