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Format: 04/18/2014
Format: 04/18/2014

News

AGH Specialists Introduce First-of-its-kind Therapy for Single-Sided Deafness and Conductive Hearing Loss

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Novel System Is Worn in the Mouth, Conducting Sound Via the Teeth

Paul Getsy didn’t realize how much time and energy he devoted to trying to hear. After experiencing severe sudden hearing loss in his right ear more than four years ago, he got used to craning his neck to one side to hear better, arriving early for meetings to secure a seat with optimal acoustics, and driving with his window up so he was more likely to hear his passengers speaking.

In December at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), he was fitted with SoundBite, a new hearing system that’s enabled him to pick up most of the sounds he had been missing.

“From the very first time I put it in, it was just amazing,” he said. “I describe it as love at first sound.”

By using bone conduction via the teeth, SoundBite was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in July of 2011 as the first non-surgical and removable therapeutic option for patients who suffer from single-sided deafness or conductive hearing loss.

Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a problem conducting sound waves anywhere along the route through the outer ear, eardrum or middle ear or ossicles.

Mr. Getsy, 48, of Plum, suffered sudden sensorineural hearing loss; a rapid, frequently one-sided and often uncorrectable hearing loss that occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain.

 He underwent treatment with steroids—one of the few known treatments for sudden deafness—without success. For those with single-sided hearing loss or conductive hearing loss, a traditional hearing aid won’t work.

“Hearing aids amplify sound, but making the sound louder isn’t enough,” said Todd Hillman, MD, co-director of the Hearing and Balance Center at Allegheny General Hospital. “With these types of hearing loss, the brain is unable to comprehend or interpret even loud sounds.”

SoundBite detects sound using a tiny microphone placed within the ear canal of the impaired ear, using the natural acoustic benefit of the patient's own outer ear to capture and direct sound. This nearly invisible microphone is attached by a thin tube to a transmitter unit called a BTE worn behind-the-ear.
Sound captured by the microphone, is processed by the BTE which wirelessly transmits it to a removable in-the-mouth (ITM) hearing device.

Custom made for the patient's own teeth, the ITM mouthpiece translates the sound into imperceptible vibrations that are conducted via the teeth, through bone, to both cochleae, restoring normal hearing to patients who are essentially deaf in one ear, with no surgery or modifications to the teeth.

Results of a multi-center clinical study of patients wearing the device published in the April 2011 issue of Otology & Neurotology documented improved scores on two types of hearing tests after 30-days of daily use of the SoundBite system.

“SoundBite is effective because it redirects sound from the affected ear, through the teeth and bones of the face to the cochlea of the functional ear,” said neuro-otologist Douglas Chen, MD, FACS, who co-directs the AGH Hearing and Balance Center with Dr. Hillman. “It allows the healthy ear to pick up on sounds that normally would be out of range.”

But, how comfortable or practical is a hearing device that’s worn in the mouth?

“I came home after I got it and tried a cookie and thought ‘What did I get myself in to?’ But, now, I rarely take it out for a meal,” Mr. Getsy said. “It’s sort of like dentures or braces. You know it’s there, but it’s not uncomfortable.”

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