Hearing loss can be caused by a multitude of factors such as genetics, age, noise pollution, and infections. A common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids. Traditional hearing aids amplify sound and transmit it to the inner ear through air conduction. But for some individuals, traditional hearing aids may not be effective due to their specific type of hearing loss. This is where bone conduction hearing aids come in.
Understanding Bone Conduction Hearing Aids
Bone conduction hearing aids are a type of hearing aid that bypasses the outer and middle ear altogether and instead sends sound vibrations directly to the inner ear through the bones of the skull. The process is achieved through the use of a bone conduction device that is placed on the mastoid bone, which is located behind the ear.
How Bone Conduction Works
The device works by creating vibrations that travel through the skull bone, which then reaches the inner ear. The inner ear interprets the vibrations as sound. This is similar to how we naturally hear sound through bone conduction, such as when we hear our own voice or when we feel vibrations from music.
It is important to note that bone conduction hearing aids are not suitable for everyone. The effectiveness of the device depends on the individual’s specific type and degree of hearing loss. Therefore, it is essential to consult with a hearing healthcare professional to determine if bone conduction hearing aids are a viable option.
Types of Bone Conduction Hearing Aids
There are several types of bone conduction hearing aids available on the market. One type is the bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) system, which requires a surgical procedure to implant a fixture into the skull bone. The device is then attached to the fixture. Another type is the softband hearing aid, which works similarly to the BAHA system but is not surgically implanted. The device is instead attached to a soft, adjustable headband that is worn around the head.
The BAHA system is typically recommended for individuals with conductive hearing loss or single-sided deafness, while the softband hearing aid is often used for children or individuals who cannot undergo surgery.
Candidacy for Bone Conduction Hearing Aids
Individuals who have conductive or mixed hearing loss may benefit from bone conduction hearing aids. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is unable to pass through the outer and middle ear, while mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss (hearing loss that is caused by damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve).
Bone conduction hearing aids can also be used by individuals who have single-sided deafness (SSD). SSD occurs when an individual has normal hearing in one ear but profound hearing loss in the other ear. This can cause difficulty with spatial awareness and difficulty hearing in noisy environments. Bone conduction hearing aids can help to improve hearing and alleviate these symptoms.
It is important to note that bone conduction hearing aids may not be suitable for individuals with severe or profound sensorineural hearing loss. In these cases, traditional hearing aids or cochlear implants may be more appropriate.
Comparing Bone Conduction Hearing Aids to Traditional Hearing Aids
Hearing loss affects millions of people around the world, and thankfully, there are many options available to help improve hearing. Two popular options are traditional hearing aids and bone conduction hearing aids. While both aim to improve hearing, there are some differences between the two that are worth exploring.
Sound Quality and Clarity
Traditional hearing aids tend to offer better sound quality and clarity, as they use air conduction to deliver sound to the inner ear. Air conduction hearing aids work by capturing sound waves in the environment and amplifying them, then sending them through the ear canal to the eardrum. This process allows for a more natural sound experience, as the sound is processed in the same way as it would be for someone without hearing loss.
Bone conduction hearing aids, on the other hand, use bone conduction to transmit sound. These devices work by sending vibrations through the skull bone to the inner ear, bypassing the outer and middle ear. While this can be an effective solution for those with certain types of hearing loss, it can result in a less natural sound experience. However, recent advancements in bone conduction technology have led to improved quality and clarity in bone conduction hearing aids.
Comfort and Fit
Traditional hearing aids may cause discomfort, especially if they do not fit properly. This can be due to the size and shape of the device, as well as the materials used. Bone conduction hearing aids are often more comfortable, as they do not require insertion into the ear canal. The softband hearing aid, in particular, is easily adjustable and can be worn by individuals with different head sizes. This makes it a great option for children or individuals who have difficulty wearing traditional hearing aids.
Maintenance and Durability
Traditional hearing aids require regular cleaning and maintenance, as they are exposed to earwax and other debris. This can be a hassle for some individuals, especially those who have difficulty with fine motor skills. Bone conduction hearing aids are typically less exposed to earwax and are therefore easier to maintain. Additionally, the implantable BAHA system is generally more durable than traditional hearing aids, as it is protected from damage from external elements.
Cost and Insurance Coverage
Cost is often a major consideration when choosing a hearing aid. Traditional hearing aids can be expensive, and not all insurance plans cover the cost. However, there are more affordable models available. Bone conduction hearing aids, particularly the softband hearing aid, are often less expensive than the implantable BAHA system. Insurance coverage for bone conduction hearing aids may vary, so it is important to check with your provider to see what options are available to you.
Ultimately, the choice between traditional hearing aids and bone conduction hearing aids will depend on your individual needs and preferences. It is important to consult with an audiologist or hearing specialist to determine which option is best for you.
The Benefits of Bone Conduction Hearing Aids
Non-Surgical Solution for Hearing Loss
Bone conduction hearing aids offer a non-surgical solution for individuals who may not be candidates for traditional hearing aids, or who may not want to undergo a surgical procedure. This can be particularly beneficial for those who have medical conditions that make surgery a risky option, or for those who are hesitant to undergo an invasive procedure.
Additionally, bone conduction hearing aids can be a great solution for children with hearing loss. Since their skulls are still developing, traditional hearing aids can be uncomfortable and difficult to keep in place. Bone conduction hearing aids, on the other hand, are worn on a headband or behind the ear, making them more comfortable and secure for children.
Improved Speech Understanding
Bone conduction hearing aids can improve speech understanding for individuals with conductive or mixed hearing loss, or for those with SSD. The device bypasses the damaged or blocked outer and middle ear and sends sound vibrations directly to the inner ear, leading to clearer and more understandable speech. This can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle to understand speech in noisy environments, such as restaurants or crowded rooms.
Furthermore, bone conduction hearing aids can improve the quality of phone calls. By transmitting sound vibrations directly to the inner ear, the wearer can hear the caller’s voice more clearly and without background noise interference.
Enhanced Sound Localization
Traditional hearing aids can make it difficult to determine the direction of sound, as they amplify all sounds equally. Bone conduction hearing aids, on the other hand, rely on the natural capabilities of the inner ear to localize sound, resulting in a more accurate perception of direction. This can be particularly helpful for individuals who enjoy outdoor activities, such as hiking or birdwatching, where being able to accurately locate sounds is important for safety and enjoyment.
Additionally, bone conduction hearing aids can be helpful for individuals who work in noisy environments, such as construction sites or factories. By being able to accurately locate sounds, they can more easily identify potential hazards and stay safe on the job.
Tinnitus is a common condition characterized by ringing or buzzing in the ears. Bone conduction hearing aids can provide relief for tinnitus sufferers, as the vibrations can help to mask the noise of the tinnitus. Additionally, some bone conduction hearing aids come equipped with special tinnitus masking features, such as white noise or nature sounds, to further alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus.
It is important to note that while bone conduction hearing aids can be a great solution for some individuals with hearing loss, they may not be the best option for everyone. It is important to consult with a hearing healthcare professional to determine the best course of treatment for your individual needs.
Overcoming Common Concerns and Misconceptions
Bone Conduction Hearing Aids and Safety
Some individuals may be concerned about the safety of bone conduction hearing aids, particularly those that require surgery. However, both the BAHA system and the softband hearing aid have been approved by the FDA and have undergone extensive testing for safety and efficacy. As with any medical device, it is important to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer and to consult with a hearing healthcare professional.
Adjusting to Bone Conduction Hearing Aids
It may take some time to adjust to the use of bone conduction hearing aids. Individuals may experience changes in the way they perceive sound, and it may take some trial and error to find the right settings and adjustments. However, most individuals find that they quickly adapt to their device and experience improved hearing abilities.
Addressing Cosmetic Concerns
Some individuals may be concerned about the appearance of bone conduction hearing aids. While the BAHA system requires a fixture to be implanted into the skull bone, it is not visible once it is covered by the device. The softband hearing aid is designed to be inconspicuous and is available in a range of colors to match different skin tones.
The Bottom Line
Bone conduction hearing aids offer a non-surgical solution for individuals with conductive or mixed hearing loss, or for those with SSD. While there are some differences between bone conduction hearing aids and traditional hearing aids, advancements in technology have led to improved quality and efficacy in bone conduction devices. Individuals who are considering bone conduction hearing aids should consult with a hearing healthcare professional to determine the best solution for their hearing needs.