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OSU Specialists Bone Up On Device Using Skull to Transmit Sound

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Posted: 8/31/2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State University Medical Center physicians are increasing their use of a hearing device that uses the skull to transmit sound in patients with hearing loss, particularly those who are deaf in one ear.

Doctor Iain Grant
Iain L. Grant, MD

The device, called the BAHA system, works for many patients with diseased or damaged middle or outer ears because “it completely bypasses the middle ear,” said Dr. Iain Grant, an otolaryngologist at OSU Medical Center. “It’s also excellent for patients who have hearing in one ear and not the other, because it picks up sounds on the non-hearing side and transmits them to the inner ear on the good side, giving the sensation of hearing in both ears.”

The device includes two components – a small titanium sphere that is surgically implanted in the skull behind the ear and an attachable snap-on sound processor no larger than a quarter. The titanium fixture is implanted during a minor surgical procedure and is allowed to heal for three months before the sound processor is added. The processor houses a microphone that initiates vibration of the skull to transmit sound.

While most hearing-assist devices use air conduction to transmit sounds through the middle ear, the BAHA instead employs bone conduction. “The whole skull vibrates in a subtle manner and lets you pick up the sound,” Grant said.

While the sophistication of conventional hearing aids continues to improve, Grant said the BAHA bone conduction implant system could be particularly helpful to the estimated 60,000 U.S. patients per year who experience sudden sensory-neural hearing loss, often in the form of single-sided deafness. This hearing loss most commonly is caused by trauma to the head, viral infection or other illnesses.

“With conventional hearing aids, people with single-sided deafness retain that imbalance in their hearing,” Grant said. “The ability, through bone conduction, to provide the sensation of hearing in both ears significantly reduces the complexity of providing these patients with hearing.”

Because implantation of the device requires surgery, Grant fits patients with a trial device to let them experience the bone-conducted hearing improvement before undergoing the surgical procedure. “It’s not for everyone, but patients who like it tend to feel strongly about the benefits of this device,” Grant said.

The device has been used for years in Europe, and is gradually gaining recognition in the United States as its availability increases. The device received U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance to treat hearing loss in 1996 and FDA approval as a treatment for single-sided deafness less than two years ago. It is manufactured by Entific Medical Systems Inc. of Sweden, which bases its U.S. headquarters in suburban Columbus.

The Ohio State University Medical Center includes the College of Medicine and Public Health, the Davis Heart & Lung Research Institute, the Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the OSU Health System, which includes four acute-care hospitals – the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, University Hospital, University Hospital East, and OSU Harding Hospital – the future Ross Heart Hospital and all aspects of an integrated health care system, including a network of physician practices throughout central Ohio.

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Emily Caldwell
Medical Center Communications

OSU Medical Center; Treatment Options; University Hospital