Patients with microtia usually have aural atresia, which is the absence of the external auditory canal, eardrum, and connection to the middle ear. In addition, there are usually abnormalities of the middle ear structures. These patients have hearing problems that are different from the hearing loss that occurs as part of the aging process and traditional hearing aids will not help them. For microtia patients, whose hearing problem is related to the middle ear, the hearing can often be restored with a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA).
This device can either be worn on a headband in a newborn or very young child or attached to a titanium implant in the skull to bypass the middle and outer ear and directly stimulate the cochlea of the inner ear. In turn, the cochlea sends neural signals to the brain which translate into sound. As part of the comprehensive ear center at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, NY, Dr. Charles Thorne can arrange for you to obtain a BAHA. Backed by over three decades of experience in microtia surgery and the treatment of ear deformities, Dr. Thorne is a trusted expert who is passionate about improving patients' quality of life.
BAHAs owe their effectiveness to a small titanium implant.
What is a Bone-Anchored Hearing Aid?
A BAHA consists of two or three parts depending on the type: a titanium implant, a sound processor, and possibly an abutment that connects the implant and the sound processor. In some patients, the sound processor is attached to the titanium implant with a magnet. During a short surgical procedure, a colleague of Dr. Thorne will place the implant into the bone behind the non-functioning ear.
The BAHA works by using the natural transmission pathways which are available through bone vibrations. The sound processor sends vibrations through the skull to the implant which, in turn, vibrates the surrounding bone. The bone then sends the vibrations to the inner ear where they are processed by the auditory nerve as sound waves.
Candidates for a BAHA
Ideal candidates for a bone-anchored hearing aid have issues which affect the middle ear or ear canal, such as patients with microtia. Since BAHAs bypass the middle ear, they can be especially helpful for patients who have:
- Malformations of the outer or middle ear: Deformations of the ear canal or middle ear, such as those present in microtia patients, can cause hearing loss. These issues are often present at birth. By delivering sound vibrations directly into the inner ear, BAHAs bypass the malformed areas and improve hearing. Patients with unilateral microtia will obtain the ability to localize sound to and discriminate sounds in noisy environments. Patients with bilateral aural atresia are functionally deaf without a BAHA.
- Chronic ear infections: Placing a traditional hearing aid can often exacerbate infections by blocking the ear canal. In contrast, BAHAs allow for normal drainage and are less likely to cause infection.
- Single-sided deafness (SSD): Often, patients with single-sided deafness have normal hearing in one ear and total hearing loss in the other. A BAHA can restore complete hearing, allowing you to localize sounds more effectively and hear properly in noisy environments.
The Treatment Process
Implanting a BAHA is a simple procedure which takes about an hour to complete. Local anesthesia is often sufficient although some patients might also receive general anesthesia. Some skin follicles and fat behind the deaf ear will need to be removed before treatment. A skin graft may also be placed.
BAHAs can offer an effective hearing loss solution, even for patients who may be frustrated with past treatment experiences.
Once preparation is complete, a small hole is placed in the skull and the implant is inserted. If the magnetic type of BAHA is used, then only the implant is necessary before closing the scalp. If an abutment is used to attach the BAHA, a skin graft is then placed around the abutment.
In general, it takes about two months for the implant to fully heal, at which time the sound processor can be attached to the abutment. The advantage of the magnet is that there is no bald spot or visible abutment.
Learn More Today
BAHAs can offer an effective hearing loss solution, even for patients who may be frustrated with past treatment experiences. If you believe you or your child could benefit from this type of device, contact the office online or call (212) 794-0044 today.