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Hearing Aids - Implantable Aids and Devices

An Increasingly Viable Option

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Updated February 20, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Implantable hearing aids are an option for hard of hearing people who can not use cochlear implants or hearing aids, or who may simply prefer not having any visible external parts for a hearing device. In a simplified definition, implanted hearing aids amplify sound and transmit the sound vibrations through the ear.

Who Can Use an Implantable Hearing Aid or Device

At this time, implantable hearing aids are usable only by people with less than profound hearing losses. In addition, implantable hearing devices are an alternative to hearing aids for people who can not use a hearing aid.

Manufacturers of Implantable Hearing Aids

There are two types of "implantable" hearing aids available. One type is implanted through a surgical procedure, and the other type is implanted through non-surgical procedures.

Surgically Implanted Hearing Aids
Med-El, a cochlear implant manufacturer, also offers the Vibrant Soundbridge, an implantable device that is an alternative to a hearing aid. Another one is the Envoy Medical Corporation's implantable hearing aid, which received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in 2010.

Non-Surgical Implanted Hearing Aids
Another is the Retrox from Auric Hearing Systems, a hearing aid that is not really implanted but consists of a titanium tube that is inserted into the ear and the hearing aid portion is inserted into the tube. Another company, Insound Medical Inc., based in Newark, California, develops hearing aids that are implanted in the ear canal through non-surgical procedures. Insound's hearing aids are worn in the canal for a period of months and removed/replaced when the batteries wear out.

Auditory Brainstem Implants
People who have had part of the auditory nerves removed (such as people who have Neurofibromatosis Type II) can not benefit from either cochlear implants or hearing aids. This is where the auditory brainstem implant steps in. As the name implies, it is an implant directly in the brainstem. Cochlear Corporation has developed an auditory brainstem implant. Current research information on auditory brainstem implants can be found on the National Library of Medicine's PubMed database.

Benefits of Implantable Hearing Aids and Devices

Implantable hearing aids are still hearing aids, but implantable hearing aids (or devices) are said to provide more natural, clearer sound than traditional hearing aids, because of no blockages from using an earmold. One apparent benefit is not having to replace batteries as frequently as with conventional hearing aids. For example, the batteries in one model have to be changed only every five years through a surgical outpatient procedure. There is no feedback to contend with. Users can control aspects such as volume with special remote controls.

Future Growth in Implantable Hearing Aids and Devices

The availability of implantable hearing aid choices continues to expand as more manufacturers develop them. To find out which implantable hearing aids and devices have approval, check the Food and Drug Administration website.

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