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New type of hearing aids are invisible

October 9, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Hearing loss affects about 10 percent of the American population. While it's prevalent in people over 60, about nine percent of young adults suffer hearing impairment.Like most teens, Phillip Pare loves his music.

"I like to play a little classic rock," said Pare.

But what you can't hear -- or see -- Phillip has severe hearing loss. He's had to wear hearing aids his entire life.

"You could tell he disliked like it. He's very self conscious," said Phillip's dad, Paul Pare.

"It was difficult at times," said Phillip.

"You know how kids are -- they just want to fit in. They don't want to stand out in any way," said Paul.

Now a new device -- called the Lyric -- lets Philip hear without letting everyone know he has a hearing problem.

"This new hearing aid has tremendous advantages. The most obvious one is, is that it's really invisible," said otolaryngologist, Michael Scherl.

The device is surrounded by a spongy material that allows moisture to escape so there's less risk of infection.

It's placed one-sixth of an inch from the ear drum. The sound can be turned up, down, even off with the use of the magnet outside the ear.

"You put it outside your ear kind of, and it beeps to turn it off; and if you leave it in your ear for a certain amount of time, it beeps to indicate the volume," said Phillip.

Traditional hearing aids have feedback, over-amplify background noises, they must be removed for showering or sleeping, and the batteries die frequently. This new device overcomes the noise issues and stays in all of the time.

So now instead of concentrating on his hearing, Phillip can concentrate on his music.

The Lyric can't help people with severe hearing loss. It's a sleek option, but it's not cheap. When the Lyric's battery dies, the entire device is replaced.

Patients pay an annual subscription fee of up to $3,600 for both ears -- and receive new devices whenever the battery runs out.

Insurance plans typically don't cover the cost.

Web Extra Information: Invisible Hearing Aid

BACKGROUND:

New research from Johns Hopkins shows hearing loss among people in the United States may be more common than originally believed. As many as 29 million people across the nation are estimated to have some degree of hearing loss. The problem isn't confined just to older individuals. Hearing loss occurs in 8.5 percent of people ages 20 to 29 and that incidence appears to be rising. The study, which involved 5,700 people, ages 20 to 69, also found men are more than five times as likely to suffer hearing loss and whites also suffer from it more often than blacks.

HEARING AIDS:

Many different types of hearing aids are currently available. According to the Mayo Clinic, they have four main components that help transmit sound from the environment into the ear:

  • A microphone picks up the sound
  • An amplifier increases the volume of the sound
  • A speaker sends the sound into your ear so the user can hear it
  • A battery provides power to the electronic parts

Sometimes hearing aids can present obstacles, such as overamplified background noise from things like a ceiling fan or beeping microwave oven. When showering or sleeping, hearing aids must be removed. Batteries are also known to often wear out. A new hearing aid appears to offer a solution to those typical issues.

BETTER QUALITY SOUND:

Lyric is the first device that is completely invisible and designed for extended wear. It can be worn for 24 hours, seven days a week, for months at a time (up to 120 days). The device is placed entirely inside the ear canal without the need for surgery. Its developers say it works with the ear's anatomy to produce excellent sound quality in noisy and quiet environments. It sits near the ear drum, requiring noises to be amplified less. It is also designed with a soft foam material to protect it from moisture and ear wax, which reduces the risk of infection.

The aid is offered to patients on a yearly subscription basis. It costs about $2,900 to $3,600 for both ears and less for just one ear. Insurance does not usually cover it. A new device is provided at each follow-up office visit with a Lyric trained hearing professional. Currently, 500 people use the new hearing aid. InSound Medical of Newark, Calif., the makers of the Lyric, say people whose ear canals are too narrow may not be able to use the device. They estimate that it will not work for about half of potential hearing aid patients, but an updated version is in the works and would bring that figure down to just 15 percent.

 

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