So you have tried different hearing aids, and nothing works. You are frustrated; your family, friends and coworkers are frustrated. But "there are options out there if traditional hearing aids cannot help," says ear, nose and throat surgeon Kourosh Parham at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, Conn.
Advances in hearing device technology over the past few years have improved the three leading implants a cochlear implant, bone-anchored device and middle-ear implant a and resulted in a brand-new hybrid cochlear implant. But just do not call them hearing aids, Parham says.
Hearing aids only amplify sounds. These devices bypass the outer ear and either translate sounds into vibrations delivered to the middle ear or electrical impulses delivered directly to the inner ear. Which device you choose depends on your specific type of hearing loss.
Ellen DeVoss, 59, for example, kept misunderstanding phone conversations and missing out on dinner-table discussions. Life was "very stressful," DeVoss says. "Straining to hear really wears you out." She spent "thousands and thousands" of dollars on traditional hearing aids, but nothing helped.
Bruce Gantz, chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, correctly identified the problem: DeVoss hearing loss was in the higher frequencies, which prevented her from understanding speech. Her low-frequency hearing was still good. "You are a perfect candidate for the hybrid cochlear implant," he told DeVoss. "It puts back the high frequencies and allows you to keep the hearing you have." DeVoss implant is the newest type of implanted device on the market - one that was approved by the Food and Drug Adminstration in 2014.
The result: almost normal hearing. DeVoss says her word understanding has improved from 33 percent to 94 percent.
While each of the implants described below is appropriate for a specific hearing loss, most consist of an external component and an internal or implanted portion. And they all require surgery-usually on an outpatient basis.
Otolaryngologists are reluctant to quote costs for these devices and surgical procedures, citing differences in how much Medicare or a private insurance company will cover. But expect a total cost of between $30,000 and $100,000.