Hearing aid technology is about to experience the largest advance that has occurred in many years. Bone conduction implants have provided a new way to treat hearing loss that could restore hearing to individuals who are partially or even completely deaf. It has been used in certain clinical trials but it still faces long periods of development before it can be released publically. It is important to understand how this technology builds upon yet differs from the current form of hearing aids.
The modern incarnation of hearing aids are typically implanted in the head via a skull anchor. A titanium screw holds it in place, and while this is a great option it can lead to certain forms of troublesome infections. They pick up sound from external sources and amplify it through the ear canal to provide better hearing. The bone conduction hearing aid, also known as BCIs, is mounted onto a bone in the ear, but does not rely on sound entering the ear canal. They are superior in terms of the incredibly low risk of dislodging and infection, and they also have a much greater ability to allow hearing to occur.
The bone conduction implant is made up of three parts: the titanium implant, the abutment, and the sound processor. The titanium implant serves as a connection to the skull and also as a means to hold the abutment. The abutment, in turn, serves as a mount and interpreter for the sound processor. The sound processor captures the external sounds and transmits them to the abutment and then the skull. From there the sound travels to the skull, where it is formed into vibrations before being interpreted by the inner ear. This allows for the sound to bypass the middle ear, where most hearing loss originates, and go directly into the inner ear where the brain can interpret it properly. While this technology is perfect for individuals with total hearing loss, it is also beneficial for those with hearing loss in one ear. Rather than channeling the sound into the inner ear, the BCI sends the sound to the unaffected ear via the skull, allowing for proper hearing to occur.
While the bone conduction technology is the future of hearing aids, right now it is trapped in the research phase. The optimistic scientists that are currently testing the BCIs believe that they are only another year from being a viable treatment option. With thousands of individuals lining up to be part of the test groups, the process of getting approval from the regulatory commissions in being streamlined, giving hope to hundreds of thousands who live with forms of hearing loss.