December 20, 2002

UCSD Healthcare Offers
New Technology for Hearing Impaired

A new device to improve hearing in adults with moderate to severe hearing loss who are dissatisfied with the results they are achieving with a conventional acoustic hearing aid is now being offered at UCSD Medical Center.

Called the SOUNDTEC®  Direct System, the technology consists of a tiny magnet implanted in the middle ear, and an electromagnetic coil worn in the external ear canal that processes sound and passes it to the magnet as electromagnetic waves, resulting in clear, natural sound.

Patient with normal middle ear bones
Patient with implant attached to the stapes

"The magnet is inserted underneath the eardrum in the middle ear space. We separate the stapes (stirrup) from the incus (anvil), which are small hearing bones in the middle ear, and place the magnet right on the stapes bone so that it will directly transmit sound to the inner ear," said Jeffrey P. Harris, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Head of Otolaryngology at UCSD School of Medicine. "The digital sound processor in the ear canal emits electromagnetic forces from sound it picks up in the environment and then it drives the magnet, causing the stapes to vibrate. Much less force is required than with amplified sound produced by traditional hearing aids. This results in loud and clearer hearing."

The device is implanted in a 30-minute outpatient procedure performed under local anesthesia so that the patient can go home shortly thereafter. Full healing and results are usually seen after about a month, with approximately 89 percent of the subjects treated in clinical trials reporting that they preferred the sound quality from the implant to a conventional acoustic hearing aid. The device increases dynamic range and patients report a clear sound quality without the distortion, feedback and occlusion that can be a problem with conventional hearing aids.

"This is a way to assist people who are poorly functioning with a conventional digital or analogue hearing aid so they can achieve more functional hearing-however this is not for everyone. People with really poor speech understanding may not benefit from the implant therefore it is not recommended for those in that category" said Harris. The FDA-approved device is not yet covered by insurance so the average cost of an implant including surgery is approximately $4,750. The device is manufactured by SOUNDTEC, Inc., headquartered in Oklahoma City.

For more information call the UCSD Ear Center at 858-657-8590.

News Media Contact:
Leslie Franz
619-543-6163
lfranz@ucsd.edu

UCSD Health Sciences Communications HealthBeat: http://health.ucsd.edu/news/