'Invisible' hearing aid helping patients hear again

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by KING 5 HealthLink

KING5.com

Posted on June 17, 2013 at 3:38 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 17 at 6:10 PM

Hearing loss is the third most common physical condition after heart disease and arthritis. Hearing aids used to be the only option for those with moderate to severe hearing loss, but now an invisible device is giving patients a new choice.

Along with super strength, the bionic woman has super hearing. It's something LoriAnn Harnish has always dreamed of.

"For some reason I have always had the vision that I would become a bionic woman," said Harnish, who has hearing problems.

She was five when a fever caused a 65-percent hearing loss. Now, something you can't see is taking LoriAnn's hearing to a new level.

"Every day it's something new," says LoriAnn.

"I think this is the biggest breakthrough we've had in terms of rehabilitating hearing since cochlear implants," explained Dr. Abraham Jacob, director at the University of Arizona Ear Institute.

Dr. Jacob says the device, known as the Esteem, is implanted behind the ear and turns it into a microphone.

"The device uses the eardrum and native hearing bones to sense sound energy," said Dr. Jacob.

That energy is sent to the inner ear for interpretation, creating a clearer, more natural sound.

"The patient is able to go in the shower, wear it at night, wear it in the pool,” explained Dr. Jacob. “It's a completely different way to hear from them because they can hear all the time if they want to."

For LoriAnn, it's meant a new hobby.

"It's enriching my life in ways I had not expected," she said.

That's literally music to her ears.

Right now, LoriAnn has the invisible hearing device in her left ear. She's planning on having one implanted in her right ear as well.

The device isn't cheap. It costs about $35,000 per ear and is not yet covered by insurance.

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