Hampshire Woman Has Hearing Breakthrough

9 February 2011, 09:40

A woman from Havant has received the UK's first totally implanted hearing aid.

The Otologics 'Carina' middle ear implant device consists of a rechargeable battery, a signal processor and a microphone which are all implanted under the skin.

These are connected to a tiny electromagnetic vibrator which is positioned inside the mastoid bone behind the ear and attaches to the hearing bones.

There is nothing on the outside of the head and the ear canal is left open.

Denise Westgate, 49, from Havant received the aid thanks to work from the South of England Cochlear Implant Centre (SOECIC), based at the University of Southampton.

In past aids the microphone and battery were on the outside of the patient, held in place over the implanted part of the device by a magnet. This was prone to being knocked off or damaged or getting wet. When the external part was removed at night or in the shower, the patient could no longer hear.

The new implant is suitable for people with moderate to severe hearing losses who are unable to gain benefit from conventional hearing aids because of ear canal infections, allergies to ear moulds or a closed ear canal.

Sarah Flynn, from the SOECIC said: "It works by delivering a mechanical vibration directly to the hearing bones. The microphone picks up sound from under the skin and transmits it to the signal processor. The signal processor amplifies the sound based on the user's needs and transmits the amplified signal to the middle ear transducer. The transducer is positioned in a mounting system that allows it to contact and directly stimulate the hearing bones.

"The main advantage of this approach is to bypass the external ear canal and deliver mechanical vibration directly to the hearing bones, avoiding the side effects of ear moulds."

Mrs Westgate lost her hearing when she was six and because of a closed right ear canal, she couldn't wear a conventional hearing aid.

She said: "I was nervous being the first person to undergo this operation but the difference it has made to my life is enormous. Suddenly there is all this sound that hasn't been there before, something as simple as the sound of water when I am washing my hair or the sound of my husband's lighter.

"I have to use a charger to charge the internal battery for about 45 minutes every day but otherwise there is no external equipment to wear. I can leave it on overnight and can swim and shower with it in place.''

The operation was carried out at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth by consultant otolaryngologist, Mike Pringle.

Mr Pringle conducted the UK's first operation last year to fit a single cochlear implant capable of giving sound in both ears.

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