The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association estimates that more than 28 million Americans have experienced some level of hearing impairment. While most would assume that elderly individuals make up a large portion of this demographic, you may be surprised to learn that middle aged and younger adults, and even children, have encountered problems with their ability to hear properly. Most individuals who fall into this category opt to use hearing aids to help amplify sound and minimize the effect of their hearing loss. But many find that hearing aids sometimes don’t do the job. So what are other options available to the hearing impaired?

Who are middle ear implants best for? 
They are often implanted in people who have been diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss. However, some manufacturers are adapting their current models to better meet the needs of those who’ve experienced conductive, or mixed hearing loss as well. Middle ear implants can also be used by patients with single-sided deafness, when conventional hearing aids are non-effective.

These devices are sometimes considered when traditional hearing aids fail to provide a boost in hearing capabilities because they require a short surgical procedure for proper function.

Middle ear implants differ from conventional hearing aids in that they actually convert sounds into mechanical vibrations, which can be better interpreted by the hearing mechanisms located inside the ear.

There is also a cosmetic difference between the two devices as well. Middle ear implants are often smaller, and quite difficult to spot. While most of the device is actually implanted inside the body, there is a section that must be adhered to the side of the head. This portion of the unit is normally quite small though, and can be easily hidden under the hair. Traditional hearing aids are generally more bulky, and are solely situated on the outside of the body. While certain varieties are less conspicuous, most have components that must be tucked in behind the ear.

History of middle ear implants
Middle ear implants have been around for nearly 80 years, though they remain to be a relatively unknown treatment option.

The first middle ear implant was created back in 1935 by Dr. Alvar Wilska, when he deposited tiny iron shavings into his patient’s ear. The shavings would come to rest on tympanic membrane, where they could then be manipulated by an outside electromagnetic signal that was transmitted by an earphone placed over one side of the test subject’s head. The electromagnetic signal caused the iron shavings to vibrate, which was then transferred to the tympanic membrane.

Sound waves cause the same effect, so the vibrations could then be interpreted by the auditory nerve as a sound wave, that changed depending on the frequency being used by Dr. Wilska. While the patient was not actually hearing sound, the process can essentially mimic the process of sound waves causing vibrations in the ear.

The first implants offered to consumers came during the 1950s, though they weren’t a very popular option for most hearing impaired individuals in the U.S. These early devices were most commonly used in Japan, up until the mid-1990s, when the technology was revisited using more modern equipment. Today, middle ear implants have become a viable alternative to traditional hearing aids, and manufacturers are constantly updating their design to better meet the needs of patients all over the country.

Different types of middle ear implants
Middle ear implants come in two different varieties – piezoelectric and electromagnetic – which are simply two different ways to cause the vibrations necessary to mimic sound. The two work almost exactly the same, however, piezoelectric models will not be affected by other magnetic or electronic devices, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines and other medical equipment. This gives them a slight advantage over the electromagnetic varieties.

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