“Hearing aids won’t help”

Posted on: September 1, 2011

Following on from my earlier post “Don’t worry about it, the other ear will compensate” about unilateral hearing loss, the next myth is “hearing aids won’t help”.  The importance of providing hearing aids to children with deafness in both ears as early as possible is widely recognised. If you have a hearing loss in both ears then your audiologist is likely to recommend that you have a hearing aid in both ears. This is going to help keep the hearing balanced and help provide the brain with the binaural information it needs to distinguish direction of sound as well as effectively filtering out unwanted background noise. Hearing aids aren’t always helpful for every child with a unilateral hearing loss – a careful assessment should be done on an individual basis and will depend on their type and level of hearing loss as well as their particular needs. But if a child does need the support of a hearing aid then there are lots of options to think about:

Hearing aids

Conventional hearing aids work by amplifying (making louder) sounds going into the ear. Hearing aids come in a range of styles. Good-quality digital hearing aids are available free of charge for all children on the NHS. If there is some hearing in the poor ear then a hearing aid may help to balance the hearing in both ears.

CROS hearing aids

Children who have very little or no hearing in one ear may benefit from a special type of hearing aid known as a CROS aid. Although it is described as a hearing aid, a CROS aid does not amplify sound. It is simply designed to transfer sound from the ear with deafness to the ear with hearing. The main advantage of using a CROS aid is that it can help the child to hear sounds from all directions. A CROS aid includes two units which both look like ordinary behind the ear hearing aids. However, the unit worn on the ear with deafness just contains a microphone. It is connected to the other unit, sometimes with a lead and sometimes by a wireless radio link e.g. Unitron or Phonak.

Bone anchored hearing aids

A bone anchored hearing aid consists of a sound processor that clips on to a fixture, known as an ‘abutment’, attached to a small titanium screw that has been implanted in the skull just behind the ear. This allows sound to be conducted through the bone rather than through the ear canal and middle ear as it would normally. Through the abutment, the sound processor is directly connected to the skull bone, of which the cochlea (inner ear) is part. This allows sound to be transmitted more directly to the inner ear. The implant surgery cannot be done until the child has sufficient bone thickness and quality of the skull bone. In very young children, the skull bone may be too thin to firmly hold the fixture the sound processor attaches to. Younger children and children undergoing assessment before surgery are therefore offered a bone anchored hearing aid that is worn on a soft headband. Bone anchored hearing aids have recently been used for people who have unilateral hearing loss. The sound processor is worn on the poor hearing side and the sound vibrations will vibrate through the skull bone and be picked up by the cochlea on the better hearing side. This can help with understanding directionality of sound, as well as improving hearing of speech and other sounds that come from the poor side.

FM Systems

Children with unilateral hearing loss may benefit from using an FM system. FM systems help overcome problems of listening when

  • there is unwanted background noise;
  • sounds are echoing around the room (reverberation); and
  • there is a distance between the person who is speaking and the deaf child.

FM systems can be used with or without hearing aids. They consist of a transmitter, worn by a teacher, and either a receiver worn by your child or speakers. A system using a receiver (ear piece) worn by the child is known as the Phonak iSense. A system using speakers is known as a soundfield system. Both systems work by making the teacher’s voice clearer in relation to other unwanted noise. Children with unilateral deafness are likely to benefit from an FM system because it provides a consistent sound quality around the classroom enabling them to hear the teacher clearly in their good ear even if the teacher is moving around the classroom.

Classroom soundfield systems are increasingly popular and may already be fitted in your child’s classroom. They are designed to improve listening conditions for all children in the classroom as well as reducing vocal strain for the teacher.

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