Woman receives UK’s first implantable hearing aid

A Hampshire woman has received the UK’s first totally implantable hearing aid thanks to the work of the South of England Cochlear Implant Centre (SOECIC), based at Southampton University.

The Otologics ‘Carina’ middle ear implant is said to be the first totally implantable device to provide hearing with no external components for the user.

The device consists of a rechargeable battery, a signal processor and a microphone, which are all implanted under the skin. These are connected to an electromagnetic vibrator that is positioned inside the mastoid bone behind the ear and attaches to the hearing bones. The ear canal itself is left open.

Previously, 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 external part was still visible and prone to being knocked off or damaged or getting wet.

The implant is claimed to be 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.

‘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,’ said Sarah Flynn, adult programme co-ordinator for the SOECIC. ‘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.’

The recipient of the implant is Denise Westgate, a 49-year-old woman from Havant in Portsmouth. She lost her hearing when she was six years old and, because of a closed right ear canal, couldn’t wear a conventional hearing aid.

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