Each year, Single Sided Deafness, or SSD, afflicts approximately 200 persons out of every million inhabitants in the world. The onset of the condition – which refers to significant or total hearing loss in one ear, often accompanied by severe vertigo – is sudden. It also is permanent.
In informing their patients of the condition, doctors rarely provide a good explanation.
Some individuals are told their SSD ties back to earlier cases of measles or mumps. Or, perhaps, a trauma that seemed trivial at the time. Others are told their hearing loss may relate to a tumor or to a hereditary disorder. Still others simply are told that it is an unexplained condition that affects adults in their 40s – and that there is no good explanation.
For many suffering from SSD, the condition is life changing. And simple, everyday tasks become challenging. All sounds come from one direction – the hearing ear – and those with SSD find themselves stepping out into traffic, not knowing where the siren is coming from when driving, or interrupting or completely ignoring the person sitting to their deaf side.
They also find social settings extremely uncomfortable and, ultimately, something to avoid. Cross-table talk in a restaurant becomes impossible, and seating configurations become more important than the menu. Large events – such as cocktail parties, business receptions and wedding receptions – ultimately become events to avoid as the embarrassment and worry of not hearing becomes overwhelming.
Until recently, the remedial options available to SSD sufferers were limited. Bone-anchored hearing devices, involving a small titanium implant, were one choice. The other was the CROS aid, a system involving a transmitter in the deaf ear and a receiver in the hearing ear.
Now, however, there is a third option: the SoundBite Hearing System. SoundBite, developed by Sonitus Medical, a seven-year-old medical-device company based in San Mateo, Calif., is the world’s first non-surgical and removable hearing solution using the long-established principle of bone conduction to transmit sound via the teeth. SoundBite is considered to be a prosthetic device, rather than a hearing aid, which usually places it in a more-favorable light with insurance companies.
The SoundBite system consists of a portable in-the-mouth hearing device – custom made to fit around the upper, left or right, back teeth – and a small behind-the-ear microphone unit. There is no dental work, or modifications to the teeth, required.
The device works because it replaces the function of the middle ear, cochlea, or auditory nerve. As long as one cochlea is functional, SoundBite enables sound to travel via the teeth, through the bones, to the functioning cochlea, bypassing the middle and outer ear entirely.
SoundBite doesn’t solve the direction problem. The sound still is coming in the hearing ear, as the bone-conduction process is sending the sound to the hearing ear. But it does enable the SSD sufferer to hear the sounds coming from his or her deaf side. The improvement also is heavily dependent on the level of hearing on the “good” side.
Patients receiving the device often have a companion shoot video of them using the device for the first time in the audiologist’s office. Their smiles are wide and the sense of amazement is real.
Their lives have changed once again.