NEW ORLEANS - Eight million babies were born with single-sided deafness, while one and a half million others lose hearing in one ear later in life. Many people just live with the disability. Others have a surgical implant to help.
But now patients have another option thanks to wireless technology.
In a recent audiology screening, Amy Walker 31, of Mandeville could hear in both ears.
In 2008, as a new bride only in her mid-twenties, she noticed her right ear felt stopped up. Several doctors treated her for fungal and bacterial infections. But then, one doctor did a brain scan.
"That was the first thing that ran through my mind, am I going to be able to have children," said Walker when she got the diagnosis.
It was a cancerous tumor. Over the years she had surgeries and radiation when the cancer came back for a second time. Now pregnant with her second child due in June, she is cancer free, but deaf in her right ear.
Ochsner ear specialist and surgeon Dr. Tim Molony recommended the SoundBite. With no surgery, a wireless mouthpiece that clips on to the second molar, picks up sound from the device on her deaf ear and sends the sound waves through the bones to the nerve in her good ear.
Trent Beagle, a rep from Sonitus Medical, the makers of SoundBite, demonstrated how it works. Everyone in the room could hear the music coming from his iPhone when it was connected to the SoundBite mouthpiece and touching someone's teeth. We were all hearing the music through the vibrations of the teeth. When the ear piece was moved out of range, away from the mouthpiece, the sound was interrupted.
"The people that we've shown it to, are very excited about it. The people that we've fitted it with, have been very accepting and very happy with it, so it's been a real success," said Dr. Molony, an Ochsner ENT with specialties as an otologist, neurotologist and ear surgeon.
Some patients still decide to have a titanium plate surgically implanted to transmit the sound, but Amy wanted no more anesthesia and surgery.
"Going out to dinner or just party environments, concerts, Saints games, it's made a huge difference and all, that I can actually hear everybody to the right of me, where before there was nothing," said Walker.
Hearing loss can be caused by tumors, viruses, chronic ear infections, and children not vaccinated for the measles or mumps are at higher risk.
The SoundBite is FDA approved and two-thirds of insurance companies covering it. BCBS of Louisiana does cover it. The company is in the process of getting Medicare to cover it. People with certain removable dentures can't use the device.
For more information call (504) 842-4565, or go to their website: http://www.sonitusmedical.com/product/soundbite-in-detail.cfm