Invisible bionic ear means Linda can hear traffic for the first time

Linda Oxley

Linda Oxley has become one of the first people in the country to be fitted with an invisible hearing aid. Catherine Scott reports.

A SURGEON from Sheffield has become one of only a handful in the world, to successfully implant a fully ‘invisible’ hearing device into the fine bones of a woman’s middle ear.

life-changing: Professor Jaydip Ray with the implant.

The surgery, involving a Cochlear CARINA hearing device, has enabled Linda Oxley, a former wine and spirits manager, to hear everyday sounds for the first time in ten years.

The device – which gives 24/7 hearing and can be recharged through an external charger within 30 minutes – was implanted by Professor Jaydip Ray, a consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and is completely invisible from the outside of the scalp unlike other cochlear implants.

Linda was staggered at the impact the surgery had on her quality of life.

“My life has changed beyond belief. As soon as the implant was switched on I could tell the difference straight away. I could hear traffic, people whistling, dogs barking, even hear the owl at night,” said Linda, 67.

She is only the fourth person in the UK and the first in the north of England to be given a cochlear CARINA hearing implant.

Since her late 50s, repeated ear infections made it impossible for Linda, now retired, to do the simplest things in life.

Shopping was “embarrassing” as she couldn’t hear what people were saying and she had to use her eyes a lot more to cross the road as she sometimes didn’t hear a car coming up.

“I couldn’t hear what people were saying and I began to feel depressed and not go out as much,” says Linda.

“When I did venture out I used to put my head down and hope that people didn’t see me so that I did not have to speak to them because I could not hear what they would say to me.

“ I get choked up when I think about it, let’s just say cornflakes and crisps are a new experience. I’m really lucky to have had this operation. It’s been absolutely brilliant.”

The device picks up sound from the outside world through a microphone and implant processor which are placed under the skin of the scalp. These are connected to an actuator, or mechanical driver, which is positioned inside the mastoid bone behind the ear and which drives and transfers the sounds from the outside world to 
the fine 3mm incus bone of the middle ear.

The device is suitable for those people who have severe hearing loss and who can no longer benefit from conventional hearing aids. This may be because of reduced inner ear function, ear canal infections, allergies to ear moulds or a closed ear canal. Other semi-implantable hearing aids, such as cochlear implants, are already widely available but all have external sound receivers which cannot be worn during activities such as showering, bathing or swimming, when water may damage the electronics.

Professor Ray, who undertook the operation at Sheffield’s Hallamshire Hospital, said he was “very pleased” that the implant had improved the quality of Linda’s life.

“The device is fully implantable, there’s nothing to show on the outside, and the duration for charging is exactly the same as an episode of Emmerdale or EastEnders.

“It works beautifully as it doesn’t need to be switched on or off, and it gives 24/7 hearing,” said Professor Ray.

“The bones in the ear are three of the smallest bones in the body, so aligning this device felt like docking a space station – it involved a very complex assembly of micro pistons and discs.”

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is currently the only centre in the north of England to be able to offer patients the Cochlear CARINA® middle hearing implant.

The Trust has one of the largest Ear, Nose and Throat centres in the UK.

“I’ve been lucky as we have a hugely supportive audiology department, and we provide a wide portfolio of implantable hearing solutions in conjunction with a full suite of advanced ear surgery,” Professor Ray added.

Anyone with severe hearing loss who can no longer benefit from conventional hearing aids due to reduced inner ear function, ear canal infections, allergies to ear moulds or a closed ear canal, who is interested in having the device fitted, can be referred to the otology clinic in the Ear, Nose and Throat department at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust by their GP, specialist, audiologist or hearing aid provider.

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