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Hybrid Ear Implant Offers Better Hearing Experience

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Going out with friends is usually fun, but for Jon Adler it was torture.

"You get in a loud restaurant and you're really overwhelmed," said Adler.

With his slow, progressive hearing loss, he used a hearing aid, but it amplified everything.

"You see people talking and hear all the noise like you're at Heinz Field or something and you can't tell what they're saying," Adler said.

Even watching TV was hard.

"I could hear people taking, but I couldn't tell what they were saying," said Adler. "So I was reading their lips."

His hearing loss wasn't bad enough for a cochlear implant, a surgically implanted electronic device that helps deaf people hear.

But the hearing aids weren't a good solution either.

"Every time he'd come in and he would say, 'these hearing aids don't work for me,'" said AGH Neuro-otologist Dr. Douglas Chen.

Then in spring of 2014, the FDA approved a hybrid, a combination of hearing aid and cochlear implant. It's a combination that allows for better hearing with background noise and music appreciation.

"The processor takes sound in, turns it into electrical activity, sends it down the electrode to the inner ear," said Chen.

The external processor is held in place with a magnet.

"If you're going swimming, or at nighttime, it literally, the magnet comes off, the ear mold comes out of the ear canal, and it just comes off your head," Chen said.

A meningitis vaccine is required before the surgical procedure. Potential risks include a facial droop on the same side as the implant and loss of any residual hearing. The cost can be up to $50,000 and insurance coverage varies.

Starting a month after the procedure, you come in for monthly tunings to make sure the sounds are just right.

Jon has done very well.

"Speech discrimination, word understanding and background noise went from 20 percent word understanding to over 70 percent word understanding," said Chen.

He's looking forward to going out much more with friends and family. And they've noticed they don't have to repeat things as much.

"It won't be perfect, I don't think, but it will be a very helpful situation," said Adler.

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