New Bluetooth Implant Helps Deaf People Hear

Tweak your hearing with a smartwatch

Key Takeaways

  • A new type of implanted hearing device conducts sound through the bones of the skull and can be controlled via an app. 
  • The Cochlear Osia 2 System was approved by the FDA last year. 
  • The device bypasses damaged areas of the natural hearing system to send sound vibrations directly to the inner ear.
A person using the Osia 2 System appears to be listening to the world.
Choclear Ltd.

A new type of implanted hearing device that conducts sound through the bones of the skull is letting some partially deaf people listen to sounds properly for the first time. 

The Cochlear Osia 2 System implant is a type of hearing aid that can be adjusted via Bluetooth and an app. The device was approved by the FDA last year and works by using digital piezoelectric stimulation to bypass damaged areas of the natural hearing system to send sound vibrations directly to the inner ear. 

"The big difference with the new device is that, while the driver is under the skin, it still provides the high output power and gain of previous technologies that were external, which translates into better hearing," Dr. Laura Brainard, who was part of a team which recently implanted the device in a patient at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, said in an email interview. 

Bluetooth is a Gamechanger

Previous hearing devices that use bone conduction are located above the skin. They use a pin that sticks out of the skin, which is more susceptible to infections and minor complications, according to Dr. Brainard.

Caroline Leak, the co-director of WISE Ambassadors, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting cochlear implant recipients, said in an email interview with Lifewire that she had experienced firsthand the drawbacks of earlier implants.

Wise has herself used four models of implants. "Over my life, I’ve watched the processor shrink in size, increase in power, improve in quality of sound, and include Bluetooth capability," she said. "That one has truly been a game-changer for me. I don’t dread phone calls anymore. I listen to music and podcasts constantly. It’s amazing and made my interactions with technology so much better, clearer, and easier."

Cochlear Osia OS1200 implant.
Cochlear Ltd.

The thin profile of the Cochlear Osia 2 System helps to simplify surgery for the system, the manufacturer says. On the outside, the system’s processor captures sounds and sends both the sound signal and power to the internal implant. 

The new Osia Smart App lets the user adjust the sound processor via Bluetooth from a compatible smartphone or Apple Watch. The sound processor comes with five changeable color cover options. It’s also dust and moisture resistant, and with an optional waterproof accessory, it can be used in the pool or ocean.

The first patient at Henry Ford to get the new implant was Angela Holland, a nurse. For 50 years, Holland had suffered from single-sided deafness caused by a disease known as cholesteatoma. After surgery to implant the internal portion of the device under the skin, the new implant was activated by an audiologist, who connected the device’s external sound processor and calibrated it to Holland’s optimal hearing level. 

Patient Hears Husband’s Voice at Her Wedding

Two days after the calibration procedure, she stood at the wedding altar, hearing the voice of her new husband John, during their exchange of vows. "I remember specifically having him stand on my left side where I could hear him with my new implant," Holland said in a news release.

"I cried when I heard John respond 'Absolutely!' when the marriage officiant asked if he would take me to be his wife."

Angela Holland and her husband John celebrate their wedding on October 15, 2020.
Courtesy: Angela Holland / ©Henry Ford Health System

The pandemic created new sound barriers for Holland. "People’s voices were more muffled with a mask," she said. "You can’t see their mouth when they’re talking and read their lips, or they’re standing behind a pane of plexiglass."

Holland said that the implant had made a big difference in her life. "There are so many noises that are out there now," she added. "I could always hear and be able to talk to people and function, but now it’s all these strange sounds that you don’t recognize and are loud and clear, all of a sudden."

The new Cochlear Osia 2 is creating a revolution in the way some deaf people can hear. Having the ability to control the device by Bluetooth is a perk that may seem small, but apparently is making a major difference in the quality of life of patients.

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