The Things We Do When We Have a Hearing Loss:
The Final Chapter (I Hope), or How I Got My BAHA

By Rick Faunt

You might have read part one and part two of my story, where I chronicled my attempts to improve the hearing on my right side. The short version of why I have that hearing loss: I have a non-functioning Eustachian tube, and the bones in the middle ear have rotted away from too many infections. I had seven surgeries to clean the area, insert tubes, and place (and replace and replace, etc.) the prosthesis.

Finally, the doctors and I gave up on that approach and decided on a new type of hearing aid. The goal here this time was to remove the hearing aid from the ear canal and allow the ear to drain and dry itself.

An example of a BAHA.
Photo credit:
Oticon Medical.

What’s a BAHA?

The Bone Anchored Hearing Aid, or BAHA, had been used in Europe for a while and had made its debut in good old U.S. of A. Back then, I was the third patient at the VA to receive a BAHA, but in the 20 years or so since, the BAHA has become more prevalent. Basically, it uses bone conduction to transfer the sound to the inner ear. A titanium post is inserted into the mastoid bone above the outer ear and the processor snaps onto the post. The processor vibrates, these vibrations are carried through the bone to the inner ear, and the sound is processed normally.

The BAHA comes in several styles and colors. The style will depend upon your hearing loss. Generally, the BAHA is indicated for mild to moderate conductive hearing loss; however, it is also effective for single-sided deafness. BAHA accessories are available: directional microphones, audio adapters, and others. Cochlear decided that t-coils are not needed in BAHAS now and replaced them with Bluetooth. I have mixed emotions about that.

Ah-Ha! Hearing Better with a BAHA

But I am very pleased and excited with my BAHA. I am hearing better than I have in years. The first night I had the processor, I was in a meeting in a hotel room with five other veterans, and I was able to hear and follow several conversations well enough to make appropriate responses and not just make up answers. Veterans, at least the ones I hang out with, are a loud and boisterous group, so being able to do this was fantastic. I got several comments that night about how responsive I was and how people hadn’t seen me smile so much in years. That is the good side! The aid works very well for me.

The downside is that with the t-coil now being an accessory, I have to remember where the adapter is and take time to let everything connect via Bluetooth. That means another device hanging from my neck, and if the phone rings, I have to reconnect the Bluetooth with the phone, so I miss some calls.

The BAHA Surgery

Now I’ll describe the fun part: the procedure. Getting a BAHA involves some relatively simple surgery. The level of anesthesia depends upon the doctor and patient tolerance. I was originally told I would have a general anesthetic, but the anesthesiologist decided I was young and robust enough to tolerate a local. I was given what she called the “happy drug.”

First, around the area where the implant is going to be, they fold back a flap of skin and scrape off the hair follicles to prevent hair from growing back around the abutment (the titanium stud). I am guessing, but I think the size of the area was about a half dollar size; it ends up with a quarter-sized area that is bald. Then a hole is drilled, tapped, and the stud is screwed in. Since I was mostly awake and drifting in and out of “never-never land,” it was somewhat disconcerting to hear the doctor ask for a high-speed drill, then a torque wrench, and then finally — the fun part — I heard, “Not deep enough, back the stud out.”

More drilling was heard and felt through the mastoid, and then the doctor again asked for the torque wrench. This time he seemed to be satisfied, and he continued his joking with the resident doctors.

An Easy BAHA Recovery

I found out later that I was the third person to receive a BAHA at the VA Hospital, so I was, once again, that guinea pig that I complained about in earlier articles. This time, though, I didn’t mind; everyone had a goal and knew what the result should be.

The whole procedure took about an hour and a half. The only complication, which resulted in nausea, was a reaction to being given too much codeine on an empty stomach. Unlike previous surgeries on my ear, I was able to take normal showers and had no lifestyle restrictions.

In the days following the implant, I can’t tell you if I had pain or not because I used the “happy pills” they gave me. But I don’t recall having any of the problems that I thought I might have. Although, if the wind is cold and the stud uncovered, it creates one heck of a chill!

After the abutment is implanted, it takes about three months before the processor is attached. The delay is to give the bone a chance to grow around the implant and make a solid contact for conducting the vibrations.

BAHA for the Win: Near-Normal Hearing

At this point, other than the relatively minor factors I’ve discussed, I am finding the BAHA to be an exceptional hearing device, and I am very pleased with the results. In fact, the day I got my processor, the audiologist gave me a quick hearing exam and stated that, on that side, I had near-normal hearing. Also, since one goal of getting the BAHA was to clear the ear canal, I have not noticed a recurrence of the chronic ear infections, and I have discontinued use of the antibiotic.

It is certainly worth discussing with your hearing care specialist to determine if a BAHA would meet your needs.

About the author

Rick Faunt has been a member of HLAA, in its several names, since 1996. He has held nearly every office at the Chapter and State level and continues to this day. He is a retired Boeing worker and was a consultant/installer of various Assistive Listening Systems for the hard of hearing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *