Last week, Oticon Medical and Audiology Online hosted a webinar to provide an inside look into the perspective and decision-making process of parents with children who can benefit from bone anchored hearing systems.
The webinar featured Melissa Tumblin and Ann Pipes, both mothers to children who use bone anchored hearing systems. Melissa’s daughter Alyssa (Ally) wears the Oticon Medical Ponto Plus on a soft band. Ann’s son, Winslow, made his own decision to have surgery to wear his bilateral Ponto Pluses on abutments as implants. Melissa is also the Founder and Executive Director of Ear Community, and Ann is a founding member of Little Ears Hearing Center, a non-profit pediatric audiology clinic in Louisville, KY.
Melissa and Ann shared their stories, and in doing so the audience learned:
- How to identify the parent consideration process in selecting a bone anchored hearing system for a child
- The various types of FM systems used by most schools
- How Ann and Melissa learned of bone anchored hearing systems and the products their children tried before the Ponto system
With an incredible audience, we had dozens of great questions during the Q&A session. We weren’t able to get to a few of them, so Melissa Tumblin generously the took the time to answer in her own words below. We also had a few additional answers to offer.
Does a Ponto user have to wear the Oticon Medical Streamer?
It is actually only the Ponto Plus that has the use of the Oticon Medical Streamer, not the Ponto Pro model. Also, a child or adult does not always have to wear the streamer around their neck—they can either loop it or link it. If the streamer is not programmed to be looped around the neck, it can be programmed to be linked so the user does not have to wear the cord. That way, it can easily go in a pocket or purse, but note that the streaming device must be within 3 feet of your body/hearing devices to have optimal sound coverage.
Is reconstructive surgery required or desired for the abutment surgery?
Of course, every individual situation is different, but generally speaking, reconstructive surgery is not required. Having a Ponto system implanted is usually a relatively minimally invasive procedure where a small incision behind the ear in the area of the mastoid. If pinna reconstruction is being done, it is possible for the pinna reconstruction to be done in conjunction with the bone anchored surgery, before the bone conduction surgery, or at a later date for most patients.
What question or questions are you most commonly asked about BAHS as the Founder of Ear Community?
I’m most commonly asked, “Will the BAHS hurt your hearing?” People often think it will over-amplify. That is not the case, however. There is a set threshold and the device will not allow sound to be more than what a normal ear can handle. Also, many ask if the BAHS hurts (in other ways) in regards to infection and sleeping on it. In short, it’s most like having pierced ears. Some people have no problem with infection and can wear anything they want, but some have metal allergies and skin issues where a cortisone cream can be used along with good hygiene (some prefer a wet wipe or warm soapy wash cloth to the tooth brush that comes along with the care kit). I think the big fear is that it’s permanent.
It is always good to remind someone that with the use of a BAHS, you can always adjust the hearing as it changes over the years.
Can the hearing device implant (screw and fixture) surgery be reversed?
[Oticon Medical team answer] Although it doesn’t happen often, the procedure can be reversed. The abutment can be removed from the implant and a flat cover screw is attached in its place, then the skin heals at the incision site over the implant and cover screw. In some cases, a surgery is performed where the entire implant is removed. Again, this isn’t a common occurrence, but it is possible.
How do you suggest someone deal with people looking at and asking about a “little ear” caused by Microtia?
This can be a long answer as it depends on what was said and how it was said, for instance, is it out of curiosity or to be mean? We try to raise our kids to say ‘That is how I was born’ or ‘Oh, this is my little ear and my mom/dad said it is my special ear’. Kids can even relate it to Nemo, or say ‘God sealed it up with a secret’, etc. It really is whatever works best for each person.
Children at younger ages usually just question the little ears and then after getting an answer, they move on and play again. It is the older kids (after second grade) that can be mean about it with bullying and teasing.
Some older adults will say they made up stories like their house was robbed, and when they walked in a gun was shot and the bullet shot off their ear, or when they rescued someone from getting hurt, their ear was injured in the process. My dog bit my ear off is always a good one. It depends on the personality of the child/young adult for the stories to develop with flair.
Why do you need two BAHS when you have a bilateral conductive hearing loss instead of just one?
I get this question all the time on my support group by families who have either been told that one is good enough for the two ears to be able to hear, or one BAHS relays sound to both ears. Now, while this is true that one BAHS does relay sound to both ears (similar to the CROS hearing device), I can’t tell you the people I have either spoken to or have seen their posts when they have a bilateral conductive hearing loss and one of their processors is now broken or does not work. They still struggle to hear, or at least they notice a difference.
That said, two are better than one. I think it may be a preference coming from the family’s audiologist or ENT when it is suggested to only have one BAHS, but more people will swear that they hear optimally better with two processors. Even kids notice a difference at school when one BAHS is down or being repaired, and they are relying on just the one. While Ally only has a unilateral hearing loss, I learn from the others who have a bilateral hearing loss and this is what they say and experience out there. I guess you could say two ears need two BAHS.
If there is the case where a family or individual can afford only one BAHS, then at least they have one, because one is better than none.
During the webinar, Ann shared that her son, Winslow, notices a difference for which ear is hearing better and needs a Ponto Plus. As she mentioned, some do have a mixed hearing loss and do need even two different types of hearing devices. So, in these situations of having a mixed hearing loss, this is a valid reason for someone to need two devices—whether both be BAHS’s or one of each aid (BTE, etc.).