Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
At 24 years of age, Kevin Hotaling is considered a younger Millennial, but he has some sage advice about hearing health. While many in his generation with hearing loss are reluctant to call attention to their hearing devices, Kevin is quick to share the attributes of his bone-anchored hearing system, and the journey he took in order to hear his best. He’s hoping it encourages other young adults to take charge of their hearing health, too.
“We are a technical generation—one that embraces the nuances of modernity, especially when it comes to making life easier,” he said. “There are so many young adults who are living their lives with devices that do not give them the hearing that they deserve. You owe it to yourself to seek out options.”
Kevin’s story: Hearing aids helped, but not enough
Kevin was born with severe congenital hearing loss on his left side, a condition he treated with hearing aids all the way through high school. Because his left-side ear canal is so small, it was prone to ear infections. The hearing aid ear mold trapped moisture and bacteria, causing even more frequent infections—and almost constant pain.
“I remember having tantrums about wearing the aids because they hurt, or whistled because of feedback,” he said. “All of this on top of the fact that I was essentially ‘hitting the ceiling’ on what my devices were able to do as far as output of sound and power. This meant that I wasn’t even reaping the benefits of what this device was offering because of issues with my inner ear structure.”
The search for a better solution
By the time Kevin was ready for college, he’d resigned himself to the limitations and, in his own words, “mellowed out a bit and accepted that this is just how it was.” That all changed when his mom’s teaching colleague suggested he try a bone-anchored hearing system.
The recommendation led to a series of appointments with specialists and the exploration of a myriad of different solutions. After Kevin narrowed his choices to a bone-anchored hearing system, he opted to trial different systems during a weekend with his family. He was able to demo each system by wearing a specialized headband that held the processor and microphone unit in place behind his ear. The device delivered sound vibrations to his inner ear by vibrating the bones in his skull.
By the end of the weekend, Kevin preferred a type of hearing system known as a Ponto, made by Oticon Medical.
“If there was any occasion that could give a hearing device a solid workout, it would be a dinner event with my family,” he said with a laugh. “I found myself sitting back and hearing my family in a way I had never been able to before. I’m a very conversational person, so it must have been strange for my family to see me sitting back and listening so intently rather than my usual talkativeness. The truth is, I was just so astounded by all that I was absorbing, and by all that I must have been missing over the years. It brought me to tears so many times.”
About bone-anchored hearing systems
Bone-anchored hearing systems differ from traditional hearing aids because part of the device is surgically implanted into the skull. A small titanium abutment is placed into the bone, under the skin. An external device that contains a microphone and sound processor fits snugly over the abutment.
The processor collects sound, converts it into vibrations and sends it to the implant, which vibrates the surrounding bone, bypassing any abnormalities in the ear canal and sending sound vibrations directly to the inner ear.
Both children and adults can benefit from bone-anchored systems. The best candidates are those who have at least one inner ear that functions normally and those with severe outer or middle-ear malformations or those with single-sided deafness.
Cochlear Americas (Baha) and Oticon Medical (Ponto) are the two major manufacturers of bone-anchored systems in the U.S.
Advice for others
Kevin received his Ponto Plus on October 13, 2014, just before he entered college at Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass. Today, Kevin works as a Field Trainer for HearingLife and has received several upgrades to his bone-anchored hearing system.
“When I upgraded from the Ponto 3 to the Ponto 3 Superpower, it was as though I’d woken up again. And when the Ponto 4 was released and easily accessible streaming was added to the mix,” he said, “my hearing loss became less of a handicap and more of a superpower. Words do not speak justice for what the Ponto is able to accomplish so effortlessly.”
Because bone-anchored hearing systems aren’t well-known, Kevin also likes that he can chat with fellow Ponto users via Oticon Medical’s Friends program. He can seek answers, assistance or guidance from fellow Ponto users, and staff. “It was made with the community in mind,” he said.
Where to go for help
If you or a family member believe you are a good candidate for a bone-anchored hearing system, consult an audiologist or ear, nose and throat doctor.