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Comprehensive hearing care is breaking sound barriers

April 05, 2012
by Nicole Wise

Practically everyone who has ever dreamed of being a pilot fantasizes about breaking the sound barrier, but 21-year-old Seth Cohen, who was diagnosed as profoundly hearing-impaired at age 2, has quite literally done so already.

When he was in high school, Cohen was given a cochlear implant—a permanent electronic hearing device surgically implanted behind the ear—and now the Hamden, Connecticut resident and certified pilot is completing a degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

“I can listen to air traffic control and weather broadcasts over radios with no problems,” says Cohen. “I’m able to understand my friends even in a loud dining hall, and I enjoy being able to go to the movies without having to ask what a character said.”

Patients of all ages

Elias Michaelides, MD, director of the Yale Hearing & Balance Center, implanted Cohen’s device and has provided cochlear implants for children as young as 12 months. Requiring only a small incision behind the ear, the outpatient procedure is considered safe and beneficial even for elderly patients. “When people can’t hear, they’re often isolated,” Dr. Michaelides says, noting that the problem may worsen symptoms of dementia in the elderly and present safety concerns if they are unable to hear a fire alarm, a phone or the doorbell.

Of course, cochlear implants are not always the answer to a hearing problem. “There are literally hundreds of ways a person can go deaf at any age, including noise exposure, chemotherapy and genetic susceptibility,” says Dr. Michaelides.

First visit is comprehensive

Providers at the center see patients of all ages with inner ear problems (including viral infections), balance issues and facial paralysis. A first visit may last two hours and include an audiogram to measure the patient’s ability to hear certain pitches and tones. Patients will have appointments with Dr. Michaelides, and those being treated for dizziness will also see the Center's neurologist Dhasakumar S. Navaratnam, MD, PhD.

The doctors discuss each and every patient immediately after the visit, an unusually collaborative approach. “This type of comprehensive care is available in just a very few locations around the country,” says Dr. Navaratnam. In some cases the center also coordinates appointments with Yale specialists in cardiology, geriatrics, head and neck surgery, craniofacial surgery and speech pathology.

Quick diagnosis, treatment decisions

With appointments scheduled “back to back,” Jennifer Hopper, AuD, an audiologist and manager of the center, says most patients are able to leave after the first visit with a diagnosis, or at the very least, a long list of conditions that have been ruled out.

Treatment varies widely depending on the diagnosis, but may include working with an audiologist or speech therapist, medication, physical therapy and, in rare cases, surgery. The center provides leading-edge technology in digital hearing aids, and offers a competitive price structure and a variety of hearing aid styles.

While the center can and does treat patients with sudden problems relating to hearing or balance, many have already seen other doctors by the time they come in, Hopper says. “Many of our patients have a story by the time they get to us,” she says. “We tend to see patients who’ve struggled for years and years. It’s very rewarding to be part of a medical team that is able to help patients get the quality of their life back.”

Submitted by Mark Santore on December 16, 2013