Industry Responds to Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall near New Orleans on August 29 was one of the most destructive and costliest hurricanes to hit the United States. Leaving a wake of destruction throughout the Gulf Coast, its storm surge breached the levees that protected New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain, flooding most of the city, while the coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were similarly flooded and buffeted. Recent estimates have placed the death toll in the thousands and the damage higher than $200 billion—topping Hurricane Andrew as the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. Over 1 million people were displaced—a displacement of US citizens not seen since the catastrophic Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.

 Tani Austin of the Starkey Hearing Foundation with two National Guardsmen who were posted at the Houston Convention Center where the Foundation had set up booths for people with hearing impairment.

The hearing health care field was quick to respond to the crisis with pledges of support and donations for the hearing-impaired people, as well as dispensing professionals, who were caught in the hurricane’s path. Among many contributions, Starkey Laboratories and the Starkey Hearing Foundation pledged as much as $40 million to disaster relief, and Phonak committed funds to set up a hearing aid bank for qualified individuals who lost or damaged their hearing aids due to the hurricane. Similarly, several hearing industry manufacturers, professional and consumer organizations, and individual dispensing offices/practices have pledged donations and services for the relief efforts. For more information, see the article on p 14 of this issue.


HIA and AAA Petition eBay to Halt Hearing Aid Sales
Alexandria, Va—In late July, the Hearing Industries Assn (HIA) sent a letter to eBay Senior VP and General Counsel Michael Jacobson requesting that eBay halt the sale of hearing instruments on its Web site. HIA Executive Director Carole Rogin stated in her July 26 letter: “Repeated visits to your site reveal that, on average, several hundred items appear when a visitor searches for ‘hearing aids.’ While a substantial number of these items are actually hearing aid batteries, a majority are hearing aids and, as such, violate the stated eBay policy that ‘Sellers may not list medical devices on eBay that require a prescription…’”

Rogin also cites that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers hearing aids to be a restricted “Class I” medical device. She also points out that the FDA requires that, among the conditions for sale of hearing aids, is the requirement for a medical evaluation by a licensed physician prior to purchase, or for adults over the age of 18 to waive that requirement by signing a statement to that effect, and the assumption that the hearing aid will be dispensed by a trained professional licensed to dispense hearing aids. “Neither of these conditions can be met without a face-to-face interaction between seller and purchaser,” states Rogin.

Following HIA’s letter, the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) put forward the same request. AAA’s letter urged eBay to “halt the sale of hearing aids on its Web site…and to comply with state and federal laws.”

Going several steps further, but in the same direction as HIA, AAA delineated the specific dispensing regulations for eBay and made the additional point that allowing the hearing aid listings on their Web site was a defacto encouragement of purchasers to use the waiver provision. As stated in the Hearing Aid Rule, the hearing aid seller must advise the prospective buyer that “…exercise of the waiver is not in the user’s best interest…” and the seller must “…not in any way actively encourage the prospective user to waive…a medical evaluation.” Additionally, AAA raised important concerns regarding state mail-order regulations that could be violated by purchases of hearing aids on the eBay site.

Jacobsen advised HIA by voice-mail that the FDA had “cleared” the listing of hearing aids as long as the waiver provision was provided, but actual discussions have not yet taken place. Currently the disclaimer states: “According to FDA, it is in your best health interest to obtain medical evaluation before purchasing a hearing aid, and you are encouraged to do so before bidding on this item. If you choose to bid on this item, you are affirming that you have obtained a medical evaluation or that you are waiving such medical evaluation.”

HIA and AAA are still pursuing the issue with the expectation that eBay will halt the sale of hearing instruments on their Web site.


BHI to Produce PBS Mini-Documentary
Alexandria, Va—The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) has announced that Sonion, headquartered in Roskilde, Denmark, with US offices in Minnetonka, Minn, has agreed to fund a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) mini-documentary for the BHI.

The documentary, which will highlight the critical importance of hearing and hearing aids as the treatment for hearing loss, is guaranteed 500 showings on America’s Public Broadcasting Service network, reaching an estimated audience of between 3-5 million viewers.

“Sonion is delighted to fund this valuable effort in support of the hearing community—the hearing instrument manufacturers, hearing health care providers, and ultimately users of hearing instruments,” says Sonion President Peter Scheel. “With so many positive things happening in the hearing health care field, perhaps there is no time in history better than now to reposition hearing health care in America as a service which literally transforms millions of lives. Now is the time to promote our knowledge of the impact of hearing loss treatment on quality of life and the new superb hearing aid technologies.”

Sonion has developed, manufactured, and marketed advanced electro-mechanical and electro-acoustical components for the hearing instrument industry worldwide for almost 30 years. It maintains facilities in Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, China and the United States.

In announcing the special project, BHI Executive Director Sergei Kochkin, PhD, noted, “With this special sponsorship by Sonion, we have a wonderful opportunity to highlight hearing health care in the digital age and to overcome societal misconceptions of hearing loss and hearing solutions.”

Kochkin also advised that, in addition to the broadcast, the mini-documentary will be available on CD-ROM for distribution through hearing health care providers and for inclusion on hearing health care Web sites. The program will be completed by the end of 2005, with expected airings in first quarter of 2006.


History of Hearing Devices Comes Alive in New “Deafness in Disguise” Virtual Exhibit
St. Louis—The Washington University School of Medicine Bernard Becker Medical Library has released of a revised digital exhibit, “Deafness in Disguise: Concealed Hearing Devices of the 19th and 20th Centuries.” The virtual museum can be viewed at http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/did/index.htm.

 The full exhibit can be accessed at http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/did/index.htm.

Deafness in Disguise features historic hearing devices that were disguised as everyday items during the 19th and 20th centuries, rare books on speech and hearing, and related archival material. Created for viewers of all ages and backgrounds—from the layperson to the scholar—the revised exhibit combines images of hearing devices, rare books, photographs, illustrations, advertising literature and patents to provide a unique glimpse into the history of deafness and hearing impairment. The revised Deafness in Disguise digital exhibit contains nearly 300 additional digital images of hearing devices and archival material, and includes new sections such as “Marketing of Hearing Devices”, a timeline, an image gallery, and a resource section. The featured hearing devices and rare books are from the Central Institute for the Deaf’s Max A. Goldstein Collections at Washington University Bernard Becker Medical Library.

The revised Deafness in Disguise digital exhibit was executed through a retrospective metadata grant project funded from the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act administered through the Missouri State Library.


Cochlear Implant Performance Unaffected by Hearing Loss in the Implanted Ear
Hearing-impaired individuals with severe to profound hearing loss and poor speech understanding who possess some residual hearing in one ear may experience significant communication benefit from a cochlear implant even if it is placed in the worse-hearing ear, a recent Johns Hopkins study suggests.

There is growing evidence that the amount of hearing in an ear prior to surgery is unrelated to a patient’s ability to interpret speech using an implant, says Howard W. Francis, MD, lead author of the study and an associate professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. Therefore, the better-hearing ear could be saved for the continued use of a hearing aid or future technology to complement a cochlear implant, Francis says.

Reporting in the August issue of Ear and Hearing, Francis and colleagues compared patients with no residual hearing, patients with some residual hearing in one ear, and patients with some residual hearing in both ears. The patients’ ability to interpret sounds and speech was measured before and after cochlear implant surgery.

Patients with residual hearing in one or both ears prior to surgery scored significantly higher on the speech perception tests following surgery, even when the implanted ear was profoundly deaf prior to surgery. The researchers also noted that patients’ ability to interpret speech in a noisy environment increased dramatically over time in proportion with the amount of residual hearing in the non-implanted ear.

“In cases where even a small amount of hearing ability remains in one ear, the central nervous system is better able to integrate auditory information with a cochlear implant, and equally so from either ear,” Francis says. “This speaks to the brain’s circuitry and its ability to interpret electrical signals generated by the implant even in the presumably more degenerated ear.”

Other evidence has recently shown that cochlear implants are often most effective when paired with a hearing instrument (see Ching et al articles in the July and August 2004 HR, and the interview with Laurie Eisenberg, PhD, in the August 2005 HR).


Hear-It and MRC Publish Estimates on Hearing Impaired
The Web site Hear-It (www.hear-it.org) recently published worldwide hearing loss figures generated by Professor Adrian Davis of the British MRC Institute of Hearing Research. According to Hear-It, Davis estimates that the total number of people suffering from hearing loss of more than 25 dB will exceed 700 million by 2015. In the developed world alone, Davis estimates that the number of hearing-impaired people will reach 215 million in 2015. Of those, some 90 million will be Europeans. In the developing countries the number is twice as large compared to the more develop world.

Davis also estimates that there were 440 million hearing-impaired people worldwide in 1995, with more than 70 million in Europe in a population of 700 million. The most recent MarkeTrak VII survey published by HR (July 2005) estimated the number of hearing-impaired people in the United States in 2004 to be 31.5 million in a total population of about 300 million.

The problem of hearing loss is growing: Davis estimates that more than 900 million people worldwide will suffer from hearing loss of more than 25 dB in 2025.


American Speech Hearing Foundation to Host Golf Benefit
Orlando, Fla—The American Speech Hearing Foundation will host its annual Golf Fundraiser at the Osprey Ridge Golf Course and the Coronado Springs Resort on January 21-22. Last year, the Foundation awarded more than $175,000 in scholarships and research grants. The tournament format has each foursome playing a scramble with an LPGA professional.

“Many of the major hearing aid manufacturers have supported the Foundation and this event in the past,” says Dennis Hampton, PhD. “Mostly, it’s a matter of supporting a worthy cause: advancing knowledge and improving practice for individuals with hearing and speech disorders.” For sponsorship or attendance information, contact Dennis Hampton at Hearing HealthCare News: (800) 342-1643.


Portable Music Players Causing Damage to Ears
Chicago—A recent AP article (September 13) by Martha Irvine indicates that all-day listening of loud music on portable music devices is having deleterious effects on the hearing of youth. Robert Novak and colleagues at Purdue University have been randomly examining students and have reportedly found a disturbing trend of noise-induced hearing loss.

The article also cites a National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL) study that found about 25% of people using portable stereos had daily noise exposures high enough to cause hearing damage. It also cites research at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People in which youth, ages 18-24, were more likely than other adults to exceed safe listening limits.


CORRECTION
The August 2005 HR article, “Cochlear Implants for Children Mark Their 25th Anniversary,” implied that Med-El Corp did not have a cochlear implant that was FDA approved. This is incorrect; Med-El received FDA approval for its device in 2001, and the MED-EL COMBI 40+ has been FDA approved since June 2003. HR regrets the error. For information on Med-El Corp’s new Med-El PulsarCI100, see the September HR News, or visit www.medel.com/ENG/US/index.asp.