What is a Vibrant Sound Bridge? How Does it Work?
Vibrant Sound Bridge (VSB) is a middle ear implant system for adults with moderate-to-severe sensorineural hearing loss. It is, essentially, an implantable hearing device that can help people who don’t see any improvement with conventional hearing aids. We’re going to discuss how it works, what the suitability criteria and expected outcomes are.
If you can’t wear a normal hearing aid – maybe due to medical conditions, a Vibrant Sound Bridge can be the solution for you. Unlike regular hearing aids, VSB use minuscule vibrations and are implanted by ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) Implant Surgeons and involve assessment and follow up care with your trusted Implant Audiologist.
The History of Middle Ear Implants and Vibrant Sound Bridges
So-called Middle ear implants (MEIs) were first thought of in the 1930s. The idea was to find a way to send sound waves from the outer ear to the middle ear and cochlea when the middle ear area didn’t work properly or was damaged.
In 1959, Rutschmann first documented the simulation of the small bones in the middle ear. He used alternating magnetic fields with a magnet affixed to the eardrum. Until the 1970s, several devices would be produced but remained mere prototypes. These early studies, although unsuccessful, helped lay the foundation for subsequent clinical trials that evaluated the feasibility of middle ear implants.
In the 1990s, greater technological advancements were capitalised leading to the invention of the VSB in 1994. Vibrant Sound Bridge (VSB) was the brand name given to the middle ear implant (MEI) device. It was invented by Mr Geoffrey Ball – a VSB bilateral recipient himself. Around the same time Symphonix California got together with him and began manufacturing the Vibrant Sound Bridge on a larger scale.
The Vibrant Sound Bridge system used in Australia is manufactured by MEDEL, a company based in Europe. It was approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in 2009.
Benefits of the Vibrant Sound Bridge (VSB)
- Improved quality of life
Many users say that their quality of life has significantly improved with a VSB implant.
Able to enjoy conversations with family and friends without constantly having to ask them to repeat themselves, conversations or meetings at work have become a lot easier.
They can now have relaxed conversations in situations where hearing is difficult – even for normal bearing people, such as in restaurants or amongst large groups of people. Implant wearers can hear soft voices and high-pitched sounds, such as birds chirping in the garden.
- The ear canal remains totally unobstructed.
If you cannot tolerate foreign objects in the ear canal or if you find an obstructed ear canal uncomfortable, or have discharging ears then the VSB can be a super comfortable alternative to traditional hearing aids. The magnetic force holds the audio processor firmly in place on the head, without the need for it to be attached in or to the ear.
- A solution that meets your needs and preferences
Whatever your preferences are, there’s a processor cover to suit your style. With the range of interchangeable covers, you can match the audio processor with your hair colour or choose a more eye-catching design.
- Advanced technology
With the new wireless connectivity, you can connect wirelessly to your mobile phone, mp3 player or FM system via Bluetooth or telecoil. You always benefit from the latest technology: each generation of audio processor is compatible with the implant. This makes it easy for you to continue to upgrade to the latest model years after having the implant.
As a result, you benefit from the latest audio processor technology. All that is needed is a simple fitting by the audiologist.The new MED-EL remote control ensures easy and discreet handling of the device. The VSB (VORP 503) is MR Conditional: you can therefore have MRI scans at 1.5 Tesla. This ensures that you can also benefit in future from MRI examinations if required.
- Suitable for children
VSB is the only middle ear implant that is fixed to just one structure of the middle ear. It is therefore independent of skull growth and is approved for use in children aged five and above.
How does the Vibrant Sound Bridge work?
The Vibrant Sound Bridge utilizes a hearing technology that directly drives the ossicular chain (middle ear bones), bypassing the ear canal and tympanic membrane.
It consists of two major components:
- The implant called the Vibrating Ossicular Prosthesis (VORPTM), and
- The externally-worn receiver, called the Audio Processor, approx 25 mm
The external audio processor sits on the head just behind and above the implanted ear where it is attached to the internal receiver (VORP) by a magnet. The audio processor picks up the sound from the environment and transmits it as electrical signals across the skin to the receiver of the VORP (prosthesis) which is implanted under the skin behind the ear.
The signal is then transmitted to the floating mass transducer (FMT) causing it to vibrate as it turns the electrical signals into mechanical vibrations. The FMT is then mechanically stimulating the ossicles, mimicking the natural process of hearing.
The FMT is usually attached to the long process of the incus bone or to the round window during the surgical process. The ossicular motion creates a movement in the cochlea, stimulating the hair cells. The hair cells provide stimuli to the auditory nerve, which is interpreted as sound by the brain.
Is the Vibrant Sound Bridge effective?
Research undertaken in the USA and Europe with adult VSB recipients has found significant improvements in the following areas:
- Increased ease of communication
- Improved hearing in quiet and noisy backgrounds
- Greater speech clearness and sound quality compared to the hearing aid
- A benefit to subjects with tinnitus accompanied by sensorineural hearing loss
- No acoustic feedback or whistling
- Greater comfort thanks to the open ear canal
Studies also found that the performance of the VSB did not deteriorate with more than a five year follow up – confirming its safety and effectiveness.
Are you a good candidate for the Vibrant Sound Bridge?
To be an ideal candidate for this procedure, you should meet the following criteria:
- Stable mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss (bilateral, symmetrical)
- OR have a mixed or conductive loss with stable bone conduction levels
- Unable to wear a conventional hearing aid due to medical conditions
- Normal middle ear
- No other inner ear disorders
VSB candidates who cannot use conventional hearing aids for a variety of medical reasons which may include:
- Chronic otitis externa
- Exostosis of the ear canal
- Persistent excessive wax blocking the ear canal
- Absent or deformed pinnae following skin cancer
- Unusual ear morphology.
What to expect from the surgery
The procedure to implant the VSB is straightforward and takes approximately one to two hours. Implant patients are exposed to the normal risks of middle ear surgery and general anesthesia.
A few weeks after implantation your Implant Audiologist will turn on your audio processor for the first time and you’ll hear your first new sounds. The audio settings of your processor will then be adjusted to fit your hearing preferences.
How much does the Vibrant Sound Bridge cost? Is it covered by insurance?
Private health funds do have reimbursement criteria that apply to getting the Vibrant Sound Bridge for sensorineural hearing loss. You would need to check with your particular health fund to see whether you have coverage and for what amount.
Medicare does have an item number for a middle ear implant. For more information and patient eligibility requirements, visit the Medicare Benefits Schedule online!
In a Nutshell
The ultimate aim of Vibrant Sound Bridges is to give patients with sensorineural, mixed, or conductive hearing losses an alternative to traditional hearing aids. Whether they couldn’t wear them for medical reasons or chose not to, because they were unsatisfied with their past experiences wearing conventional hearing aids.
Vibrant Sound Bridges have been on the market for more than 20 years of experience and are the most used middle ear implant worldwide. Studies found that the VSB remains a highly reliable middle ear implant system both surgically and audiologically.
If you would like to find out whether Vibrant Sound Bridge may be a suitable hearing option for you, then it is advised to see your trusted audiologist and get a referral to an ENT Implant Surgeon from your GP!
If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact the friendly team at Attune Hearing – your destination for gold standard hearing health care! Give us a call at 1300 736 702