Jack Perrell* had no idea what he was missing until he was fitted with hearing aids. The 46-year-old information technology professional and his wife have been fostering cats for 15 years, and it wasn’t until last October, when he was evaluated and fitted with hearing aids, that he heard his favorite cat purr.

“I could feel the cat purring, and I think my brain must have filled in the sound I couldn’t hear,” he says. “Wow, it was so cool! The sound was so loud I had to turn down my hearing aids.”

After more than 20 years of progressive hearing loss, Perrell was diagnosed in 2011 with Ménière’s disease in both ears. More than 615,000 people in the United States have the inner ear disorder, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, with 45,500 new cases diagnosed annually. In addition to hearing loss, Ménière’s disease can cause vertigo, tinnitus and a feeling of congestion in the ear – symptoms that result from the buildup of fluid in the labyrinth of the ear, which contains the organs of balance and hearing.

M. Mackenzie Hill, Au.D.Extensive testing by a community otolaryngologist to rule out other disorders led to a referral in October 2013 to UTHealth Audiology, a program of the department of Otorhinolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery at UTHealth Medical School. There, audiologist Mackenzie Hill, Au.D., evaluated his hearing loss and fitted him with Siemens Pure 7MI receiver-in-the-canal hearing aids, which are small in size and designed with advanced technology. In addition to sound amplification, they have programmable masking capability for the treatment and management of tinnitus.

“Hearing loss associated with Ménière’s disease can be progressive and may fluctuate over time,” Dr. Hill says. “We chose this particular model because Jack also has tinnitus. He can choose to have it function solely as a hearing aid, or add sound, such as white or pink noise, to mask the ringing of tinnitus. Because it’s programmable, we can adapt the program to his fluctuating hearing loss and make adjustments as his needs change.

“It’s important to know that one brand isn’t the best for everyone,” she adds. “We work with all the major vendors and manufacturers, which allows us to offer the latest and greatest to patients with hearing loss and tinnitus.”

Five months after being evaluated and fitted, Perrell remains amazed at what he can hear. “The difference was earth shattering,” he says. “I’ve had ear problems since I was a teenager and had no idea that my hearing had gotten so bad. My wife describes the difference as profound. We can have a normal conversation without her having to raise her voice, and when she talks to me in the kitchen, I can hear her several rooms away. It’s made a big difference in a lot of lives in both of our families. To me they’re second ears.”

*The patient’s name has been changed at his request.

Hearing aids