The Times of Northwest Indiana GET HEALTHY Section,
published October 22, 2015 12:00 pm.
Interview with Julie Dean Kessler.
North West Indianna Doctor Invents Inexpensive Hearing Aid
Hearing loss is epidemic, says Dr. Sreek Cherukuri, a board-certified otolaryngologist at CarePoint ENT in Munster and Merrillville. Yet for three-fourths of the hearing-impaired nationwide, hearing aids are too expensive. Cherukuri offers an option, one the doctor himself invented
for a very personal reason.
Q: What led you to invent a new type of hearing aid? I had some hearing loss after being exposed to loud music as a DJ when I was younger. Hearing loss is epidemic in the U.S., yet most people can’t afford the usual cost of hearing aids. That has a big impact on people, causing misunderstandings, embarrassment, workplace problems, missing out on such things as grandchildren’s voices, and contributing to the progression of cognitive problems in the elderly.
Q. How many people have hearing loss? It’s 36 million people nationwide, and the majority are younger than age 65.
Q. Why is that? Young people used to listen to music with an external player or with earphones; now they use ear buds, for hours at a time and at high volume. Using smart phones and MP3 players at max volume can cause hearing loss in as little as eight to 15 minutes, and the damage is cumulative over time; I’ve seen people in their 20s with permanent hearing loss.
Q: How many of those affected have hearing aids? Only a quarter of the 36 million with hearing loss have them. Medicare does not cover the cost of hearing aids, and FDA-approved ones on average cost $1,900 per ear.
Q: How much does the hearing aid you invented cost? There are three different types—two digital and one analog, ranging from a couple of hundred dollars per ear up to about $1,000 per ear. The one for $349 per ear meets most people’s needs and preferences. They’re the most inexpensive FDA-approved hearing aids on the market.
Q: How are you able to offer those prices? Expensive ones come with distribution and professional services such as multiple visits with the audiologist. We opened up some (expensive) hearing aids and found that the components cost less than $300. We sourced the same, medical-grade components and did some contract manufacturing and final assembly, resulting in the one-type-for-all, MDHearingAid. Thousands of them per month can be produced; some companies can produce as few as 10 of the customized ones per month. That’s how we can offer such a competitive price.
Q: How does the MDHearingAid compare to the more expensive ones?We don’t want to give the idea that our hearing aids are as good as a $1,900 hearing aid. But it is an extremely good, FDA-approved, second-best choice that is preprogrammed to accommodate the most common type of hearing loss.
Q. What is your recommendation in general for patients with hearing loss? We say, get the best professional help and hearing aid that is affordable for you.
Q: How can younger people avoid hearing loss? Listen to music at a reasonable volume. Use the 60/60 rule: no more than 60 percent volume for no more than 60 minutes at a time before a break of five to 15 minutes. It’s very important for hunters and people working in factories to use ear protection with ear muffs or ear plugs. I have seen people lose hearing permanently from a single gunshot they fire.
Q: How do patients obtain the MDHearingAid? After you’ve seen a professional to determine hearing loss, you can order the MDHearingAid online or by mail. It comes to your home and includes one free phone consultation and a 45-day free in-home trial. The website is MDHearingAid.com.