If you’ve come to the point where your hearing loss has become so profound that hearing aids are no longer helpful to you, a cochlear implant may be the next step in preserving your sense of sound. A cochlear implant isn’t by definition a hearing aid, which is meant to amplify sound according to your hearing loss. Instead, a cochlear implant is a small, surgically implanted device that works by delivering electrical impulses directly to the inner ear. The electrical impulses are then delivered to the brain to be processed as sound. A cochlear implant doesn’t restore hearing, but can give the implant wearer a chance at hearing sound again, when other options are no longer viable.
How does a cochlear implant work?
Cochlear implants are intended for those with profound sensorineural hearing loss who cannot or can no longer wear hearing aids. This type of hearing loss is caused by damage to the small cells in the inner part of the ear called the cochlea. These cells, called cilia, communicate with the auditory (hearing) nerve. When the cells have been destroyed or did not develop during gestation, there is no communication with the hearing nerve and therefore, no sound reaches the brain. A cochlear implant stimulates the hearing nerve directly, allowing the sound to bypass the damaged area of the ear and get to the brain.
A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that consists of both internal parts that are implanted under the skin just behind and above the ear and external parts that are worn behind the ear, just like the typical behind the ear hearing aid would be worn.
When there are sounds in your environment, the microphone and processor will pick them up and change them into an electrical signal. Then the transmitter sends the signal to the receiver under the skin. Next, the receiver sends the signals on to the electrodes that are inserted into the cochlea. These electrodes stimulate the hearing nerve, which carries the signals to the brain, where they are recognized as sound.
How do you get a cochlear implant?
Once an ear, nose and throat physician and his cochlear implant team determines that you are a good candidate for an implant, a date will be set for the surgery. The surgery takes one to two hours to perform and is generally an outpatient procedure.
One to two weeks after surgery, you will be fitted with three external parts: a microphone, a speech processor, and a transmitter. The microphone is housed in a case that looks very similar to a behind the ear hearing aid and is worn on the ear. The audio processor may be housed along with the microphone or it may be worn elsewhere on the body. The audio processor offers multiple program options, telephone connection options, and the ability to connect to assistive listening devices and other listening devices, like MP3 players.
How do I know if a cochlear implant is right for me?
If you think you might be a candidate for a cochlear implant, talk to your audiologist. He or she can tell you whether a cochlear implant is a good option for you and advise you of the positives and negatives of a cochlear implant. If your audiologist does not work with cochlear implants directly, you will be referred to a center that does where you will consult with a team of experts. Typically, these experts include an ear doctor (otolaryngologist), audiologist, psychologist and speech-language pathologist. The team works together to evaluate you, answer your questions, perform the surgery and offer follow-up care.
You may undergo certain tests, such as:
• an audiogram to determine the extent of your hearing loss as well as where the hearing loss stems from
• a hearing aid evaluation
• CT or MRI scans of the middle and inner ear structures
• a physical exam to prepare for general anesthesia
• a psychological exam to assess your expectations and ability to handle the surgery and commitment necessary for the programming and follow-up needed with a cochlear implant
Many times those with profound hearing loss feel like they have no hope for better hearing. In many instances, though, a cochlear implant is an excellent next step. If you are curious about cochlear implants and wonder if you might be a candidate, call our office. We’d be glad to discuss the possibility with you.