International Cochlear Implant Day – February 25th, 2022

What is a Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device designed to restore the ability to perceive sounds and understand speech by individuals with moderate to profound hearing loss. Children and adults who are not sufficiently helped by hearing aids may benefit from cochlear implants. Unlike a hearing aid, which delivers amplified sound acoustically, a cochlear implant bypasses damaged hair cells in the cochlea and stimulates the remaining nerve fibers directly through the application of electrical current. A cochlear implant is a device for people whose hearing technology needs may be beyond hearing aids.

It takes time and training to learn to interpret the signals received from a cochlear implant. Within a year of use, most people with cochlear implants make considerable gains in understanding speech.

How does a Cochlear Implant Work?

A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin (see figure). An implant has the following parts:

  • A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment.
  • A speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone.
  • A transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses.
  • An electrode array, which is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them to different regions of the auditory nerve.

An implant does not restore normal hearing. Instead, it can give a person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help him or her to understand speech. Having said that, most patients with cochlear implants love the sound of speech and music through their devices, and the majority can use the telephone effectively with their device.

Who gets Cochlear Implants?

Cochlear implants are approved from age 9 months on up, for people with either bilateral (both sides) severe or worse hearing loss, and for adults with unilateral (one side) severe or worse hearing loss that cannot be adequately helped with a hearing aid. Individuals considering the procedure must undergo extensive hearing testing and counseling to determine whether they are better served with a cochlear implant or more traditional hearing aids or other technologies. They will also need to undergo a thorough ENT and medical evaluation and imaging which can include CT scan, MRI scan or both. The surgery usually takes about 2-3 hours and is performed under general anesthesia. Postoperative discomfort is usually mild. Young children or older elderly patients may require an overnight stay in the hospital, but usually the surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure. The risks of the procedure for properly selected patients are low. However, patients considering the procedure should discuss the details further with their physician.

If you think you or your loved one might benefit from cochlear implant technology, call and make an appointment to see one of our specialty Board-certified otologists at ENTA. We love to help people hear!

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