A cochlear implant is a surgically-implanted device that provides sound perception to people with moderate-to-profound hearing loss. With the help of rehabilitative therapy, a cochlear implant may offer improved speech understanding in various listening environments.
Parts of a cochlear implant
Cochlear implants have two main components – the external sound processor and the internal implant.
The external component is generally worn behind the ear but could also be attached to clothing, especially in young children. Also known as the sound processor, the external component contains microphones, digital signal processor (DSP) chips, batteries, and a coil that relays acoustic signals to the implant through the skin.
The internal component is referred to as the “actual” implant. It receives the acoustic signals and delivers them to the electrode array through a coil that is placed into the cochlea. The coil is responsible for stimulating the cochlear nerve. Together, these parts bypass the part of the ear that isn’t working, sending sound directly to the hearing nerve.
How does a cochlear implant work?
Cochlear implants are recommended for people whose sensory hair cells in the inner ear are damaged and cannot find significant benefit from traditional hearing aid use. They are designed to bypass the damaged hair cells and transmit sounds directly to the auditory nerves.
The microphone picks up sound and sends it to the speech processor which is responsible for selecting, analyzing, and digitizing the acoustic information picked up by the microphone.
The transmitter receives the signals from the speech processor and converts them to electric impulses. The electrode array which is implanted under the skin and in the cochlea collects the electric impulses and stimulates the fibers in various regions of the auditory nerve. The end result of this process is the perception of sound.
Who gets cochlear implants?
Adults and children who are diagnosed with severe hearing loss are ideal candidates for cochlear implants.
Below are specific eligibility criteria for cochlear implants:
- severe or profound hearing loss
- no benefits gained from hearing aids
- learned speech and language before suffering from hearing loss
Individuals with well-established speech and language tend to adjust better to the cochlear implants because the sounds provided by the cochlear implant will be associated with the sounds they remember. With this premise, people with cochlear implants will not need any visual cues (such as lip reading) to understand speech.
Can children get cochlear implants?
FDA has approved children aged 12 months and older to receive cochlear implants. Most babies who are diagnosed with hearing loss may receive cochlear implants as soon as possible. Several studies have concluded that children who get cochlear implants earlier in life develop speech and language better than those who receive cochlear implants later in life.
Cochlear implants may work best for children who:
- are not able to benefit from hearing aids
- have profound hearing loss in both ears
- do not have an existing medical condition that can affect surgery
- are willing to learn how to communicate with a cochlear implant
- have a strong support system from their parents, school, and teachers
How does someone receive a cochlear implant?
Before a cochlear implant can be received, a patient must get clearance for the surgery to proceed. It must be clear to the patient or the patient’s family (if the cochlear implant receiver is still a child) that getting a cochlear implant requires surgery and significant therapy to learn or relearn hearing.
Adjusting to implants is a unique experience for each individual; some may take weeks or months before adjusting completely to the implant. The willingness to learn, along with support from medical professionals and family, plays a big role in the adjustment process.
Is getting a cochlear implant safe?
Generally, getting a cochlear implant is safe as long as it is performed by trained medical professionals. Keep in mind that getting a cochlear implant is not as simple as getting fitted with hearing aids.
Since cochlear implantation is a surgical procedure, there are some minimal risks. Before you make a decision, all the risks and possible complications will be discussed with you by a surgeon or cochlear implantation specialist.
What happens during cochlear implant surgery?
A cochlear implant procedure is considered to be a minimally invasive surgery. The surgery itself usually takes two to four hours. A patient will be given medication (general anesthesia) to make them sleep during the procedure. A small incision will be made on the skin and a tissue flap is lifted so that the surgeon can create a small hole in the skull bone behind the ear. A receiver is placed into the drilled-out portion of the bone and an electrode array is inserted into the cochlea.
What happens after the surgery?
A patient may experience mild to moderate pain around the ear for a few days. Headaches, popping, or clicking in the ears may also be expected a few days after the surgery. These after-surgery symptoms usually go away within a week.
Swelling behind the ear is expected and will fade away in three to five weeks. Once the surgery site is completely healed, the activation of the implant will take place. This will involve the attachment of the sound processor and external transmitter.
Once the processor has been activated, the patient will experience a whole new range of sounds. All of these sounds will be a bit new to the brain at first. However, with repeated exercise and training the brain will begin to learn and interpret these sounds as familiar.
Learning to Interpret Sounds
Getting used to cochlear implants may take time, but through daily listening and auditory training, these surgically implanted devices can significantly help children and adults interpret those signals as speech and sound.
Cochlear Implants in Cary, NC
Cary Audiology offers a wide range of hearing solutions to accommodate any type of hearing loss.
If you would like to know more about cochlear implants, get an evaluation, or inquire about candidacy, our audiologists will gladly walk you through the process.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation!