A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that allows a person who is severely hard of hearing or even deaf to hear. Although it does not fully restore normal hearing, it can give an individual a better representation of sounds in a particular environment that helps him or her to understand speech both in person or over a telephone. The implant includes an external portion that sits behind the ear and an internal portion that is placed underneath the skin. The implant as a whole includes four different parts:
– a microphone that picks up sound from within the environment.
– a speech processor that arranges the sounds picked up by the microphone.
– a transmitter and receiver or simulator that receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses.
– and an electrode array which is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses and sends them to the appropriate regions of the auditory nerve.
Unlike a hearing aid, which amplifies sounds so they can be detected by damaged ears, a cochlear implant goes beyond the damaged portions of the ear directly stimulating the auditory nerve. Cochlear implantation is a better option for someone who has more severe hearing loss.
There are numerous reasons for hearing loss including but not limited to: exposure to loud noise (preventable but not reversible), natural aging, trauma to the head, sickness or disease (fluid in the ears), ear malformation, and inner ear disease. Regardless of the reason, hearing loss is becoming more and more common, particularly in young people. One in eight people in the United States aged 12 years or older has some level of hearing loss in both hears based on standard hearing examinations. (One in five have hearing loss in at least one ear). If you are one of these individuals that has lost some or all of your hearing, cochlear implantation may be a good option to help your hearing.
Who is a good candidate for the cochlear implant?
Both children and adults can benefit from a cochlear implant depending on the severity of the hearing loss, and sometimes the source of hearing loss. Cochlear implants have been around since the 80’s and have been FDA-approved for use in eligible children beginning at 12 months of age since 2000. Cochlear implants are an option for someone who has experienced hearing loss that is so severe that it interrupts spoken communication, for children who are born deaf, and adults that no longer benefit from hearing aids. These implants have shown to drastically improve communication skills in children who otherwise would have been unable to develop speech and language skills.
What to expect
When receiving the cochlear implant surgery, you are generally put under anesthesia while a surgeon makes a small incision behind the ear and places the implant under the skin and inserts the electrode into the inner ear. The surgical team will test that the implant is properly working and will close the incision. This is typically an outpatient procedure that can last up to two hours. Recovery time is anywhere from a couple days up to two weeks but the implant will not be turned on until the incision site is fully healed which is generally anywhere from 3-4 weeks. Once the implant is turned on, it will be activated and paired with a processor. Next, the patient will need to undergo therapy to learn or relearn the sense of hearing. The duration of this is dependent upon many factors and varies for each individual. It takes some time and training to learn how to properly interpret the signals received from the implant.
If you suspect that you or your child are experiencing hearing loss and would like more information, Camellia Audiology is skilled in providing diagnostic, rehabilitative, and other services associated with hearing, balance, tinnitus management and more. If you are interested in Cochlear Implantation or have additional questions, our very own Dr. White is one of the few surgeons in the state and the only surgeon in the area to offer this procedure. We would be happy to evaluate if cochlear implantation is a good option for you or your loved one.
As always, preventative measures are much easier than corrective measures. Camellia ENT always recommends protecting your hearing. For information on preventative hearing loss measures and our recommended hearing protection products, click here.