Cochlear Implants

What is a Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant is a small, surgically inserted device that has been proven to restore partial hearing in people for whom hearing aids are ineffective.

How Does a Cochlear Implant Work?

A cochlear implant consists of three parts:

  • Receiver
  • Speech processor
  • Microphone

It's designed to allow sound waves to bypass damaged parts of the auditory system and directly stimulate healthy auditory (hearing) nerves.

The receiver is a small electronic device that is surgically implanted behind the ear. The microphone and speech processor are worn externally - the microphone fits behind the ear and the speech processor is worn on a belt or carried in a pocket. The microphone receives sound, then transmits sound waves to the speech processor. The speech processor then transmits the sound via radio waves to the receiver. The receiver then sends signals that stimulate the auditory nerve fibers, sending information to the brain that is interpreted as meaningful sound.

Who Can Benefit from a Cochlear Implant?

Adults and children who aren' t helped by a hearing aid, yet desire to be a part of the hearing world, can best benefit from a cochlear implant. Benefit does vary from person to person, depending upon cause of hearing loss, general health, and expectations. Some people experience no benefit from a cochlear implant.

Your doctor can determine if you are a candidate to receive a cochlear implant, and can determine how much you may benefit from one through the following evaluations:

  • Ear Evaluation. A physical exam of the middle and inner ear, checking for infection or any abnormality that would prevent surgery.
  • Hearing Test. Determines the level of hearing experience with and without a hearing aid
  • X-ray. Examines the inner ear bone
  • Psychological Tests. Done to evaluate the motivation and expectations for the cochlear implant
  • Physical Exam. Checking for any conditions that would prevent surgery

What is the Procedure for Having a Cochlear Implant?

There are three stages to the cochlear implant procedure:

  • Presurgery evaluation: Presurgery evaluation consists of the tests mentioned above. These tests determine if a person is a good candidate for the procedure and if they' re able to undergo surgery.
  • Surgery: Surgery can be done on an inpatient or outpatient basis and can last anywhere from 2 to 5 hours. Children are typically treated on an inpatient basis and require the more lengthy surgery. A small incision is made behind one ear to open the mastoid bone that leads to the middle ear. The receiver is then placed behind the ear.
  • Training and adjustments: About one month after surgery, the patient receives the speech processor and microphone. The patient is then trained on how to use the system, and it is adjusted for their sound preferences (volume, etc.). Regular check-ups are required to readjust the system to the user's hearing ability and preferences.

What to Expect From Cochlear Implant?

Following a cochlear implant, hearing ability varies from person to person. Normal hearing is never restored, but the level and distinction of sound varies. Factors that will determine your experience include the length and extent of your hearing loss as well as your motivation for receiving the cochlear implant.

Best Regional Hospitals, U.S. News & World Report: Ear, Nose & Throat 2013-14

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