A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that bypasses damaged hair cells in the ear and provides electrical stimulation directly to the auditory nerve, giving patients who are severely hearing impaired or profoundly deaf the ability to hear. It is most beneficial for those who cannot be helped with a traditional hearing aid.
Traditional cochlear implant candidates have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears. Recently, individuals with single-sided deafness have received cochlear implants in their deaf ear and achieved success. Candidacy is reviewed on a case-by-case basis with the cochlear implant team.
How Do Cochlear Implants Work?
A cochlear implant works differently than a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so that a person with nerve damage can hear more clearly. Cochlear implants generate an electrical signal that the brain interprets as sound. The implant has an external portion that sits behind the ear, consisting of a microphone, a speech processor and a transmitter. These work in tandem with the internal components, a receiver and array of electrodes, which have been implanted in the ear.
The microphone picks up sound and sends it to the speech processor, which converts these signals to digital impulses and sends them to the transmitter. The transmitter wirelessly sends the processed audio signals to the internal receiver. From there, they are transmitted directly to the brain through the auditory nerve. While a cochlear implant does not cure deafness or restore hearing loss, it does allow an individual to perceive sound and can help them converse again.
If you experience moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss (the result of nerve damage to the inner ear) or have profound hearing loss in one ear and can’t benefit from conventional hearing aids, you could be a prime candidate for cochlear implantation.
The Next Steps
Cochlear implants help those with moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears who are not receiving enough benefit when using hearing aids, or some individuals with profound hearing loss in one ear. An audiologist will go over your hearing history, complete an extensive hearing test with and without hearing aids, then review your results and what to expect from follow-up visits.
The best cochlear implant candidates experience significant difficulty understanding speech because of sensorineural hearing loss (“sensory-neural,” when there is damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain) in one or both ears.
The goal of a cochlear implant evaluation is to:
- Determine if you are a cochlear implant candidate
- Review test results
- Receive recommendations based on results
- Learn more about cochlear implant technology
- Answer your and your loved ones’ questions
Maximize Your Hearing Performance
If you struggle to hear even when using powerful hearing aids and are unable to understand what others say, a cochlear implant may help. This implant can do more than help you hear again; it can also reconnect you to the life you love by helping you regain access to clearer sound.
Compared to bilateral hearing aids alone, a 2019 clinical evaluation of the Cochlear Nucleus found that:
- Around 95% of patients satisfied or very satisfied with hearing performance
- At least 76% had better understanding of what’s on TV
- Around 79% have improved ability to understand conversations in small groups
What To Expect
Cochlear implants involve two parts: an internal piece that is surgically implanted and an external piece that is worn behind the ear. The external device, called a sound processor, picks up sound and transmits it to the internal device by a wireless, magnetic connection.
Some additional thoughts to keep in mind when getting used to your new cochlear implant:
This is not a hearing aid: A cochlear implant does not amplify sound. It sends electrical signals to the hearing nerve to help provide sound clarity.
Be patient: The electric sounds transmitted to the inner ear are not representative of what the brain normally hears, rather an approximation. You should expect to spend some time practicing at home learning to interpret these sounds.
Return visits: It is crucial to return for follow-up programming as recommended by your audiologist. You will likely be seen for additional visits for the first three to six months. As you adjust to the implant, these visits become less frequent. The number of return visits may vary.
Background noise, TV and telephone: Understanding speech in the presence of background noise can be difficult. This may continue to be challenging, but you may hear better in these listening situations. In addition, listening to the television and talking on the phone are often the most challenging activities for even the most experienced users.
Outcomes vary: Understanding speech with the implant varies depending upon the history of hearing loss. Patients with a long history of significant hearing loss and who have received little benefit from hearing aids may take longer to adjust to the sound that a cochlear implant provides.
Cochlear Implant Team
Call Midwest ENT Specialists at (651) 702-0750 for more information or to schedule an appointment.