According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, hearing loss affects millions of children and adults worldwide. Hearing loss can stem from conductive problems or problems with the external ear canal, ear drum, middle ear space or middle ear bones. Conductive hearing loss often can be treated with surgery to address the structure that is affected; however, this is not an option for nerve hearing loss. Nerve or sensorineural hearing loss is caused by intrauterine infections, congenital malformations of the inner ear, trauma, medication induced, sudden deafness or a progressive hearing loss from genetic predisposition. While many patients benefit from standard hearing aid technology, there are some who do not. Fortunately, a result of decades-long research, in 1985 the FDA approved cochlear implant use in humans to address sensorineural hearing loss. Cochlear implants have now helped more than 300,000 people worldwide.
What are cochlear implants?
Cochlear implants are implantable hearing devices that allow people who are deaf to hear.
How do they work?
Cochlear implantation provides electrical stimulation directly to the cochlea, the auditory portion of the inner ear. This is accomplished by inserting an electrode into the cochlea. It requires surgery under general anesthesia. Most patients go home the same day of the procedure. A cochlear implant is comprised of an internal processor that is attached to an electrode array and lies under the scalp skin. It is not at all visible!
There are external components that have a receiver, microphone and transmitter. The external components relay sound to the internal processor through connection with a magnet, which is under the scalp skin. The external components can be removed at any time, much like standard hearing aids. Once implanted, the expectation is that the implants are permanent; however, the internal components can still be removed surgically if it becomes necessary.
Cochlear implants have revolutionized the quality of life in children and adults. Children who are born deaf can now be implanted as infants and go on to live near normal lives. Adults with profound hearing loss also have benefitted from cochlear implants.
Who is eligible?
The indications for cochlear implants have evolved over the last three decades and are still changing. While, both children and adults can be implanted, the specific criteria is complex. If you are living with hearing loss that is not helped by hearing aids, your otolaryngologist will be able to help you determine your eligibility.