Understanding Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants are a form of implantable hearing device that helps people with sensorineural hearing loss. Cochlear implants restore the hearing chain in your head so that you no longer have to suffer with a total hearing loss. Where other hearing aids fail for this type of hearing loss, a cochlear implant makes all the difference.

There are two types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. The first is a result of something wrong with either the eardrum (tympanic membrane) or one of the three small bones in the middle ear that conduct sound to the inner ear.

Sensorineural hearing loss has to do with the cells of the inner ear which turn sound into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The bones of the middle ear vibrate and get fluid in the cochlea to begin moving. This movement causes hair cells in the inner ear to move and turn those vibrations into electrical impulses.

The cochlea resembles a coiled snail shell in the inner ear. When the hair cells of the inner ear are damaged from any number of sources, you get nerve deafness. The cells no longer move and generate the electrical impulses needed to complete the hearing chain. The only answer for such sensorineural hearing loss is a cochlear implant.

A cochlear implant bypasses the area of damage and directly stimulates the auditory nerves so the person can hear sounds. Children and adults have experienced a change in their life with the implantation of cochlear devices.

Part of the cochlear device is surgically implanted beneath the skin and behind the ear. The sound microphone is worn on the outside of the head over the surgically implanted device. A speech processor is worn in on your belt.

When someone speaks to you, the sound is picked up by the speech processor and transmitted to the microphone. The microphone then transmits to the internal cochlear device via radio waves. The electrodes that have been implanted in the cochlea are stimulated and produce electrical impulses in the nerve for the brain to interpret as words.

This is a lengthy procedure but the results are good. Only experienced ENT surgeons can implant the device. Depending on your hearing loss, age and the condition of the auditory nerve, the level of hearing restored can help with lip reading and learning to discriminate more sounds. As with every procedure there are people whose damage is extensive enough that a cochlear implant will not help them. A doctor can use diagnostic tests to evaluate your possible outcomes.

Cochlear implants are an alternative for people who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss. The surgery improves sounds in most patients with a few exceptions.