What Are
Cochlear Implants?

The inner ear works like a microphone, amplifying sound waves from the outside world and turning them into signals that our brain can “hear.” When it goes wrong, hearing loss can occur. However, modern medical science has come up with a solution in the form of cochlear implants (CI), which mimic the role of the inner ear, restoring lost hearing.

An introduction to cochlear implants

A Cochlear implant (CI) acts as an interface between the sounds of the exterior world and the nerves that connect your ears to your brain. All models tend to have a similar design.

Firstly, they will involve a sound processor unit, which is typically work over the ear so that is concealed. This unit takes noise and turns it into data that the implant can understand. Data is transmitted via a coil to the implant which is placed within the inner ear, and turns the sound data into electrical impulses which stimulate the auditory nerve – allowing the brain to “hear” much more effectively. This is achieved by stimulating hair cells in the cochlea, which generates potassium ions, which in turn stimulate the body to produce glutamate – a neuro-transmitter that then tells the brain about the sounds the body is hearing. It’s an ingenious technique, and the aim is fairly simple: First, to go beyond the performance of everyday hearing aids, enabling patients to understand sentences with greater clarity. Second, to ensure that users can zero in on conversations in crowded spaces. Third, to allow users to speak on the phone with confidence and ease.

Lastly, to restore the ability to enjoy speech and music as patients could before their hearing deteriorated. As such, these implants are a popular medical option for those with severe hearing loss.

More information about cochlear implants

Representation of a cochlear implant
Representation of a cochlear implant

Cochlear implants are an advanced technology, but the principle behind them has been known about for many years. The first such device was actually invented by a researcher in California named Dr. William House in 1961. His breakthrough came after years of experimenting and battling against conventional wisdom that such implants could never work. Thankfully, House persisted, and in the 1960s and 70s other medical practitioners followed his lead. These days, the procedure of cochlear implantation has become faster and simpler, but it’s still not a hassle-free process.

When you receive a CI, you don’t just need to undergo a surgical procedure. You’ll also need to train your ear to hear with the new device, which can be impossible in some cases where hearing loss has been long-term and severe. Some people are also not deemed to be suitable candidates due to the shape of their cochlea, their response to anesthesia, or their psychological condition – all of which should be assessed prior to any implantation surgery.

However, if everything is approved, the procedure itself is relatively quick. Surgeons will make an incision behind the ear, inserting the tiny implant underneath the skin. After that, they need to make an even smaller incision in the cochlea to insert the implant’s electrode array, before closing everything up and concluding the operation. The process is not that risky, but it comes with a cost, which sometimes approaches $100,000 when all of the stages are taken into account. Whether that’s a good investment or not, depends on the likely benefits and extent of hearing loss suffered by the patient, but for many people, it’s a price worth paying.

How can I tell if cochlear implants are right for me?

Firstly, if you have any concerns about your hearing consult a medical expert. They will be able to provide detailed advice about your auditory options, including whether CIs are the right way to go. However, we can offer some preliminary suggestions about the type of people who generally benefit from implantation. Those with severe hearing loss in both ears are prime candidates. For those patients, a CI might be the only way to restore any kind of hearing ability, even if it does not result in crystal clear hearing. CIs are also appropriate for people who have lost their hearing after learning how to speak and comprehend speech. They aren’t usually prescribed for people with hearing loss from birth, due to the need for the brain to “learn” how to hear.

Successful CI patients are usually in a good general physical and psychological condition as well. If you are positive and have a strong will to hear again, you’ll have a better chance of mastering the post-implantation therapy process. However, it’s vital to have a full assessment by a medical professional. You may have physical issues that make implantation risky, and the difficulty of the therapy process may prove unmanageable. You will only get a feel for this when the process and surgery is explained by a fully-qualified hearing professional.

A common option when patients fear their hearing is gone for good

Cochlear implants are sometimes the only option available to patients with severe hearing loss. When hearing aids are not effective, it can be necessary to target the auditory nerve directly, and in thousands of cases every year, the procedure is a resounding success. In fact, over 70,000 Americans have received these implants, improving their quality of life in the process, and you could do the same. However, if you are considering requesting implant surgery, be aware that there is always a risk that it will not be available, and not everyone experiences the same results. For many, though, the desire to hear again outweighs those factors, and their cochlear implant becomes a vital lifeline to the outside world. In any case, get in touch and we’ll help you access the right expertise and equipment to improve your hearing as much as possible.

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