A Cochlear Implant is a device implanted in the cochlea through a surgical procedure.
The cochlea is a snail shell-shaped bone present in your inner ear.
Any person having severe hearing loss may find Cochlear Implant beneficial. The function of the device is to convert sounds in the form of electrical impulses that the brain interprets. To simply put, it replaces the function of the cochlea.
What is a Cochlear Implant?
It is an electronic medical device that helps in improving hearing in people with moderate to severe hearing loss.
The device electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve and comprises of external and internal components.
Placed behind the ear, the external component contains a microphone and a speech processor. While the microphone receives sound waves, the speech processor turns the sound into digital signals by analyzing it. The transmitter receives the signals followed by an internal receiver.
Implanted beneath the skin, the internal component is also present behind the ear. The receiver turns the signals into electrical impulses. The electrodes in the cochlea receive the impulses that stimulate the cochlear nerve. The cochlear nerve forwards these impulses to the brain to induce a sense of hearing.
Features of Cochlear Implant
A Cochlear Implant restores hearing in people who have severe hearing loss and who cannot hear with the help of hearing aids. It may be unilateral or bilateral, i.e. paced in one or both the ears.
It improves the quality of life by improving the communication of the people with hearing loss.
A Cochlear Implant is for all adults and children (who are at least 6 months old).
People using Cochlear Implants experience:
- Recognition of normal sounds
- The ability to identify the origin of sound
- Better abilities to hear speech
- Can hear television programs, conversations, and music
- Ability to listen even at noisy places
Why do I need a Cochlear Implant?
You may need a Cochlear Implant if you have:
- Limited benefits from other hearing aids
- Severe hearing loss that hinders your communication
- To depend on lip-reading even with hearing aids
- No medical conditions that can increase the risks due to Cochlear Implants
- Expectations from cochlear implants
- Wish to be a part of the hearing rehabilitation
Advantages of a Cochlear Implant
A Cochlear Implant can be beneficial for you. Here are some of the benefits of using a Cochlear Implant:
- Be able to hear distinct sounds
- Hear voices on a phone call
- Watch television programs without difficulty
- Able to hear speech without the need for lip-reading
- Hear music without any difficulty
- Toddlers can learn how to talk
How to prepare for Cochlear Implant surgery?
The doctor will perform the surgery under general anesthesia. This means you will be sleeping during the procedure. You may need to stop or alter some of the medications that you take for a particular time period. You may have to avoid eating or drinking hours before the surgery or night before the surgery.
Cochlear Implant Procedure
Before the procedure
The doctor will evaluate your medical condition to check if Cochlear Implants are a good option for you or not. He or she will conduct an evaluation like:
- Recommend tests for speech and hearing
- Recommend imaging tests like an MRI or CT scan to inspect the condition of your inner ear structure
- Physical examination for assessing the health of your inner ear
- Psychological testing to determine your ability to learn and use Cochlear Implants.
During the procedure
The doctor will make a small incision (or cut) behind your ear and create a hole in a part of the skull bone where the device will rest. He or she will next, create an opening in the cochlea and thread the electrode of the internal device. The internal device remains under your skin and the surgeon will stitch the incision.
After the procedure
You may experience little discomfort over the ears with the implanted device. You may also feel nausea or dizziness. The doctor will discharge you on the day of the surgery or the next day.
The audiologist will activate the implant only after 4-5 weeks of surgery to allow healing of the surgery site. Upon activation, the audiologist will adjust the sound processor and check if the components are working. He or she will instruct you on the usage & care of the device and then set the device so that you can hear.
You may need to undergo rehabilitation to train your brain to understand the sounds that you hear through the implant. Your brain will need time to recognize the various sounds and what they mean. You will achieve the best results when you wear the speech processor continuously while you are awake.
The results of the surgery may vary for each individual. The age when you lost hearing and the length of time between your hearing loss & surgery is amongst the factors that affect the outcome of the surgery. Children suffering from hearing loss will best benefit when they undergo Cochlear Implant surgery at a young age. For adults, it is better to take the surgery within a short period of time from hearing loss.
People who are fit for the surgery will be able to clearly hear the voice with the device. Cochlear Implant may improve the severity with which tinnitus is present. There are very fewer chances that tinnitus will worsen with the surgery.
Although it is safe to undergo cochlear implantation surgery, you may have some risks. These risks may be:
- Implanting the device may cause some loss of natural hearing in a few individuals.
- You may need to visit the surgeon again for the repair or replacement of a faulty internal device.
- The adults and children undergoing surgery need to take vaccination to minimize the risk of meningitis.
Some rare complications associated with the cochlear implantation surgery may include:
- Infection at the site of surgery
- Balance problems
- Disturbance with the taste
- Infection due to device
- Facial paralysis