October 1, 2013

Ask the Audiologist – What is a Cochlear implant, and can I get one?

By Tara Hartman, Au.D., CCC-A
Audiology Consultants, P.C.

People will often ask me if there is any new advancement in surgical procedures or implantable devices that could help them hear better, rather than wearing hearing aids. Well, like most answers, it depends. Technically yes, there are, but whether you are a candidate for those devices is the variable. Most people are not good candidates, but it’s a good idea to ask your audiologist to make sure. There are new products out that stay in your ears for months at a time, bone anchored hearing devices, middle ear implants, and most commonly cochlear implants (CIs). I’d like to focus on CIs and clarify what it is and who is a candidate for one.

Before we dive into what a CI is and how it works, you need to understand a little more about the parts of the ear. The inner part of the ear houses the cochlea. This is a snail-shaped organ that is full of tiny cells that move to sound and stimulate the nerve. Each cell coordinates with a different sound. When those little cells get damaged, we lose the ability to hear those sounds. When those cells get damaged to a certain point,
traditional hearing aids are no longer beneficial, and this is where a CI can help.

A CI is made up both external and implanted parts. Unfortunately, a CI still requires an externally worn device that contains a microphone, processor, and battery which transmits the sounds to the implanted part of the device. Small electrodes are gently placed inside the cochlea through a surgical procedure. These electrodes replace the damaged cells of the cochlea and stimulate the nerve directly. This enables someone to hear sounds without the use of the cochlear cells.

So who qualifies for a CI, and why would you want one? CI are best suited for those people who have severe to
profound hearing loss and wear power hearing aids, yet still struggle to hear conversation even in quiet. There are certain tests that an audiologist and physician can perform to determine whether you are a true candidate or not.

When hearing loss becomes severe enough, it can be socially isolating and a very silent world. Hearing loss can impact our quality of life leading to emotional stress and depression. If you experience any of these problems and desire to hear better, talk to your audiologist and see if a CI would be suitable for you.

Filed Under: Health & Wellness