What is a Cochlear Implant?
A cochlear implant is an electrical device used to help patients who have severe hearing loss and do not get adequate benefits from hearing aids. There are several parts to a cochlear implant. The first part is the receiver-stimulator. The receiver-stimulator is the device implanted underneath the skin behind the ear. A small wire from the receiver-stimulator is placed at surgery into the inner ear. The skin is sewn back together and the device is completely underneath the skin.
The speech processor is an external device, which has a microphone that connects with the internal device by radio transmission. A small magnet on the speech processor attached to a wire connects to the internal device. The speech processor receives sounds and speech from the environment and sends a signal to the internal device (the receiver-stimulator). The receiver-stimulator then sends a signal through the cochlear implant receiver, to the wire and into the inner ear, which the patient hears as sound.
What Are the Results with the Cochlear Implant?
The vast majority of patients saw an improvement in their communication after cochlear implantation. Some patients report they can:
- Understand speech much better than previously
- Understand speech on the telephone,
- Do not need to lip read anymore
There are some variability in the results of individual patients. In many cases, this relates to deterioration of the hearing nerve during the period of deafness. Fortunately, the number of patients who do poorly with a cochlear implant is small. Most patients note significant improvement.
One of our cochlear implant recipient, A.W. began to understand words on the first day. Like most patients, he shows continued improvement over time. He has been very happy with his results.
What Does Speech Sound Like With a Cochlear Implant?
Most patients report speech has a higher pitch than normal but is understandable. Many patients describe the sound as “mechanical”. Patients generally have improved awareness of sounds around them. This can be very helpful for safety issues, such as hearing an oncoming car. A few patients are actually able to regain an appreciation for music, but this is less common.
Does the Cause of Hearing Loss Affect Whether a Patient Is a Candidate for a Cochlear Implant?
Interestingly enough, the exact cause of hearing loss does not affect whether a patient will benefit from a cochlear implant. As more and more patients with different types of ear disorders receive cochlear implants, we are finding that the cause is generally not important.
Patients have the potential to do well with many different causes of hearing loss. One important note is that patients who are deafened from meningitis and develop a new bone inside the inner ear do not see as much benefit from an implant as other patients.
How Does the Patient Get Evaluated for Cochlear Implant?
Patients are initially evaluated in the ENT office at Eastern Carolina Ear, Nose, and Throat. A search is made for potentially treatable causes of hearing loss. If the patient has not yet tried hearing aids, a hearing aid trial is begun. If the patient is not successful with hearing aids, then a complete cochlear implant audiological evaluation is carried out.
If the patient is deemed to be a candidate after detailed hearing and speech testing, they will return for an evaluation with the physician and a CAT scan is obtained to study the structure of their inner ear. The patient has an opportunity to learn more about the surgical procedure and a final decision is made with the patient and physician.
Call Eastern Carolina ENT Head & Neck Surgery at 252-752-5227 for more information or to schedule an appointment.