Ear Expertise: Cochlear Implants
Sometimes people suffer from a hearing loss that is so severe that hearing aids are ineffective. There are two components in hearing – volume and clarity. Hearing aids can increase the volume. In some cases, patients have lost clarity and these patients can benefit greatly from a cochlear implant (CI).
What is a Cochlear Implant?
A cochlear implant is a small, surgically implanted device that looks similar to a hearing aid. Instead of amplifying (making louder) sound like a traditional hearing aid however, cochlear implants stimulate the hearing nerve directly using electrical pulse that generates sound signals along the hearing nerve. By bypassing the damaged cochlea receptor cells (the cause of the hearing loss), cochlear implants are able to provide the amount of volume and clarity. A cochlear implant can provide the needed levels to hear low and high pitches without feedback.
How Do Cochlear Implants Work?
Cochlear implants system are made up of two components, the external piece and the internal piece. The external piece contains five important parts: the microphone, the processor, the cable, the coil and the magnet. The external device can be changed and upgraded. The internal piece is made up of an implant that is placed under the skin in the ear and electrodes that stimulate the hearing nerve. The implanted device has the receiver, the stimulator and the electrode.
The microphone serves to detect sound and filter sound to the processor.
The processor interprets the sound from the microphone as programmed during a programming visit. This determines the speed at which sound is processed and the manner in which electrical energy will stimulate the nerve.
The cable serves to transmit sound from the processor to the coil/headpiece.
The coil transmits the sound from the external device to the internal hardware using FM signals.
The magnet holds the coil in place for it to communicate with the internal device.
The communication of sound from the external device to the internal device occurs via radio frequency assigned to cochlear implants.
The implant has a magnet and a coil similar to the external device. The magnet enables the coil in the external device to adhere to the scalp and centers the coil over the internal coil. The external device sends FM signals across the scalp to the internal device. The stimulator has a processor and is able to decode the signals and determine which electrodes are to be stimulated. The stimulator sends the programmed electrical energy to the electrodes which stimulate the hearing nerve. The hearing nerve can now pass the sound along to brain for it to process.
In patients who are appropriate candidates for cochlear implantation, a cochlear implant works better than a hearing aid because hearing aids just amplify the sound. If the inner hearing organ (cochlea) isn’t functioning properly, the patient may still struggle to understand the amplified sound from a hearing aid.
What is the Process of Getting a Cochlear Implant?
First, several hearing tests will be administered to determine if there is a patient is a cochlear implant candidate from a hearing point of view. The hearing is tested with well-fitted hearing aids on the patient.
Once a patient has been established as a cochlear implant candidate, the educational phase of the candidacy process is undertaken. During this phase, the patient and the patient’s family are to become better educated about what a cochlear implant can and cannot do. One needs to understand the rehabilitation process after implantation and to have realistic expectations of the possible outcomes of cochlear implantation.
The patient will have the internal device implanted during their surgery appointment. Note that you will not hear sound yet, as the external device has not been activated and programmed.
One week after surgery, the patient will come back to the office to activate the external part of the cochlear implant.
Patients will return a couple times over the next few months for programming and fine-tuning. The quality of the sound will get better with time and as the user practices. Remember, the effort that you put into rehabilitation greatly affects your success with your cochlear implant.
Is the Surgery Painful?
Most patients do not complain of discomfort due to the surgery but every patient is different. We tell patients that if they are experiencing any discomfort following the surgery, ibuprofen is a great way to manage it.
Who Should Get Cochlear Implants?
Patients who have a severe hearing loss are typically the best candidates. If you wear hearing aids and can “hear” but have trouble “understanding”, a cochlear implant might be a great option for you. Patients need to undergo an evaluation to determine if a cochlear implant is an option to hear better.
Are Cochlear Implants the Only Solution for Severe Hearing Loss?
Treatment plans vary based on the needs of the patient. Some patients may do fine with hearing aids. As soon as the hearing aids are proving to be ineffective, a cochlear implant might be the next step to take. If you think your ability to hear is suffering, or if others complain about your hearing, call us at 602-277-4327 (HEAR) to schedule a cochlear implant evaluation.
Are Cochlear Implants Covered by Insurance?
Usually cochlear implants are covered by insurance, but there could still be some out-of-pocket costs to the patient. If you would like to know how much cochlear implants would cost you with your particular insurance, give us a call at 602-277-4327 (HEAR). Our insurance department would be happy to determine this for you!