All You Need to Know About Cochlear Implants: Part 1

A Cochlear Implant

I often get the question “If my hearing loss continues to progress, what options do I have if I no longer receive adequate benefit from hearing aids?” This question often jumpstarts discussions about cochlear implants. A cochlear implant works much differently than hearing aids; instead of sending sound into an already damaged hearing system as hearing aids do, a cochlear implant bypasses the damaged inner ear to stimulate our auditory system in an attempt to restore hearing. Before the patient can say “Oh my! That’s what I need,” we first need to take a step back and talk about the basics of a cochlear implant and how it works.

What is a Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant is made up of an internal implant and an external processor. The internal device is surgically placed behind the ear just under the skin. Attached to the internal implant is an electrode array which is inserted into the snail-shaped cochlear. This electrode array is responsible for providing stimulation to the hearing nerve. The sound processor resembles a behind-the-ear hearing aid. It is attached to a coil which is held to the skin magnetically.

Currently, there are three separate manufacturers of cochlear implants: Advanced Bionics, Cochlear Americas and Med El.

How Does It Work?

The microphone on the sound processor captures sounds and translates the incoming signal into digital information with specific frequency bands that will fit the individuals hearing range. The signal is then sent through the transmitting coil across the skin to the internal implant. The internal implant is then responsible for coding the information into an electrical signal that will deliver the sound down to the selected electrode. In turn, the electrode stimulates the hearing nerve and the information is ultimately sent to the brain and interpreted as sound.

Now, with a better understanding of how the device itself works, the candidacy for a cochlear implant is much different than that of a hearing aid.  That’s all I have for now, but check back soon as we expand our discussion on cochlear implants and who might in fact be a potential candidate and how they can go about getting this device implanted.

By Dr. Kendra Neugebauer

Audiologist at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital

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