Understanding Cochlear Implants

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What is cochlear damage?
The cochlea is a complex organ within the inner ear, which is responsible for translating physical sound waves into electrical information the brain can recognize as sound. The cochlea is lined with thousands of tiny hair-like nerves called cilia. When sound waves enter the ear in the form of vibrations, the cilia convert the vibrations into nerve impulses. If extremely loud sound enters the ear, the cilia can become damaged or non-functioning, causing irreversible cochlear damage.
What is a cochlear implant?
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that can help provide a sense of sound by replacing the function of damaged cilia. Unlike hearing aids that amplify sound, cochlear implants directly stimulate the auditory nerve, providing useful sound and speech. A cochlear implant consists of the following:
  • Microphone: picks up sound from the environment
  • Speech processor: arranges sounds picked up by microphone
  • Transmitter and stimulator: receives signals from speech processor and converts them into electric impulses
  • Electrode array: collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them to the auditory nerve
Who is a good candidate for a cochlear implant?
  • Patients who have severe to profound hearing loss usually in both ears
  • Patients who receive little to no benefit from hearing aids
  • Patients who have lost hearing after speech and language development
  • Patients who have a strong motivation to be part of the hearing world
  • Young children who are still be in the critical speech development period of their lives
What are the potential benefits of a cochlear implant?
  • Improved ability to understand speech and sound
  • Focus in noisier environments
  • Improved perception of a variety of sounds
  • Ability to talk and hear in a phone conversation
  • Enjoy music
The results of a cochlear implant can vary from person to person, so it is important to set realistic expectations. Patients often need to commit to time and training to experience the full potential of their cochlear implant.