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How are Cochlear Implants Different from Standard Hearing Aids?

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that stimulates the nerves for hearing. It is implanted surgically to help a person with severe hearing loss hear sounds usually. It is used in the case when an ordinary hearing aid does not work.

Unlike other hearing aids that amplify the sound, cochlear implants bypass the damaged portion of the ear to deliver the sounds normally to the auditory nerve.  

Here is how cochlear implants are different from standard hearing aids? 

Ordinary hearing aids make the sound louder but do not improve its quality and help in better understanding. Cochlear implants do not work by amplifying the sound signals. In fact, they bypass the damaged part of the cochlear and stimulate the auditory nerve directly, which ordinary hearing aids cannot do.

How do they work?

It works very differently because instead of amplifying the sound, it directly stimulates the auditory nerve and sends the signals to the brain, which helps in recognizing the sound. 

  • It has a microphone and a speech processor that sits outside the body. The microphone is used to pick up the sounds and then send it to the processor. The processor has a built-in feature that changes the signals into digital information and then sends the signals to a stimulator. 
  • Stimulators are placed directly under the skin behind the ear. As soon as the stimulator sends the electrical impulses, the message goes to the brain there. The signals are processed to recognize the sound and understand the speech.

Who needs a cochlear implant? 

Not everyone having difficulty in hearing needs the cochlear implant except for those having severe hearing issues. Doctors do not recommend this treatment for the children under one year, no matter how profound hearing loss they have in one for both ears. 

Studies suggest that children who get this treatment before reaching 1.5 years of age have a better chance to develop language skills.

When it comes to the implant, a thorough team of doctors, including a hearing specialist, a doctor, ENT doctor, speech therapist, psychiatrist, and a social worker will be involved.  

The patients have to go through different hearing tests, speech, and language evaluation, and use varying hearing aids to see if any of these help them hear normally. They have to go through an MRI and CT scan to look at the condition of the ear and the surrounding bones. 

What happens during the surgery?

Based on the patient’s condition, the implant may be suggested for one or both ears. If it is for both, it can be done at the same time in a single operation or into separate operations depending upon the patient’s condition and their budget. Patients with double implants are better able to recognize the sounds because they can hear from both sides without turning their heads. Here’s what happens during the surgery.

  1. The surgeon cuts the skin behind the ear and implants the device under the skin inside the skull. 
  2. Size of wire with electrodes so that they can receive signals from the cochlea.
  3. Secure the device in place and close the area with stitches.