If your hearing loss is substantial enough, hearing aids might not be a viable solution. For those with severe or complete hearing loss, one option to consider is a cochlear implant.
What Is a Cochlear Implant?
A cochlear implant is different from a hearing aid. A hearing aid processes and amplifies sounds so they can be picked up by the hair cells in your cochlea (inner ear). These cells create impulses for the hearing nerves to send to the brain, which interprets the impulses. The more damaged your hair cells, the more processing and amplification is required to successfully hear with a hearing aid.
A cochlear implant, on the other hand, is made up of several components that work together to completely bypass the hair cells — both intact and damaged — to directly stimulate the hearing nerve. Specifically, an external processor picks up sound and creates digital information, which is transmitted wirelessly to the first implant. This implant uses the digital information to create electrical impulses that travel to the cochlea, where the second implant — a bundle of electrodes — distributes the impulses along the hearing nerve. The impulses continue on to the brain to be interpreted.
Who Can Get a Cochlear Implant?
Cochlear implants are for those who get no or almost no benefit from hearing aids. Adults and children can safely and successfully benefit from cochlear implants, but there a few things to keep in mind:
- Cochlear implants don’t restore hearing — they allow the brain to receive and process sounds.
- The input your brain receives will be different than normal hearing, so you will have to relearn how the new type of input matches up with the sounds you are familiar with.
- This learning process requires patience. It will take time, but you’ll have a team — an audiologist; speech therapist; and ear, nose, and throat doctor — working with you to ensure you’re as successful as possible.
- You’ll need to be motivated — the technology does have a learning curve, and your success depends on your efforts in adapting your technology to the important environments in your lifestyle.
What Are the Different Kinds of Cochlear Implants?
The basics are the same for all cochlear implants — an external processor captures sound, it’s sent digitally to an implant that sends electrical impulses to a second implant in the cochlea, and the impulses are distributed along the hearing nerve.
However, there are different setups for the external portion. Traditionally, the microphone and speech processor look like a behind-the-ear hearing aid. They are connected by a wire to the transmitter, which sits against your scalp and stays in place by way of a magnet in the first implant.
Another setup, especially for children, is an on-body microphone and processor that attach to, for example, the child’s clothing. As in the behind-the-ear setup, a wire then attaches the processor to a transmitter that sits on the scalp. Please take out this paragraph!
A second type has the microphone, processor, and transmitter all in one unit that sits on the scalp, secured by a magnet, so there’s no behind-the-ear unit or wires.
What Brands of Cochlear Implant Do You Offer?
Cochlear is the pioneer of the first commercially available cochlear implant. Their two families of products are the Nucleus® and the Baha®. Cochlear is notable for their off-the-ear sound processor option, which, as mentioned above, has the microphone, processor, and transmitter in one wireless unit that secures to the scalp.
Their Nucleus line includes traditional cochlear implants as well as a Cochlear Hybrid Hearing option, a combination of a cochlear implant and a traditional hearing aid. The hybrid technology, which is only appropriate for certain kinds of hearing loss, leverages the natural hearing you may still have while using cochlear implant technology to bypass damaged areas of the inner ear.
Their KansoTM Sound Processor, one of the newest additions to cochlear-implant technology, works in concert with the Nucleus line of implants. The small, button-shaped, off-the-ear processor – designed to treat severe to profound hearing loss – requires no wires, comes in a range of colors, and sits comfortably on the side of the head, where it can be discreetly hidden by hair.
Their Baha line is what’s known as a bone-conduction implant. In some cases, a person with a perfectly healthy cochlea has a hearing loss because of a problem with the outer or middle ear. Rather than using brute force to move sound waves through these problems areas, like a hearing aid, a bone-conduction implant uses bone’s natural ability to transfer vibrations. The Baha doesn’t transmit electrical impulses to an implant in the cochlea, like a traditional cochlear implant. Rather, the external sound processor sends digital information to the transmitter implant, but the transmitter is secured in the bone just behind your ear, and this transmitter sends vibrations through the bone, past your damaged outer or middle ear, and directly to the healthy inner ear.
Advanced Bionics has three families of products: the Naída CI, the Neptune, and the Harmony.
The Naída CI has a behind-the-ear processor and 3 levels of performance. The highest level includes processors and microphones that communicate with each other, technology that adapts to the sounds in your environment, phone-streaming capabilities, and automatic syncing of program changes made in either processor.
The Neptune offers a swimmable, waterproof processor that allows you to wear your technology while swimming or bathing. It also uses Freestyle™, which allows you to choose how you wear your processor, whether in your hair, on your arm, or even in your pocket.
The Harmony has one performance level and is a good solution for adults or children. It has easy connectivity, built-in diagnostics, and user-friendly controls.
Med El has several product families including Synchrony, Soundbridge, and Adhear. The Soundbridge family is a surgical bone conduction implant while the Adhear is a non-surgical bone conduction hearing system.
The Synchrony family is a cochlear implant system that allows a patient to have an MRI. It has several performance levels and has both behind the ear and scalp attached processors.
How Do I Know if I’m a Good Candidate for Cochlear Implants?
Our Doctor’s of Audiology can perform an extensive auditory evaluation to determine whether you’re a good candidate. If so, they’ll work in conjunction with an otologist from either Johns Hopkins Hospital or West Virginia University Hospital to determine if you meet certain physical and balance requirements.
Once the procedure is over, our audiologist partners with you through the placement of the technology and all the follow-ups and adjustments. A cochlear implant isn’t just a procedure — it’s a relationship between you and your audiologist. They’ll be on the journey with you, testing and adjusting your technology and encouraging you as you gain new successes in your hearing.
You can learn more about the entire process, from initial evaluation through post-implant follow-up and adjustment, on our Cochlear Implant Process page.
If you might be a good candidate for cochlear implants, click below to schedule an evaluation at either our LaVale or Oakland office!