For those who have a loved one who is deaf or severely hard of hearing, or for those who are themselves deaf, understanding cochlear implants is likely of great interest. You may wonder exactly who is eligible for an implant, what the surgery and recovery looks likes, and exactly who performs the surgery. If so, read on to learn more.
How do cochlear implants work?
It consist of external and internal portion which work together to create a simulation of hearing.
· External Parts: The implant's external parts consist of a microphone, processor, and a transmitter.
· Internal Parts: The implant's internal parts include a receiver and an electrode system. These electrodes release currents through the cochlea that are processed by the auditory nerve. The receiver is placed inside the skull bone in the back of the head, behind the ear. The electrodes are placed inside the inner ear, close to the auditory nerve.
While the hearing simulation caused by the cochlear implant will not be the same as how those without a hearing injury experience sound, it will give a close approximation that allows the individual to function in the hearing world.
Who performs cochlear implant surgery?
Doctors who work with cochlear implants are called otologists, a specific kind of Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor (ENT). This doctor assesses candidates for implants, performs the surgery, and oversees the recovery of the patient.
Who is eligible for cochlear implant surgery?
People who are severely hard of hearing or who are deaf may be candidates for cochlear implant surgery. The otologist will consider several factors when determining candidacy for cochlear implants:
· If a teenager or adult, does the patient have a desire to be part of the hearing world and are they ready to invest the time and effort to learn how to hear?
· If a young child or baby, does the child have a strong support system and access to speech services after the surgery?
· Does the candidate have a healthy auditory nerve? While less than 1% of deaf individuals have an injured auditory nerve, an otologist must ensure the nerve's health for a successful implant.
· Is the patient physically well enough to undergo surgery?
Of course, no one should discount themselves from cochlear surgery until they talk with a board-certified otologist who can determine eligibility for surgery.
The cochlear implant process
Cochlear implants have brought hearing to thousands of people with hearing loss. Those candidates who choose to undergo the surgery need to be ready for the multistep process that gets them to a place of hearing.
1) Surgery: An otologist performs cochlear surgery while the patient is under general anesthesia. The surgery takes anywhere from one to five hours. A space is drilled into the skull bone in the back of the head for the transmitter, and another space is created in the inner ear where the electrodes are placed.
2) Recovery: A patient's recovery from surgery will take anywhere from one to four weeks. During this time, they will not be able to hear. Hearing is only activated after the healing is complete and the otologist places the magnet which connect the inner and outer component.
3) Therapy: Once the implant is in place, the patient must undergo speech and hearing therapy in order to process the sounds they hear correctly. For some adult patients, this may take a few months, while children may be in therapy for several years.