Cochlear implants for advanced hearing loss

November 11, 2016 by From Mayo Clinic News Network, Mayo Clinic News Network

Dear Mayo Clinic: I'm 72 and have worn hearing aids for about a decade. Over the past several years, my hearing seems to be getting worse. Although I've tried several different kinds of hearing aids, I can't hear well with them anymore. A friend suggested I ask my doctor about a cochlear implant. I thought those were just for people who are deaf. Could a cochlear implant help someone like me? How does it work?

A: It's possible that a cochlear implant could be a good alternative to hearing aids in your situation. When they were introduced in the 1980s, it's true that mainly were used for people who had complete hearing loss. Today, however, they often are used to help people who have more advanced hearing loss that cannot be corrected with hearing aids.

Your ear has three areas: the outer, middle and inner ear. Sound waves pass through the outer ear and cause vibrations at the eardrum. The eardrum and three small bones of the middle ear transmit the vibrations as they travel to the inner ear. Within the inner ear, the vibrations pass through fluid in a snail-shaped structure, called the cochlea.

Attached to nerve cells in the cochlea are thousands of that help translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are sent to your brain through your auditory nerve. The vibrations of different sounds affect these tiny hairs in different ways, causing the nerve cells to send different signals to your brain. That's how you distinguish one sound from another.

In most people who develop hearing loss, the hairs in the cochlea are damaged or missing, usually as a result of aging and exposure to loud noise, or for genetic reasons. That means the can't be transmitted efficiently to the brain, and the result is hearing loss. A cochlear implant bypasses hair cells that don't work anymore and gives the brain the ability to perceive sound once again.

The implant has two main pieces: an external processor that fits behind your ear and an internal receiver implanted under the skin behind your ear. The processor captures and processes sound signals and then sends those signals to the receiver. The receiver sends the signals to tiny electrodes that are placed directly into the cochlea when the device is implanted. Those signals are received by the auditory nerve and directed to your brain. Your brain interprets those signals as sounds. All of the parts of a cochlear implant are small, and the processor that fits behind your ear looks somewhat similar to a hearing aid. Because of the small size of these devices, they are relatively inconspicuous, particularly in people with long hair.

Cochlear implantation requires a relatively short outpatient surgical procedure. A small incision is made behind the ear to insert the device. Most people experience little discomfort from the surgery, and its overall risk is low. The device usually is turned on several weeks following surgery. After the device is turned on, you will be able to hear; however, hearing improvement continues for six months to a year after surgery.

Cochlear implants are a well-established technology. At first, physicians and researchers only recommended them for people who had total hearing loss. Over the years, though, research has shown that cochlear implants can be useful for people who still have some hearing. They can be particularly helpful for people who have difficulty understanding speech in everyday listening situations, despite using good .

Talk to your doctor or a medical professional who specializes in to find out if you would be a good candidate for a cochlear implant. The great majority of people who receive a cochlear implant find that they are able to communicate better with the around them and more fully participate in conversations and other daily activities that require the ability to hear clearly.

Explore further: Engineering music to sound better with cochlear implants

1 shares

Related Stories

Engineering music to sound better with cochlear implants

February 26, 2016
When hearing loss becomes so severe that hearing aids no longer help, a cochlear implant not only amplifies sounds but also lets people hear speech clearly.

Getting devices to talk so patients can listen

January 29, 2016
While cochlear implants have opened up new worlds for deaf individuals, one Western researcher is looking to bring a balance to adult patients they have not previously experienced.

Researchers discover how the brain balances hearing between our ears

May 12, 2015
UNSW researchers have answered the longstanding question of how the brain balances hearing between our ears, which is essential for localising sound, hearing in noisy conditions and for protection from noise damage.

Scientists track the genes behind hearing loss

September 24, 2013
Tens of millions of Europeans suffer from a hearing impairment of some degree. They range from the one child in 1,000 who is born deaf, to the many whose hearing is declining as they grow older.

Recommended for you

Little difference between gun owners, non-gun owners on key gun policies

May 17, 2018
A new national public opinion survey from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds widespread agreement among gun owners and non-gun owners in their support for policies that restrict or regulate firearms.

Giving employees 'decoy' sanitizer options could improve hand hygiene

May 17, 2018
Introducing a less convenient option for hand sanitizing may actually boost workers' use of hand sanitizer and increase sanitary conditions in the workplace, according to findings in Psychological Science, a journal of the ...

Research shows that sexual activity and emotional closeness are unrelated to the rate of cognitive decline

May 16, 2018
Older people who enjoy a sexually active and emotionally close relationship with their partner tend to perform better at memory tests than sexually inactive older adults on a short-term basis, but this is not the case over ...

New study reveals how electronic health records can benefit clinical trials

May 16, 2018
The study entitled "Long term extension of a randomised controlled trial of probiotics using electronic health records" led by researchers in the Swansea University Medical School and the College of Human and Health Sciences, ...

Latest research strengthens case that early exposure to pollution affects long-term health

May 16, 2018
Research led by the University of Southampton has shown increasing evidence that exposure to air pollution in early life has detrimental long-term health consequences.

Researchers find a connection between left-handedness and low birth weight

May 15, 2018
A team of researchers from Finland, the Netherlands and Japan has found a connection between left-handedness and low baby birth weight. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.