About Cochlear Implants

Cochlear Implant Facts

There are estimated to be over half a million people in the United States that have cochlear implants.  This state-of-the-art technology is designed to mimic the function of a healthy ear.

Currently, the FDA approves cochlear implants for children with severe-to-profound hearing loss from the age of 9 months. And for adults with moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears who are not receiving enough benefit when using hearing aids.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, hearing loss has a major impact on a child’s life, including speech and language development, literacy, mental health, social and cognitive functioning, educational achievement, employment and socio-economic opportunity.

For adults, the benefits can include: better sound clarity1, better understanding of speech1, improved hearing in noise2, more employment opportunities3, and improved quality of life by reducing anxiety and improved overall health2,4

What is a Cochlear Implant?

Image Courtesy of Cochlear Americas
Image Courtesy of Cochlear Americas

A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin (see figures above). A cochlear implant has the following parts:

  • A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment.
  • A sound processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone.
  • A transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses.
  • An electrode array, which is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them to different regions of the auditory nerve.

A cochlear implant does not restore normal hearing. Instead, it can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help him or her to understand speech.

How does a cochlear implant work?

A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent by way of the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes the signals as sound. Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn or relearn. However, it allows many people to recognize warning signals, understand other sounds in the environment, and understand speech in person or over the telephone.

Hearing Loss Facts & Additional Resources

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References

  1. Novak MA, Firszt JB, Rotz LA, et al. Cochlear implants in infants and toddlers. Ann Otol Rhino Laryngol Suppl 2000;185:46-49.
  2. Hirschfelder A, Gräbel S, Olze H. The impact of cochlear implantation on quality of life: The role of audiologic performance and variables. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2008 Mar;138(3): 357-362.
  3. Wyatt JR, Niparko JK, Rothman M, deLissovoy G. Cost Utility of the Multichannel Cochlear Implant in 258 Profoundly Deaf Individuals. Laryngoscope.1996;106:816–821.
  4. Manrique-Huarte R et al (2016) Treatment for hearing loss among the elderly: Auditory outcomes and impact on quality of life. Audiol Neurootol, 21 Suppl 1:29-35.