What is a Cochlear Implant?

Cochlear implants are computerized, implantable devices designed to restore hearing in persons with severe-to-profound hearing impairment. Unlike hearing aids, which increase the volume of sounds, cochlear implants take over the activities that are supposed to be performed by the damaged parts of the inner ear and transfer sound signals to the brain. Cochlear implant surgery is a treatment option for people who are not benefiting from regular hearing aid devices. Cochlear implants have helped hundreds of thousands of people hear again for the first time. Use this guide to find the answers to important questions, such as: What is a cochlear implant? How does a cochlear implant work? And who can a cochlear implant help?

What Is a Cochlear Implant?

What is a cochlear implant and what does it consist of? Cochlear implants are designed to mirror natural hearing. Hearing aids increase the volume of sounds, while a cochlear implant takes over the parts of the ear not working properly. Cochlear implants are made up of both internal and external parts. The processor is a piece outside the body. It picks up sounds and processes them before transferring signals to the cochlear implant. The external part of the implant is the piece placed behind the ear and under the skin during cochlear implant surgery. It receives the signals and sends them to the hearing nerves while skipping over parts of the inner ear that do not work.

How Does a Cochlear Implant Work?

A cochlear implant works with the help of advanced technologies that take place of non-working parts within the inner ear. Sound is picked up by a small microphone that is sensitive to any direction in which the sound comes, allowing the user to pick up sounds in front of and behind them. Signals are sent across the skin to the implant using a technology similar to the way a radio station broadcasts a signal – but on a smaller scale. Internal implants convert signals into electrical energy and transfer it to an electrode array within the cochlea. Electrodes affect the hearing nerves and the brain converts these signals into sound.

Who Can a Cochlear Implant Help?

Cochlear implants are a proven medical option for adults and children as young as 12 months of age who meet the proper hearing impairment requirements. This includes children and adults who are profoundly hard-of-hearing or deaf. Children 12 months of age to 2 years of age should have profound hearing loss or receive limited benefits from hearing aids. Children 2 to 7 years old should have severe-to-profound hearing loss or receive limited benefits from hearing aids. Adults 18 years of age or over should have moderate-to-profound hearing loss; receive limited benefits from hearing aids, and score fifty percent or less on sentence-recognition tests to be considered for cochlear implant surgery.

There has been much cochlear implant controversy in recent years among the deaf community. For the deaf community, cochlear implants are thought to be experimental and might not be the best medical option for children who could otherwise live a fulfilling life as deaf individuals without assuming the risks of cochlear implant surgery. The cochlear implant controversy has many sides, but many individuals feel that forcing the surgery on children is shortsighted and insensitive. The other cochlear implant controversy is the safety and effectiveness of the surgery, as the major treatment can result in long-term facial paralysis and destroy remaining healthy nerves.