Mayo Clinic: Iím 72 and have worn hearing aids for about a
decade. Over the past several years, my hearing seems to be
getting worse. Although Iíve tried several different kinds
of hearing aids, I canít 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?
possible that a cochlear implant could be a good alternative
to hearing aids in your situation. When they were introduced
in the 1980s, itís true that cochlear implants 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.
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.
to nerve cells in the cochlea are thousands of tiny hairs 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
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
electrical signals canít be transmitted efficiently to the
brain, and the result is hearing loss. A cochlear implant
bypasses hair cells that donít work anymore and gives the
brain the ability to perceive sound once again.
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
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.
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 hearing aids.
your doctor or a medical professional who specializes in
hearing loss 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 people around them and more fully participate in
conversations and other daily activities that require the
ability to hear clearly.