The reasons people lose hearing and need cochlear implants vary: a family history of hearing loss, result of infection or it could be present at birth or develop later in life as part of the aging process.
Children and adults who are deaf or can’t hear well may be candidates for an implant.
To determine if you qualify for an implant versus a hearing aid you must have a standard hearing test. Depending on the results, you may have to go through more specific testing.
A cochlear implant is different from hearing aids.
“The device is surgically inserted and connected to the ear’s nerves to provide a sense of sound to a person,” said Marcus Shaffer, MD, an otolaryngologist with CAMC Pediatric and Adult ENT. “Cochlear implants start with an incision behind the ear to access the inner ear to place the electrode.”
Part of the implant is permanently inside, underneath the scalp. Patients wear part of it, resembling a hearing aid or similar device, on the outside of the head.
The piece on the outside collects sounds much like a microphone. It sends those sounds through the device that is magnetically connected with the part under the scalp which processes the sound and electronically stimulates the ear so the patient can hear those sounds.
“Patients who had normal hearing and speech before, and it hasn’t been very long since they lost it, tend to do well with implants,” Shaffer said. “It takes time. It’s not something you turn on like a hearing aid. It takes time to learn how to use it.”
Shaffer said the biggest steps are after the surgery because patients have to follow up with the audiologist for ongoing programming and mapping.
“There are very few things that you can do in medicine or surgery that is quite as satisfying as being able to provide something such as the sense of hearing to someone who does not have it,” Shaffer said.