A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Unlike hearing aids, which make sounds louder, cochlear implants bypass the damaged hair cells of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide sound signals to the brain.
The cochlear implant technology can help people who:
- have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears
- receive little or no benefit from hearing aids
- score 50% or less on sentence recognition tests done by hearing professionals in the ear to be implanted
- score 60% or less on sentence recognition tests done by hearing professionals in the non-implanted ear or in both ears with hearing aids.
Many people have cochlear devices in both ears (bilateral). Listening with two ears can improve your ability to identify the direction of sound and separate the sounds you want to hear from those you don’t.
How does a cochlear implant work?
Many people suffer hearing loss because their hair cells in the inner ear or (or cochlea) are damaged. The cochlear implant enables the sound to be transferred to your hearing nerve and enables you to hear. The process is described below:
- A sound processor worn behind the ear or on the body captures sound and turns it into digital code. The sound processor has a battery that powers the entire system.
- The sound processor transmits the digitally-coded sound through the coil on the outside of your head to the implant.
- The cochlear implant converts the digitally-coded sound into electrical impulses and sends them along the electrode array placed in the cochlea (the inner ear).
- The implant’s electrodes stimulate the cochlea’s hearing nerve, which then sends the impulses to the brain where they are interpreted as sound.
What are the benefits of a cochlear implant?
Many adults with cochlear implants report that they:
- Hear better with a cochlear implant than with a hearing aid
- A previous study has shown that people with a cochlear implant achieve an average of 80% sentence understanding, compared with 10% sentence understanding for hearing aids.
- Can focus better when in noisy environments.
- Find it easier to have conversations with people across meeting tables, in restaurants and other crowded places.
- Reconnect with missed sounds that they could not hear before their cochlear implant.
- Feel safer in the world as they can hear alarms, people calling out and approaching vehicles.
- Talk and hear on the phone.
- Enjoy music.