Understanding Cochlear Implants
What are the advantages of a cochlear implant?
For people with severe hearing impairment, cochlear implants can be dramatically life-changing. But the results aren't the same for everyone. Some people benefit more than others. Here are some of the advantages:
ability to understand speech at a nearly normal level
ability to understand speech without lip reading
telephone conversations become possible
watching TV becomes easier
improved perception of music
perception of a variety of sounds, including soft, medium, and loud ones
better modulation of your own voice so that others have an easier time understanding you
What are the disadvantages and risks?
Cochlear implant surgery is very safe, but as with any invasive surgery, risks include bleeding, infection, and risks related to general anesthesia. Specific complications related to implantation surgery are rare, but may include:
- taste disturbance resulting from nerve injury
- nerve damage, resulting in facial weakness or paralysis
- dizziness or balance problems
- loss of residual hearing
- leak of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the fluid around the brain
- failure of the device to work or infection, which may require removal and replacement of the implant
Meningitis, an infection of the membranes that surround the brain, is a rare but serious complication. People with abnormally formed inner ear structures seem to be at higher risk, as are children. The FDA and CDC recommend administering a series of vaccines in all current and future cochlear implant patients to decrease the risk of meningitis. The schedule of this vaccine series depends on the patient's age.
After cochlear implant surgery, some issues to consider include:
For people who have some residual hearing, sound sensations may seem "mechanical" or "synthetic," although most people no longer notice this after a few weeks.
If you need an MRI, you may require a simple procedure to temporarily remove the magnet in the cochlear implant. However, more medical facilities are now doing MRIs without removing the magnet. A cochlear implant is available that does not require magnet removal in order to have an MRI.
Damage may occur to the external parts of the cochlear implant if they get wet. The outside parts must be removed before you bathe, shower, or swim. Fortunately, a waterproof cochlear implant processor is now being made available.
Very rarely, the implant may fail, which requires more surgery to fix the problem.
Who is a good candidate for a cochlear implant?
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the best adult candidates have the following characteristics:
- severe to profound hearing loss in both ears
- loss of hearing after development of speech and language
- limited benefit from hearing aids
- no medical problems that would make the surgery risky
- strong motivation to be part of the hearing world
- realistic expectations
Also, cochlear implants are more effective in people who have lost their hearing recently, as well as those who used a hearing aid successfully before getting a cochlear implant.