Understanding Cochlear Implants
What are the advantages of a cochlear implant?
For people with serious hearing issues, cochlear implants can really be 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 listening to 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 surgery, possible problems include bleeding, infection, and issues related to general anesthesia. Specific complications include:
- taste changes due to nerve injury
- nerve damage, causing facial weakness or paralysis
- dizziness or balance problems
- loss of the hearing you have left
- leak of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the fluid around the brain
- failure of the device to work or infection, which may require removing and replacing 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 vaccines for all current and future cochlear implant patients to lower the chance of meningitis.
After cochlear implant surgery, some issues to consider include:
- For people who have some hearing left, sound may seem "mechanical" or "synthetic," although most people no longer notice this after a few weeks.
- If you need an MRI, you may first need a simple procedure to temporarily take out 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 taking out the magnet in order to have an MRI.
- Certain parts of your implant may be damaged if they get wet. You must take out the outside parts before you bathe, shower, or swim. Fortunately, a waterproof cochlear implant processor is now available.
- Very rarely, the implant may fail, which requires 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 having already developed speech and language
- limited help from using from hearing aids
- no medical problems that would make 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.