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    Understanding Cochlear Implants

    Who should get a cochlear implant?

    The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association says the device is best for adults who have:

    • Severe to profound hearing loss in both ears
    • Hearing loss after they’ve already learned speech and language
    • Limited help from hearing aids
    • No medical problems that would make surgery risky
    • A strong desire to hear better
    • A good understanding of what the device will -- and won’t -- do for them

    Also, cochlear implants work better for people who have lost their hearing recently, as well as those who’ve already used a hearing aid successfully.

    Can children get them?

    The FDA says children can get the devices starting at age 1. Most kids who are diagnosed with significant hearing loss as babies get them as soon as possible. A cochlear implant in early childhood exposes children to sound during the critical period when they learn speech and language skills.

    The devices work best for children who:

    • Have profound hearing loss in both ears
    • Get limited help from hearing aids
    • Are healthy, with no medical problems that would make surgery risky
    • Are ready to learn how to communicate with a cochlear implant
    • Have support from their parents, teachers, and school programs to help them gain hearing skills
    • Are younger than age 5
    • Join in intensive speech therapy and programs to teach speaking skills

    A study found that children who got a cochlear implant before 18 months old had major improvements in their hearing, speaking, and learning. But the devices also can help older children who lose their hearing after they’ve learned to talk.

    How do I know if the implant is a good choice for me?

    If you have severe or profound hearing loss, a team of experts at a cochlear implant center can help you decide if the device and surgery will work for you. Typically, these experts include an ear doctor called an otologist, an audiologist, a psychologist, a counselor, and a speech-language pathologist. The team works together to check you, do the surgery, and offer follow-up care.

    You may have tests, such as:

    • An exam of your external, middle, and inner ear to check for infections or other issues
    • Hearing tests such as an audiogram, a graph that charts how you respond to specific sounds
    • A hearing aid evaluation
    • CT or MRI scans to check the inner ear and hearing nerve. These tests will tell your doctor if your cochlea has a normal shape.
    • A physical exam
    • A psychological exam to see if you can handle the changes that come with the implant. This test is more common for children.

    When you're thinking about getting a cochlear implant, counseling will help you know what you can expect from the device and make sure you understand what it takes to learn how to use the implant. After your surgery, a rehab program may help, too. The goal is to learn how to listen through the implant. Doctors always recommend that children who get implants go through this.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by Brandon Isaacson, MD on June 01, 2016
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