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Cochlear Implant: 3 Types of Hearing Loss This Solution May Treat

By WebMD Connect to Care Staff
Learn more about the types of hearing loss a cochlear implant can assist you with.

A cochlear implant is a surgically inserted hearing device for the deaf or very hard of hearing. The device sends sound impulses to nerves inside the ear, which then signal the brain. Cochlear implants can take some work to adjust to, but for those with certain types of hearing loss, they can really improve your quality of life.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is hearing loss from inner ear nerve damage, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). This severe hearing loss condition can make it difficult to hear soft sounds and some louder sounds. 

“The candidacy for a cochlear implant begins at a moderately severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss in at least the mid to high frequency range,” Lilach Saperstein, AuD, audiologist and host of the All About Audiology podcast, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Examples of high frequency sounds include consonant sounds and birds chirping, ASHA says. According to Boston Children’s Hospital, a child who cannot hear high frequencies might have difficulty hearing in noisy environments, like playgrounds.

According to ASHA, possible causes of  sensorineural hearing loss include:

  • Family history
  • Aging
  • Illnesses
  • Drugs toxic to hearing
  • Accidents 
  • Listening to loud explosions
  • Inner ear deformities

To qualify for a cochlear implant to treat sensorineural hearing loss, testing is usually required. "A score of less than 60% in at least one ear is required for current candidacy criteria,” Saperstein says.

Congenital hearing loss

Congenital hearing loss is hearing loss in newborn babies. According to ASHA, congenital hearing loss can be genetic or a result of:

  • Infections
  • Premature birth 
  • Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Preeclampsia, or high blood pressure while pregnant
  • Anoxia, or lack of oxygen for the baby

Most hospitals test newborn babies with a painless hearing screening. If your baby qualifies for a cochlear implant, adjusting to the device might include long-term help from speech therapists and audiologists. 

“Many follow-up mapping appointments, determination, motivation and support are needed to adjust and acclimate to using a cochlear implant,” Saperstein says.

Gradual hearing loss

"Another thing many people are not aware of is that older adults are often candidates and can benefit greatly from cochlear implant technology, not just kids,” Saperstein says.

If you’re considering cochlear implants, your surgeon will ask about your health history, take images of your inner ear and discuss the risks and benefits of cochlear implant surgery. You might even meet with a social worker, so you can “go into the process with realistic expectations,” Saperstein says.

Hearing Loss Can Be Treated and Managed.

In many cases, hearing loss is a treatable condition. It’s worth taking the time out to get the answers and treatment you or your loved one deserves. Don’t wait. Start today.