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Understanding How Cochlear Implants Work

After being diagnosed with some level of hearing loss, you probably looked into many different treatment options.

Hearing aids are the most popular device to manage hearing loss and can work with different levels of hearing loss. However, cochlear implants are also important tools for managing hearing loss, especially for those with profound sensorineural hearing loss. In this blog, find out more about how cochlear implants work.

Parts of the Cochlear Implant

Cochlear implants have several different components, similar to a hearing aid. Cochlear implants consist of both external and internal parts.

The external parts are a sound processor that detects and selects sound, and a transmitter that sends the sound signals across the skin on the scalp to the internal parts of the implant.

The internal parts are a receiver/stimulator, and an electrode array embedded in the cochlea that passes the electrical signals to the auditory nerve where it is sent and processed by a person’s brain.

How Cochlear Implants Work

By now, you should know all about how a hearing aid works. Unlike hearing aids, which work together with the outer and inner ear to amplify and clarify sound and speech, a cochlear implant bypasses most of the ear and works directly with the auditory nerve, deep inside the ear.

Cochlear implants involve a surgical procedure called a mastoidectomy, in which the transmitter and electrode array is inserted under the skin and inside the ear, respectively.

Internal and External Cochlear Implant Components

As we discussed, a cochlear implant utilizes both internal and external components to capture sound and transmit it directly to the auditory nerve. The sound processor is made up of two different parts—the microphone and the speech processor.

These components pick up sound from the environment and then arranges sound before sending it to the transmitter. The transmitter passes the sound to the receiver/stimulator, which sits under the skin and converts the sound into electrical impulses.

The electrode array collects the electrical signals, and then sends them to different regions of the auditory nerve.

Who Can Receive a Cochlear Implant?

You may be thinking that you might be a candidate for a cochlear implant (most people only get one implant, rather than two). Cochlear implants are normally reserved for those with severe hearing loss or who are profoundly deaf.

Many of the cochlear implants in the country are in children, as it is important to expose them as soon as possible to environmental sounds, in order to develop speech and language skills. There are many children who received a cochlear implant around one year of age.

Cochlear implants are also suitable for adults who have lost all or most of their hearing in later life. Since cochlear implants are costly and require both surgery and significant post-operation therapy, it is important to conduct your own research on cochlear implants and their benefits.

By: Elena McPhillips, updated by Audicus in 2021