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Cochlear Implants

Wilmington Hearing Specialists is excited to offer cochlear implants as a service for those who are profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing . Our expert audiologists work with local surgeons to help those are nearly or completely deaf be able to hear again using a cochlear implant.

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin. An implant has the following parts:

  • A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment
  • A speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone
  • A transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses
  • An electrode array, which is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them to different regions of the auditory nerve. People who are deaf or near-deaf are not able to complete this process.

An implant does not restore normal hearing. Instead, it can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help him or her to understand speech.

How does a cochlear implant work?

A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids simply amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve, converting sound waves into a recognizable nerve signal that the brain receives and interprets as sound. Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn or relearn.

Use of a cochlear implant requires both a surgical procedure and significant therapy to learn or relearn the sense of hearing. Several weeks after receiving the implant, the patient will be fitted for the external pieces in our office. At this time, we will perform mapping to ensure that the device is working properly and make any changes necessary.

Who can benefit from cochlear implants?

Children and adults who are deaf or have experienced significant hearing loss can be fitted for cochlear implants. Adults who have lost all or most of their hearing later in life often benefit from cochlear implants. They learn to associate the signal provided by an implant with sounds they remember. This often provides recipients with the ability to understand speech solely by listening through the implant, without requiring any visual cues such as those provided by lip-reading or sign language.

Most children who receive implants are between two and six years old. Early implantation provides exposure to sounds that can be helpful during the critical period when children learn speech and language skills. In 2000, the FDA lowered the age of eligibility to 12 months for one type of cochlear implant.

Cochlear implants, coupled with intensive post-implantation therapy, can help young children to acquire speech, language, and social skills.

What are the requirements for receiving a cochlear implant?

The decision to receive an implant should involve discussions with medical specialists, including our audiologists and an experienced cochlear implant surgeon. 

Full medical, psychiatric, and hearing evaluations are commonly conducted before cochlear implant surgery. It is important that the implant recipient and their family or significant others have a very good understanding of the lifelong responsibilities and expected outcomes associated with the procedure. 

Speech and language rehabilitation, implant adjustments, and servicing for the implant should be expected.

With advancements in technology and continued follow-up studies with people who have already received implants, researchers are evaluating how cochlear implants might be used for other types of hearing loss.

To learn more about cochlear implants or find out if you might be a candidate for a cochlear implant, request an appointment online or call us today at (910) 791-4755. Wilmington Hearing Specialists has two locations to serve you in Wilmington and Southport, North Carolina.