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Cochlear Implants

Understanding How Cochlear Implants Work

Cochlear implants are devices that are surgically implanted into the cochlea in a person's ear to assist with their hearing. The problem with the cochlea is often due to damage to the small hairs that help to transmit the sound. The person also wears a hearing aid device to help with hearing.

The history of cochlear implants goes back to the 18th century when people were attempting to improve hearing with the use of electrical methods. This started with metal rods being placed in both ears and 50 volts run between them. People could hear a boom sound, but nothing followed. Further research was done in the 1930s and 1940s that concluded that specific stimulation of the auditory fibers was necessary to assist with hearing. Major breakthroughs began in 1950, when electrical stimulation of the auditory nerves allowed a person to hear crude sounds. In 1972, the first speech processor was marketed that contained a single electrode implant. This cochlear implant was formally approved by the FDA in 1984.

Pros and Cons of Cochlear Implants

As with any medical devices there are positives and negatives. The pros and cons of cochlear implants need to be weighed in the decision to undergo the surgery. The first con is that an incision is made in the skull behind the ear for the implant. There is the risk of infection and injury to the nerves. The person must also be prepared for the fact that the implant does not restore hearing to normal levels. One of the biggest cons is that they are very expensive, initially along with the ongoing costs, such as new processors and batteries. The pros include better hearing clarity and understanding of spoken words. Also, many insurance plans cover part of all of the expense.

Cochlear Implants in Children

Cochlear implants in children can make a great difference to their ability to learn, but are only one component of the necessary skills. Parents must be vigilant to also stress visual learning. Particularly with hearing parents, it is important to realize that the child will still need assistance in learning.

Side Effects of Cochlear Implants

As is the case with any surgery, there are often side effects. Some of the possible side effects of cochlear implants include loss of taste, facial nerve damage or twitching, numbness of the incision site, and tinnitus (a ringing sound in the ear). Some people also experience dizziness and balance problems. There may also be infection or bleeding at the incision site.

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