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If a person has severe hearing loss, a cochlear implant may help. A cochlear implant is different from a hearing aid. A hearing aid makes sounds louder and helps someone who has some hearing loss. But a cochlear implant can help a person with very little or no hearing (partial or complete deafness).
A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve (nerve for hearing). It has two parts. One part sits behind the ear. It picks up sounds with a microphone. It then processes the sound and transmits it to the second part of the implant. The second part is put through the skin and implanted in the inner ear during a surgery. A thin wire and small electrodes leads to the cochlea, which is part of the inner ear. The wire sends signals to the auditory nerve. This is the nerve that sends sound impulses to the brain. A cochlear implant helps give a person a sense of sounds. It doesn't restore hearing to normal. But it can help a person understand speech and noises in the environment .
You and your health care provider may think about a cochlear implant if your hearing hasn’t improved after using a hearing aid for at least 6 months. You also must have severe hearing loss from an auditory nerve conduction disorder in both ears (sensorineural hearing loss).
How cochlear implants help varies from person to person. Some people can hear many sounds. But some people will have no change in hearing. A person may be able to:
Before thinking about a cochlear implant, it's important to understand certain facts. These include:
Risks of cochlear implant surgery include:
There may be other risks, depending upon your medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your health care provider before the procedure.
A cochlear implant is not right for everyone. To find out if an implant is right for you:
Cochlear implant surgery is done in a hospital or clinic. The surgery lasts 2 to 4 hours. You are given medication (general anesthesia) to make you sleep during the procedure.
When leaving the hospital you will be given instructions on how to care for the incisions. You’ll also learn how to change dressings, and care for your stitches. You will also be given instructions on how to wash the scalp, head, and how to shower. You may be advised to make certain diet changes during recovery. A follow up appointment is made for about one week later to inspect the incisions and remove the stitches.
You should report increased pain, drainage, or fever to your health care provider following the procedure.
You will have some time to heal after the initial surgery before the implant process is completed. This lets the swelling go down and the implant to fit correctly. About 4 to 6 weeks after the surgery, the external parts of the cochlear implant will be added. These include a microphone and speech processor. This is where the implant is programmed and activated. The external parts work with the internal part of the implant.
You will also learn the basics of using and caring for the implant. You may need to return for several visits over a few days for adjustments. Further fine-tuning may take place over several months.Learning to use a cochlear implant is a gradual process. It will likely require visits with speech-language pathologists, audiologists, counselors, and teachers. But with commitment, you can experience an improved quality of life with a cochlear implant.
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