AustinPUG Health

AustinPUG Health

After a lifetime of taking your sense of hearing for granted, you may suddenly find your ability to detect sound begins diminishing, often slowly at first, before culminating in a real problem with your everyday life. The effects of hearing loss are obvious, making everything from casual conversation to driving difficult, and having a profound effect on your feelings of independence and personal safety.

Hearing loss is a difficult prospect to face, especially when things move into the “severe loss” category, but luckily there are solutions. Among the many treatments, tactics and aids available to those with reduced hearing, cochlear implants are one of the most effective, giving even those with the most severe hearing loss the opportunity to regain that sense to a usable level.

What is the Cochlea?

Before we can understand how a cochlear implant works, we’ll first need to get a handle on the cochlea itself. The cochlea is the part of the inner ear that forms a spiral of sound wave distributing cavities, taking a shape similar to that of a snail’s shell. Three different chambers within the cochlea, each of them minute in size, are sensitive to different frequencies of sound waves, working in concert to give you access to the full spectrum of sound that most of us enjoy.

The parts of the cochlea doing the bulk of the work are the fluid within it, called perilymph, and tiny hairs called cilia, each of them extremely sensitive to sound. Once sound enters the ear, both the perilymph and the cilia respond by moving, allowing the cilia to convert the resulting vibrations into nerve impulses that are then sent to your brain, which proceeds to interpret them as the sounds that you’re familiar with.

How Does a Cochlear Implant Work?

The root cause of hearing loss in most people, both children and adults, typically revolves around damage to the cilia, leaving them unable to properly vibrate in response to sound entering the cochlea, and giving your brain less informed nerve impulses as a result. A cochlear implant allows your brain to bypass the damaged cilia by giving it something else to depend on for accurate nerve impulses.

The implant itself consists of several parts, two of which are literally implanted into your body. The first of these parts is a receiver that is inserted behind your ear, acting as a microphone for the sounds around you. This receiver is connected to electrodes which are implanted into the cochlea itself, giving that received sound the ability to stimulate your nerves just as your cilia would.

Following the surgery necessary to implant these tools, a cochlear implant recipient will be fitted with the remaining pieces of the puzzle: an audio processor, a transmitter, and a battery. The microphone is worn behind the ear and includes the audio processor necessary to pick up sound; once received, the audio processor changes sounds into electrical impulses just as your cilia would. These impulses are then sent by the transmitter to the receiver implanted beneath the skin, before being transmitted one last time to the electrodes implanted within the cochlea. Thus stimulated, the auditory nerve is able to carry the implant’s signals to the brain, allowing them to be interpreted as sound and restoring your ability to hear.

Is a Cochlear Implant Right For Me?

If your hearing loss is the result of damaged cilia within the ear, the advantages of a cochlear implant are obvious and well-worth the outpatient surgery needed to receive it. Because it is very proficient in its ability to send accurate and understandable signals to the brain, a cochlear implant will allow implant recipients to hear at nearly normal levels in most cases, restoring your ability to converse, hear a television, enjoy music, properly modulate your own voice, and more.


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