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Cochlear Implant Program

Dr. Megerian discusses the benefits of cochlear implants.

More than 2 million people in the United States are severely or profoundly deaf, having 90 percent hearing loss in both ears. Some are pre-lingually deaf, having had no hearing from birth or losing their hearing before developing speech and language; others have had their hearing deteriorate over years until everything sounds garbled. The condition affects nearly ever aspect of life and has an enormous impact on families. Conventional hearing aids that amplify and deliver sounds to the ear do not improve this type of deafness.

The majority of those with severe to profound deafness have a degeneration or malfunction of thousands of delicate hair cells in the cochlea (inner ear) due to illness, injury or hereditary factors. Damaged or malfunctioning sensory cells prevent electrical impulses from reaching the hearing nerve and sending them along to the brain where they are interpreted as sound. University Hospitals and UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital is now a center for bilateral cochlear implantation.

UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, consistently ranked the best children's hospital in the Midwest, has an extensive pediatric cochlear implant program where parents can be sure that their child is receiving the best possible care and the most advanced treatment. The pediatric program includes:

  • Comprehensive evaluation
  • Comprehensive training prior to implanting
  • Consultation/choice of cochlear implant
  • Individual aural habilitation
  • Educational and family support services
  • Surgical collaboration with neurotologic and pediatric otolaryngologic support

Team Approach To Care

The University Hospitals and UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital cochlear implant team has extensive experience in routine as well as difficult cases in both pediatric and adult patients. Team members include:

  • A neurotologist, who specializes in the treatment of ear disease and surgery as well as nerve and brain related problems of the ear, leads the cochlear implant team
  • Surgeons who are fellowship trained in otology and neurotologic surgery
  • Audiologists who perform pre-operative hearing evaluations
  • Cochlear Implant audiology specialist who programs the external speech processor to the patient’s diagnosis and measures and reprograms it to physiological changes over time
  • Speech-language pathologists, social workers, education consultants and psychologists are available as needed

What Are Cochlear Implants?

Cochlear implants are benefiting thousands of severely or profoundly deaf adults and children who have viable neurons in the inner ear that can respond to direct electrical stimulation. These electrical devices deliver sound to the inner ear, bypassing the damaged hair cells to deliver rich auditory impulses directly to the auditory nerves. Cochlear implants help patients hear, improve their understanding of speech and improve their speaking ability.

Cochlear implants consist of three components:

  • Headpiece: Worn externally behind the ear like a hearing aid, the headpiece has a microphone where sound enters and travels down a cable to a speech processor.
  • Speech processor: A small box worn in a pocket or on a belt changes the sound from the microphone into an electrical code and sends the code back up into the headpiece. Most patients now choose to wear a miniature speech processor behind the ear like a hearing aid.
  • Implantable receiver: Surgically placed within the cochlea, the implantable receiver takes the electrical code and sends it through tiny wires to the inner ear to directly stimulate the hearing nerve fibers.

The brain adapts to give the person what sounds like almost normal speech. While the result does not fully reproduce normal sound, the device filters out background noise and is good for person-to-person conversation.

The three major types of cochlear implants are available: the Nucleus, Clarion and Med-El devices. The surgical procedure generally lasts about two hours. The team helps each patients choose the most appropriate device.