A cochlear implant is composed of two parts, an internal one that must be implanted by means of a surgical procedure and an external one that is put or is removed by the patient with the facility of a hearing aid. The external part consists of a microphone that picks up the sound, a processor that "orders-processing" and a transducer that transmits it to the internal component through the skin. The internal part has a receptor-stimulator that converts this acoustic signal into electrical and stimulates through the electrode guide implanted in the cochlea (organ of hearing) suitable neurons and these transmit the sound through the auditory nerve to the cerebral cortex.
What is the difference between conventional prostheses and cochlear implants?
The fundamental difference is the indication, that is, usually the cochlear implants are placed in patients who do not benefit from a hearing aid. This is because their hearing loss is very severe or sometimes because their loss is very asymmetrical between the bass and treble. Thus, in these cases can be placed an implant that we call hybrid: it works half as implant and half as a hearing aid. Another important difference is that hearing aids do not require an implantable part, ie they do not require surgery; While cochlear implants do. Another difference is that the stimulus of the implant is electric, directly in the cochlea and auditory nerve.
When is a cochlear implant recommended?
It is recommended in all those patients with severe or profound hearing loss in which a hearing aid does not give sufficient improvement are candidates for an Implant. This is mainly true in bilateral cases, that is, when the problem affects both ears but can also be performed in unilateral cases, where the diseased ear is only one.
Can a cochlear implant be used on children or infants?
Undoubtedly, it is in the pediatric population where the benefit of the cochlear implant is more spectacular. Hearing loss can be diagnosed at birth or in the first months of life, and before or after the year babies with severe or profound hearing loss can be implanted
On the other hand, it is important to note that there is no age limit when placing an implant and due to current population characteristics, we are increasingly implanting more elderly patients.
New developments and what to expect in the future
This is an exciting field with many advances and changes in recent years, I would say in recent months. Today, we have new processors, new electrodes guides, more atraumatic with cochlea, processors more "intelligent" and smaller, more resistant to water, etc ...
At the same time, the range of candidates for what we now call "non-traditional" candidates is growing, bilateral tendencies are known, there are implants known as hybrids or electro-acoustic stimulation, it can be an effective treatment for tinnitus as well For unilateral deafness, etc ... At this point we are in constant contact with the Authorities to increase the indications covered by the public health system.
The future will bring us implants with atraumatic electrodes, processors with better musical discrimination, processors becoming smaller and even fully integrated inside the patient. And even the possibility of instilling drugs through these electrodes in the same cochlea.
For more information, consult a specialist in Otorhinolaryngology .