Have you ever wondered what could be done if your child is not responding to sounds even with hearing aids? If your child is still not learning speech? What is your child’s future then?
Well, even if hearing aids fail, there may still be hope!
Cochlear implants are electronic devices that are surgically placed into the skull and directly fire the hearing nerve by bypassing the damaged cochlea.
How is it different from the hearing aids?
Hearing aids make the sounds coming into the ear louder. They are similar to the amplifiers used in public sound systems. Whatever is sung or spoken on the microphone is amplified by several folds and played through the loudspeakers. However, the loudspeakers can only give sounds so loud, after which, everything sounds distorted and you cannot understand what the words or lyrics even are. Cochlear implants, on the other hand, bypass the damaged parts of the cochlea and stimulate the hearing nerve directly.
How exactly do cochlear implants work?
Cochlear implants consist of external components that are worn outside and internal components implanted inside. External components include the processor, microphone and the external coil. Internal components include the inner receiver stimulator and the electrode array.
Components of a cochlear implant. Source: Wikimedia
The sounds around you are picked up by the microphone that is placed on the processor. These sounds are sent into the processor that is worn behind the ear or off the ear. The processor codes the sound into digital signals and sends them into the implant placed inside your head. The two magnets on the outside and inside of the head hold the instrument in place. The information from the outside processor is sent to the receiver/stimulator which converts the digital information into electrical impulses. These electrical impulses are then sent via the electrodes to stimulate different parts of the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve is activated by the electrical impulses and the information thus reaches the brain.
Who can wear cochlear implants?
Children as young as 6 months of age can also wear cochlear implants. Children less than 12 months of age can get the implantation if they have profound hearing loss in both ears, and have little to no benefit from hearing aids.
If you are considering cochlear implants, consult your ENT doctor and audiologist. They will run a series of tests to check if you are eligible for a cochlear implant.
Does getting a cochlear implant surgery resolve all my hearing related issues?
Once the cochlear implant surgery is done, your audiologist will switch on the cochlear implants 2-3 weeks after surgery. Your child will be hearing for the first time. So, hearing through cochlear implants takes some time to adjust. Hearing through implants is a different experience, as it is a completely different mode of hearing (electrical). Some training is required to be able to comfortably hear through this new mode of hearing. Children also require training to be able to listen and identify various different sounds. This is because they have never been exposed to all the different sounds around them, and everything seems new and probably annoying for them.
A specialized form of training called Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT) helps you/your child learn how to listen and talk.
There is ample evidence in the literature that suggests that cochlear implants and subsequent AVT can help your child acquire good speech and language skills, which will in turn help the child’s overall academic development. It can also help in mainstreaming the child into the society at the later stages. The outcome of cochlear implantation depends on age at which hearing loss was detected, age of implantation, child’s IQ and your role in child’s training among several other factors.
Early cochlear implantation (before 1 year of age) can help bridge the developmental gap in terms of their communication abilities and subsequently facilitate the child to attend a regular school. A typical child learns about 30 million words by the age of 3 years! They learn by listening to people talking around them. Such a rich exposure to speech at an early age ensures a speech, language and overall academic development of the child. In order to make sure of such a secure future for all the children born with hearing loss, Joint Committee of Infant Hearing (JCIH) recommends that each child born be screened for presence of hearing loss. This program is called the Universal New born Hearing Screening (UNHS) and promotes Early Hearing loss Detection and Intervention (EHDI).
What are the risks involved?
All surgeries come with some risks. Although rarely seen, some risks after cochlear implant surgery may include:
Infection at the surgical site
Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
Dizziness or balance problems (vertigo)
Numbness around ears
Other rare problems include:
Weakness in the muscles of the face
Leakage of cerebrospinal fluid from around the brain
The implant not working
Infection of the brain (meningitis)
Children with cochlear implants may be at risk for some types of meningitis. Fortunately, all children are given immunizations at the hospitals that they are born. So, the chances of such infections are extremely low.
The child’s progress and learning are ultimately in the parent’s hands. Your motivation to learn and get your child to learn can take you a long way in terms of successful communication!
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