Unlike a hearing aid that merely amplifies sound, people with severe deafness can now hope to enjoy sounds with the help of cochlear implants
Imagine a world, where you can watch people talk, enjoying music, cover their ears as something loud goes off, hear film dialogues or a baby giggle and all you can hear is — nothing. Deafness is a difficult condition to live with. And while the people around someone with a hearing difficulty can empathise, they can’t understand what the endless silence feels like. But coming to their aid, is technology with the latest cochlear implants that can restore near normal hearing.
These electronic devices are implanted in the inner ear, with an external speech processor, to recreate sound for someone whose hearing has been damaged. Fortunately, these implants can be used in people with any kind of deafness, which ranges from moderately severe to profound or severe deafness, as long as the auditory nerve (that connects the ear to the brain) is intact.
Who can use it
According to Dr EC Vinayakumar, senior consultant and coordinator, department of ENT, Apollo Health City, cochlear implants can be used for the following
- Pre-lingual: Children born with deafness who haven’t learnt language/speech yet.
- Post-lingual: Children and adults who develop deafness and have already learnt language/speech.
- Peri-lingual: Children who while learning language/ speech lose their hearing.
“The one thing to be kept in mind is that cochlear implants can be used in people with severe or profound deafness or these days also in people with moderately severe deafness,” explains Dr Vinayakumar.
“What the cochlear implant does is, absorb sound and then recreate it for the patient. Hearing aids on the other hand, amplify sounds for patients who are hard of hearing. Cochlear implants are more sensitive and specific when compared to hearing aids,” says Dr Rani K George, a Bangalore-based ENT specialist.
How it works
“It is an electronic device that replaces the hair cells in the inner ear that have been damaged. Its electrodes directly stimulate nerve endings in the inner ear,” says Dr Vinayakumar.
However, the implant is a slightly expensive affair, with the cost ranging from `5.5 lakh to `10 lakh. The device has a less than 1 per cent chance of developing any defect and in all probability lasts a lifetime.
“These devices are usually made to last a lifetime, but like any other electronic device there are chances of a defect. In such a case, the implant will need to be replaced. The external speech processor on the hand can be easily removed as per convenience, for instance while bathing or while stepping out in the rain, when one doesn’t want it to get wet,” explains Dr Vinayakumar.