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Speech and Language Therapy

Cochlear Devices

What Is a Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin. An implant includes:

  • A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment.
  • A speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone.
  • A transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses.
  • An electrode array (22), which is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them to the 8th auditory nerve.

How does a cochlear implant work?

A cochlear implant receives sound from the outside environment, processes it, and sends small electric currents near the auditory nerve. These electric currents activate the nerve, which then sends a signal to the brain. The brain learns to recognize this signal and the person experiences this as “hearing”.
The cochlear implant somewhat simulates natural hearing, where sound creates an electric current that stimulates the auditory nerve. However, the result is not the same as normal hearing.

What Is a Hearing Aid?

A hearing aid is a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear. It makes some sounds louder so that a person with a hearing loss can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities. A hearing aid can help people hear more in both quiet and noisy situations. A hearing aid has three basic parts: a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The hearing aid receives sound through a microphone, which converts the sound waves to electrical signals and sends them to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker.

How can hearing aids help?

Hearing aids are primarily useful in improving the hearing and speech comprehension of people who have hearing loss that results from damage to the small sensory cells in the inner ear, called hair cells. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss. The damage can occur as a result of disease, aging, or injury from noise or certain medicines. A hearing aid magnifies sound vibrations entering the ear. Surviving hair cells detect the larger vibrations and convert them into neural signals that are passed along to the brain. The greater the damage to a person’s hair cells, the more severe the hearing loss, and the greater the hearing aid amplification needed to make up the difference. However, there are practical limits to the amount of amplification a hearing aid can provide. In addition, if the inner ear is too damaged, even large vibrations will not be converted into neural signals. In this situation, a hearing aid would be ineffective.

How can I care for my hearing aid?

Proper maintenance and care will extend the life of your hearing aid. Make it a habit to:

  • Keep hearing aids away from heat and moisture.
  • Clean hearing aids as instructed. Earwax and ear drainage can damage a hearing aid.
  • Avoid using hairspray or other hair care products while wearing hearing aids.
  • Turn off hearing aids when they are not in use.
  • Replace dead batteries immediately.
  • Keep replacement batteries and small aids away from children and pets.