Cochlear implants help those with hearing problems turn up the volume

A cochlear implant is an electronic hearing device designed to produce useful hearing sensations to a person with severe to profound nerve deafness by electrically stimulating the nerves inside the inner ear, according to information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“It’s not hearing as you and I would think about it. When a person first hears with a cochlear implant, it sounds distorted. But with practice and training, they can perform quite well and be able to listen to conversation in a normal tone of voice, listen to the radio or TV and speak on the telephone,” said Dr. Brian J. McKinnon, assistant professor of otology/neurotology at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

The implant consists of two main components: a sound processor, microphone and transmitter system worn externally on the flat area of the head behind the ear, and very small electronic circuits, slightly larger than a human hair, that are surgically placed inside the cochlea. A magnet holds the external system in place next to the implanted internal system.

Carrie Welter, who has had an implant for three years, said hearing does not take place immediately after surgery because it takes the cochlea a few weeks to heal, and the processor is not wired onto the transmitter until after the healing is complete.

“I dreaded that time while I waited,” Welter said. “I had this scar that I thought was really gross on the side of my head. But a friend brought me a cap to wear to cover it up.”

Welter said she will never forget when her implant was activated by the audiologist, who tested each of the 18 electrodes one at a time.

“I could hear each one as she did it, and it was very awesome. It became an awesome day,” she said, adding that she has to visit the doctor every two months for a regular check up on the implant. “But it’s such a wonderful blessing; I should’ve done it 10 years ago.”

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