Cochlear Implants: What They Are & How They Work

Hearing aids have helped countless Americans regain their ability to communicate, but they aren’t perfect for everybody. Individuals with severe hearing loss or profound deafness may require a different solution for improving their hearing.

Cochlear implants help many patients who are unable to benefit from hearing aids. Instead of amplifying sounds, they generate an electrical signal that bypasses damaged hair cells in the cochlea and provides direct stimulation of the auditory nerve. The brain interprets this information as sound.

Cochlear implants are made up of external (microphone, speech processor, transmitter) and internal (receiver, electrodes) components. The external portion is worn behind the ear; the microphone picks up sound and sends it to the speech processor, which converts it to electrical impulses. These are transmitted to the receiver and through the auditory nerve to the brain, where they are perceived as sound.

Cochlear implants are not a cure for hearing loss, and they work on a different principle than hearing aids. But they can help restore the ability to communicate. The best candidates are those with severe sensorineural hearing loss or profound deafness, who have advanced language and communication skills – typically adults who lose their hearing later in life. Young children who have not yet developed speech and language skills can also benefit.

In order to learn how to “hear” with cochlear implants, patients must undergo a process known as mapping. A computer measures their response to a series of tones, allowing the audiologist to adjust the cochlear implants to the patient’s specific needs in order to optimize performance.

If you have severe hearing loss in Portland and think cochlear implants might be the solution, contact us to schedule a consultation.