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  • Writer's pictureDr. Koralla Raja Meghanadh

Can Cochlear Implants Cure Deafness?

Introduction

Cochlear implants have revolutionized the field of audiology, offering a lifeline to individuals with severe to profound hearing loss. These remarkable devices have provided renewed hope and improved quality of life for millions worldwide.

 


Can Cochlear Implants Cure Deafness

How Cochlear Implants Cure Deafness?

Cochlear implants try replicating the job done by our ears. The ears convert mechanical sound waves into electric signals that the auditory nerve carries to the brain.

 

So, if the issue is in any part of the ear, a cochlear implant can fix the hearing, but if the issue is with the nerve carrying signals to the brain, then a cochlear implant cannot cure deafness.

 

When Do Cochlear Implants Cure Deafness?

Let's broadly divide deafness into three types based on the issue for our convenience in understanding where we can use cochlear implants.

 

  1. Before the cochlea: Issues with the eardrum or middle ear can often be fixed by surgery or treated with a hearing aid. However, if a hearing aid is ineffective, cochlear implants can be considered.

  2. In the cochlea: Most cochlear implants are done when the issue lies within the cochlea. For example, individuals born deaf may have missing or modified genes, leading to the absence of proteins needed to send signals to the brain via the auditory nerve. Infections in the inner ear can also damage the labyrinth and lead to conditions like labyrinthitis ossificans, which may require cochlear implant surgery to save the ear.

  3. After the cochlea: Cochlear implants cannot fix auditory nerve or brain issues.

 

In summary, cochlear implants can cure deafness if the issue is in or before the cochlea (inner ear). However, most cochlear implant surgeries are performed for issues within the cochlea.

Cases where cochlear implant surgery can fail to cure deafness

A cochlear implant fails mostly when SOPs, i.e., standard operating procedures, are not followed. This can result in

  • Implant rejection

  • Infection

  • Soft failure

  • Hard failure: The implant's computerized scanning and check will be faulty. This could be a manufacturing defect or a lack of adherence to the SOPs.

  • Neuroplasticity


Soft Failure

In some cases, the computerized scanning and check of the cochlear implant may appear normal, but the patient's hearing remains unstable, with sound perception fluctuating or intermittently turning off. This phenomenon is known as soft failure and can occur when the electrode is not correctly placed in the bone groove or if the electrode is handled harshly during the implantation process.

 

Hard Failure

In cases of hard failure, the computerized scanning and check of the cochlear implant will be faulty. This can be due to a manufacturing defect or a lack of adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs) during the implantation process.

 

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is a condition whose occurrence can fail cochlear implant surgery. If a person has lost hearing completely and does not get a cochlear implant done within the next six months, the brain may allocate the auditory nerve for other purposes; this will make the results of a cochlear implant unpredictable.

 

Can cochlear implants cure deafness permanently?

While cochlear implants can significantly improve hearing, they don't permanently cure deafness. Several factors can affect their effectiveness.

  1. External device The external component of the implant may require replacement due to damage or wear. Without this device, the implantee may not be able to hear until it's replaced.

  2. Tuning Regular fine-tuning of the implant's external processor by audiologists using a computer is crucial for clear sound perception. This adjustment, typically done every six months, ensures optimal hearing. Without it, individuals may struggle to hear all sounds clearly and understand speech effectively.

  3. Accident An accident can have an impact on the surgically planted device. The damaged device will lead to deafness.


So, the above scenarios can make a person deaf again, but measures could be taken to bring back the hearing.


Can cochlear implants bring back normal hearing?

Cochlear implants can cure deafness, but they don't give back normal hearing like you might expect.

 

Here's why: Typically, a person can distinguish between thousands of different sounds. However, someone with a cochlear implant might only be able to perceive 12 to 24 distinct sounds. This limitation occurs because the implant can't stimulate each individual nerve in the ear as a healthy ear does. Instead, it groups sounds into categories, resulting in a slightly different experience.

 

The good news is that our brains are incredibly adaptable! Despite the simplified sound input from cochlear implants, they can still process it well enough for the person to understand speech and communicate effectively, almost as if they had normal hearing. So, while cochlear implants may not fully restore natural hearing, they can greatly enhance communication and interaction with the world.


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