Cochlear implants are restoring hearing, even for the entirely deaf

The results of the Cochlear implant vary widely.
Kavita Verma
Young girl reading with a Cochlear implant
Cochlear implant

Sladic/iStock  

According to WHO, over 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from hearing loss, and 2.5 billion people across the globe are expected to suffer from hearing problems by 2050. Much research has been done on people with hearing loss and the development of hearing aid devices. 

One such development is the Cochlear implants that help restore hearing in deaf people. Since the 1970’s various advancements have been made in the development of Cochlear implants – these devices are made for people who suffer from severe hearing loss due to internal ear damage and don’t hear well using typical hearing aids. A cochlear implant basically bypasses damaged areas of the human ear to deliver sound to the auditory nerve. 

In addition to the hearing aid they offer, Cochlear implants have also attracted public attention due to the complications associated with their use. Skin infection and device failure are the primary complications associated with Cochlear implants. 

The results of using Cochlear implants on people vary widely. Several studies have been done on the effectiveness of Cochlear implants on rats. The research found that similar to people, the responses in rats also varied widely. The variation in responses depends on the neural activity and behavioral responses in the Locus Coeruleus (LC) area of the brain.

How Cochlear implants are used

Cochlear implantation requires patients to consult an otolaryngology surgeon who performs a short surgical procedure to fit the implant. The surgeon makes a small incision behind the ear and inserts the device in the patient. People experience little discomfort during the surgery, and there is a low overall risk involved in the process. 

In the beginning, physicians recommended Cochlear implants to only people with total hearing loss. But with the advanced research done over the years, the implants have been proven to be beneficial for people with partial hearing loss. In addition, scientists have also been working on regenerative drugs to reverse hearing loss.

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How do Cochlear implants work?

The sounds we hear enter the eardrum into the spiral-shaped inner part of our ear, also known as the cochlea. The sound causes the hair cells on the cochlea to bend, which sends a signal through nerves to the brain that interprets what we hear. Every sensory cell has an optimal frequency to which it responds most effectively. The cells in the cochlea respond to low-frequency sounds (like vowels), and scientists have been trying to develop more advanced hearing systems. Cochlear implants have been the most successful hearing system available in which the electrodes are placed precisely in the cochlea. 

The design of the present-day CI devices is based on the assumption that each electrode stimulates the nerve at specific frequencies in a way that tries to copy the function of the human hearing system. Anders Friedberger suggests changing the stimulation method to improve hearing in partially deaf patients.

Limitations of Cochlear implants

Despite the development of CI devices, there are some limitations associated with them. The nonstandard definitions and calculation formulas lead to a lack of precision on the rehabilitation effects. To test the precision and effectiveness of these implants, more studies need to be conducted, and systems need to be developed for evaluation and follow-ups. These devices are still in their developmental phase and require more research and studies on patients to ensure their effectiveness and the possibility of becoming future hearing aids.