By Laura Schroeder, Au.D., Audiology Consultants
Occasionally, a patient will tell me that their friend/coworker/neighbor/family member has a hearing implant, and they would like to know more about it. There are actually several types of implants that can help you hear better.
Cochlear implants are the most common implants. These devices have two parts—an electrode array that is implanted into the cochlea in the inner ear, and a processor that is worn on the outside of the ear. Cochlear implants bypass the hearing loss-causing damage in the cochlea and stimulate the hearing nerves directly. Cochlear implants are generally meant for people who receive minimal benefit from their hearing aids. Some cochlear implants also act as a hearing aid, called a hybrid device, and are recommended for people with good hearing in the low, or bass frequencies and poor hearing in the high, or treble frequencies.
One implant type, called osseointegrated implants, are worn on the outside of the head, but actually stimulate the cochlea in the inner ear. These hearing devices, also called bone-anchored hearing aids, consist of a titanium rod that is implanted into the skull, and a processor that vibrates the rod. In turn, the rod then vibrates the whole skull, which also vibrates the cochlea. The vibrations are very fast—users can’t feel it. These implants are designed for people that have a specific type of hearing loss that prevents sound from getting to the inner ear the typical way or people who have good hearing in one ear and very poor hearing in the other.
Middle ear implants are less common than cochlear implants or osseointegrated implants. These devices are designed to amplify the vibrations of the ossicles—the three tiny bones in your middle ear—that transfer sound from the eardrum to the cochlea. Middle ear implants may have a processor that is worn externally, but there are devices that do not require the use of an external part.
There are even implants that stimulate the hearing centers in the brain! These implants are rarely used and are meant for people who have a specific type of disorder that renders both hearing nerves unusable. Called the brainstem implant, this device provides awareness of sound to a patient who otherwise would be completely deaf.
For most people with hearing loss, hearing aids are the best option. However, if your audiologist suggests you might benefit from an implant, it might be worth looking into. The evaluation to determine candidacy is generally completed by an audiologist or Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physician that is an expert on that device. Having this evaluation done gives you an opportunity to learn about the implant from someone who works with them regularly.
If you feel like you’re having a hard time hearing, the first step is to schedule a hearing evaluation!
Now is a great time to have your hearing checked! Audiology Consultants’ offices are located at 2215 East 52nd St., #2, Davenport, IA: 563-355-7712; 600 Valley View Dr., Moline, IL: 309-517-3889; Unity Point Clinic, 3426 North Port Dr., #500, Muscatine, IL: 563-264-9406; or Hammond Henry Hospital, 600 College Ave., Geneseo, IL: 309-944-9181.