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Cochlear implants provide hope for the hearing impaired

December 01, 2012
Hamid R. Djalilian, MD, Surgeon

Imagine being unable to hear music, ringing telephones, laughter, or the sound of a loved one’s voice. The world is a silent place for more than one million Americans who are severely or profoundly deaf. But cochlear implants are helping a growing number of people connect with the hearing world.

The implant consists of an internal unit about the size of a quarter that houses a receiver, electrode system and magnet. It is implanted under the skin behind the ear. The electrodes are surgically inserted into the cochlea to stimulate the auditory nerve.

The device bypasses non-functioning hair cells in the inner ear by sending electrical impulses directly to the hearing (auditory) nerve. These signals are conveyed to the brain, where the information is processed as sound.

Once the external components are activated, the implant is programmed. Several months of intensive speech therapy are necessary to help patients interpret what they’re hearing. At UC Irvine Medical Center, this training is provided to patients by highly specialized hearing specialists. With practice, patients are able to process and understand sounds and communicate with others.

To qualify for a cochlear implant, a person must be able to hear no more than 50 percent of what’s said while they’re wearing a powerful hearing aid. They must also undergo extensive testing and counseling. Children as young as 12 months and adults as old as 85 can be cochlear implant candidates if both ears are severely affected.

Learn more about Dr. Djalilian ›