Until recently, cochlear implants were a recommended hearing loss treatment only for people who have bilateral hearing loss (affecting both ears) who do not benefit from a traditional hearing aid. However, recent studies show that people with unilateral hearing loss (in only one ear) may also benefit from using cochlear implants.
What Is a Cochlear Implant?
A cochlear implant is a medical device that is surgically implanted into the inner ear. Cochlear implants are different from traditional hearing aids because they don’t merely amplify sounds; they treat sensorineural hearing loss (hearing loss that is caused by damage to the inner ear) by directly stimulating the auditory nerve, bypassing the damaged part of the ear.
According to Melody Mathews, audiologist at The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital, a cochlear implant is “an amazing device that helps give hearing back… By replacing the damaged portions of the hearing system, the implant gives back sounds and gives them the meaning they’re missing out on.”
Living with Unilateral Hearing Loss
Dr. Emily Byers, a veterinarian, was one of 60 participants in a recent study on the benefits of cochlear implants.
“People think that, ‘Oh, if you’ve got one ear, you’re still OK.’ But you’re not,” explained Byers. “When you go out shopping or to the movies or a to restaurant with friends, it’s hard to find where sounds are coming from. If I couldn’t see lips, I couldn’t hear. I was essentially deaf, even though I had one working ear.”
When Byers’ implant was first activated, she reported, “It sounded very mechanical, like a computer.” This is common for people new to cochlear implants, which is what makes the rehabilitation process so important. It takes time and effort to become used to how cochlear implants translate sound.
Byers used smartphone apps to play games and listen to familiar nursery rhymes in order to blend the mechanical sounds coming through the implant with the natural sound coming through her hearing ear.
“Now, everything sounds almost perfectly normal to me. I can hear birds. Birds sound like birds… pianos sound like pianos. It’s incredible!”
Thanks to this study, the FDA has now approved cochlear implants for patients with unilateral hearing loss.
To learn more about cochlear implants or to find out if you could be a candidate, call Arizona Hearing Specialists today!