“Blindness separates people from things, deafness separates people from people.”
How do we hear?
Sound is simply air molecules moving back and forth in compression waves. This kind of motion actually carries very little energy – so little, in fact, that it is a physics marvel that our ears can pick up these sounds and that we can use them to communicate. The way our ear achieves this is by amplifying this compression wave (with our eardrum and hearing bones) and sensing it with hair cells in our inner ear. When these tiny “hairs” are moved by the sound waves, their cells send an electrical impulse through the nerves to our brains.
When we begin to lose hearing, where is the problem?
There are many causes of hearing loss, and determining the cause is something that your doctor will discuss with you. But broadly there are 2 categories of hearing loss – conductive loss, and sensorineural loss.
Conductive losses are problems which prevent the sound from making it to the inner ear. A hole in the eardrum, for example, can cause a conductive loss. Conductive losses can often be surgically corrected (by correcting that hole in the eardrum, for instance).
Sensorineural losses, on the other hand, are problems which cause a loss of the inner ear hair cells. This can happen as a result of genetics, from age, noise exposure, autoimmune problems, or drug exposures. Some children are born with hair cells that never work. It is often difficult to correct sensorineural losses but hearing aids can help significantly at an early stage. Over time, hearing can worsen and hearing aids become less effective at helping understand sounds. This is when cochlear implants can help.
How does a cochlear implant work?
A cochlear implant is a device that is used to treat sensorineural hearing loss. The cochlear implant allows us to bypass the parts of the hearing system that do not work and take the sounds straight to the nerves.
An electrical wire is inserted surgically into the cochlea (the inner ear) of a patient with sensorineural hearing loss. The electrical wire is attached to a receiver which sits under the skin and receives a signal from a sound processor worn behind the ear. Sound enters the processor which changes the sound waves into electronic signals and sends those to the receiver. The receiver then sends these impulses to the electrode in the inner ear. The electrode is able to directly stimulate the cochlear nerve, and the patient is able to perceive this stimulation as sound. They can “hear” it!
Take a moment to wonder at this. We are able to digitally and electronically process sound and send it via a cochlear implant directly to the brain, in essence speaking the language of the brain, so that the deaf might hear. This is nothing short of a miracle, drawing one to wonder at this broken world and its coming, greater redemption:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
How do I know if I need a cochlear Implant?
You have come to the right place. Greenville ENT is able to perform an evaluation to determine if you would benefit from a cochlear implant. Specialized testing is necessary to determine if you qualify for a cochlear implant, but we have experts within the practice who are ready and able to walk with you through the process.
A simple gauge which may help you know if your hearing loss is severe enough to need a cochlear implant is how much trouble you have speaking over the phone. Phone conversations don’t let people use their eyes to help them understand. If you struggle to communicate without visual cues (like reading lips), then we’d love the opportunity to talk to you about the next step.
If your child has failed their newborn hearing screen or you have any concerns about your child’s hearing, Greenville ENT is able to perform testing on even our youngest patients and counsel parents about options for hearing restoration.
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