A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device. It performs the work that the damaged parts of the cochlea, the inner ear, are unable to do because of injury or defect. Signals are then sent to the brain from the implant to give the individual an opportunity to hear when they would otherwise be unable to do so.
It is not unusual for an individual to suffer some hearing loss because the hair cells which are in the inner ear receive damage. The sounds are transferred to your hearing nerves with a cochlear implant to restore the hearing process. The sound process which is worn behind the year will capture the sound and turn it into digital code. It also holds a battery which powers the entire system.
Then this sound goes through the coil on the outside of your head to the implant, which converts the signal into electrical impulses that get sent to an electrode array which a physician places in front of the inner ear. Then the electrodes stimulate the hearing nerve, sending the impulses to the brain so that there is sound perception.
Cochlear implants are much more expensive than a hearing aid, with the final price ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 without insurance coverage. Most agencies and federal insurance programs do provide coverage for this equipment and procedure.
List of the Pros of a Cochlear Implant
1. You can hear better with a cochlear implant than you would with a hearing aid.
People who experience hearing loss will typically hear better if they receive a cochlear implant over a hearing aid. Individuals who get the implant can understand 80% more of the sentences which are spoken in their vicinity without the use of additional aids or lip-reading techniques. When only a hearing aid is used to improve the quality of a person’s hearing, then 10% of sentence understanding in their vicinity occurs.
2. It is easier to focus on sounds in a noisy environment.
When you have a cochlear implant, then you can have an actual conversation with someone even if you are in a busy environment. Restaurants, trains, airplanes, and other noisy, crowded places are challenging to manage for someone with a hearing aid because all of the sounds receive amplification. If you can choose this option, then the hearing feels more natural, allowing for a greater focus on the specific sound elements you wish to hear.
Many people say that they can reconnect with sounds they used to miss before receiving their cochlear implant. Although you can still miss some of the audio in your environment, this technology makes it possible to restore a majority of your lost hearing in numerous situations.
3. You will feel safer every day with a cochlear implant.
The presence of a cochlear implant allows you to hear the potentially dangerous sounds that exist in the environment. You can hear alarms that go off to warn that you shouldn’t be in a specific area. It is possible to hear people calling out to you which may not have been possible before or with a hearing aid. Even approaching vehicle sounds get picked up with this technology so that you know when you need to get out of the way.
Because you can detect all of this potential audio, you have a greater awareness in your environment over what might be harmful. Then you can react as needed to get yourself to a safe location. Hearing aids do not always provide this benefit.
4. It is possible to speak on the phone with a cochlear implant.
If you have a hearing aid, then it might cause some feedback to occur if you were to place a cellular phone next to your ear. This outcome occurs because there are two microphones in close proximity to each other. This issue disappears when you can wear a cochlear implant instead. Although holding a receiver to your ear might be a little uncomfortable at first because of the outside device, the clarity of what you hear will be much better. The result is so profound that you can even listen to music without the tinny interference that other technologies may cause when correcting your hearing.
5. This hearing device works well at almost any age.
When children require hearing amplification to experience the world around them, a cochlear implant is suitable for their needs. Even infants sometimes qualify to use this device because of how useful the design happens to be. This results in an improvement in speech and hearing perception, reducing the need to use sign language and other forms of communication to get their point across to someone.
Because this device makes it a lot easier for the student to a classroom setting, they can benefit from the learning process to enter their chosen career or chase opportunities which are important to them.
6. Adults can often use hearing memory to enjoy an enhanced performance.
Once the cochlear implant receives its necessary tuning, many adults experience a profound improvement in their hearing thanks to this technology. The reason why this benefit is possible is because of the existence of sensory memory. Because there have been more opportunities to hear in life, the restoration of impulses to the brain can help it recall what various audio inputs are like. For those who love music, this advantage is often the one that holds the most personal significance.
Children who have their hearing restored through this process can experience a similar benefit. Only those who have never heard the world without artificial intervention tend to struggle to process sounds. Many people begin to experience the peak benefits of this technology at the 90-day mark after surgery.
7. The device is specifically fitted to your needs.
This life-changing device requires an intervention by a specialist for a successful result. You must be fitted with this technology so that it works with your physiology. That means there is an excellent chance to receive a successful outcome. Although there are some surgical risks to consider, the fact that your system gets a design that works with your physical needs is a tremendous advantage. You won’t need to worry about adjusting to it because it was made for you.
8. It is possible to perceive soft, medium, and loud sounds with cochlear implants.
Patients who have received a cochlear implant report to the FDA that they can perceive several different types of sounds after receiving this device. They can make out footsteps, engine sounds, telephones ringing, dogs barking, door slamming, and most other environmental stimuli that we all experience every day. Whether the sounds are soft or loud, there is enough input available to distinguish between different volume levels.
9. You can watch TV after receiving a cochlear implant.
If you struggle with your hearing, then watching TV can be quite the challenge. You’re forced to watch the dialogue pop-up on the screen so that you can understand what is going on. When you watch live sports, the commentary also streams live, so it is not always accurate in the haste to type out the words or engage speech recognition software. With the cochlear implant, you can watch more easily, especially if you can see the face of the speaker. Audiobooks, talk radio, and other sources of conversation can be helpful here as well.
List of the Cons of a Cochlear Implant
1. The only method of placement for a cochlear implant is through surgery.
There are several surgical risks that you will want to discuss with your physician if you’re evaluating the pros and cons of a cochlear implant right now. Here are the most significant concerns to discuss.
- There is a slight risk of damaging the chorda tympani nerve or the facial nerve because they pass through the middle of the ear space.
- Children have a higher risk of experiencing adverse effects due to the anesthesia needed for the procedure when compared to adults.
- Some people can experience short- or long-term reduced balance function following the surgery.
- A rare outcome involves an increase of tinnitus compared to their previous experience.
Some individuals may have unique risks in these areas that would make the cochlear implant surgery too risky to complete. If damage to the nerves in the face occurs, then paralysis may exist for the rest of the patient’s life. A temporary or long-term feeling of weakness is also possible when using this device.
2. You cannot undergo certain medical procedures after a cochlear implant.
After an individual receives a cochlear implant at any age, then they are no longer able to undergo specific medical procedures. This disadvantage applies even if the need is significant. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Image) testing is the most significant restriction here. Unless there is a removable magnet or a lower field strength used for the imaging, then you cannot use this option to diagnose a potential illness or injury.
Once the cochlear implant is in place, you cannot receive ionizing radiation therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, or electrosurgery in the vicinity of the cochlear implant.
3. Children with a cochlear implant have a higher risk of meningitis.
If your child receives a cochlear implant to assist with their hearing, then they are automatically at a higher risk of contracting a form of meningitis that is caused by Streptococcus pneumonia than children who do not have this device. Because of this disadvantage, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all children with these implants receive a pneumococcal vaccination series. Specific options for your treatment plan may also come from your doctor to ensure the health of the child is consistently good.
4. The cochlear implant can malfunction sometimes after implantation.
There is a small chance that a cochlear implant can start malfunctioning after the internal components of the device receive surgical installation. The cumulative survival rate of the technology is over 99% for the first 12 months, and then 98% at the 5-year mark, but there is always the possibility that this disadvantage may occur. If it happens, then it must be removed and replaced to restore the advantages of this technology. The manufacturer’s warranty covers failure in the first 10 years, but it is the financial responsibility of the individual or family to pay afterward.
5. Exposure to static electricity can damage the components.
After receiving a cochlear implant, any static electricity you encounter can cause potential damages to the entire implant system. It also offers the potential of erasing any of the saved programs you have on the speech process. If this device is given to a child, then you will want to remove the speech processor before having them play in plastic ball pits or go down a slide. You will also need to avoid contact with the unit until after touching your child to ensure grounding happens.
6. Support is still necessary with this device and background noise.
Although the sounds are more natural when processed with a cochlear implant compared to some hearing aid options, the background noises that occur can be problematic for some individuals. It can take some time to get used to processing this data, especially if the cochlear implant is creating hearing opportunities that were not present before. The outcomes are different for each person, so try to take advantage of an early intervention programs that are in your area to improve the situation for anyone who needs this device.
After receiving the device, it is not unusual for some people to believe that the issues with personal hearing receive a cure. This outcome is not possible. There must still be effective methods of communication used across the spectrum (especially with children) to ensure that their hearing and speech development continues to progress.
7. The audio inputs given to the brain are not actual audio wavelengths.
Because you are hearing sounds that were converted by the cochlear implant to register with the brain, it can create unnatural sounds at times that are challenging to process. Imagine hearing something through a static-filled Bluetooth connection and you can get a picture of what this disadvantage is like. You can still hear the sounds, but it doesn’t offer the same quality as if you heard it from the original source. This disadvantage can sometimes be enough for some people to reverse the procedure since it is so bothersome to them.
8. The surgery might eliminate any residual hearing that the individual may have left.
If you still have some hearing available to you, then a cochlear implant might not be the correct option to choose at first. Other hearing aids provide input or amplification in a way that can help you to use your current sensory inputs without risking what is left. Any surgery is risky for a variety of reasons, so if you can still hear things in your environment then it may be necessary to speak with your doctor about what your best options might be.
9. Infections can occur after the surgery.
There are times when the surgical implant becomes infected even after the physician and the patient do everything right to care for it. When this issue occurs, the entire device may need to be removed to ensure the healing process begins. You may still have the option to re-implant the device later, but there will be the cost of two extra surgeries (one to take out, and then a second to replace) added to the overall expense of the device. That means you could be left with a final bill that is well over $100,000 before completing the process if there is no insurance coverage available.
10. It is a lifetime commitment.
When children receive a cochlear implant, then it stays with them for the rest of their life if they want to hear. There are still options for sign language and other communication tools if they decide against this option, but the hearing world is typically more lucrative than the non-hearing climate for jobs and opportunities. If the manufacturer of your device goes out of business, fails to cover its warranty, or requires maintenance that is no longer possible, then you might be stuck with a removal and replacement surgery for a new device.
11. You may not have access to this technology in your country.
If you live in the United States or much of the developed world, then your medical provider will coordinate with your insurance coverage to determine if the potential benefits of a cochlear implant outweigh the risks involved with this procedure. Many families who deal with hearing loss around the world find themselves flying to a different country for this device because it is unavailable in their current medical system. If you must travel to receive this procedure, then there is always the risk that your visa could be denied, making it next-to-impossible to have your hearing restored. Your embassy can help to provide resources that may reduce the risk of this disadvantage occurring.
12. You will not get out of speech therapy sessions.
Many families go into the evaluation process for a cochlear implant thinking that it will improve their schedule and finances. Sometimes this can happen, but the typical result is an increase in therapy and cost because you can now work with the individual on their hearing. You will likely be going to formal speech therapy sessions every weekday for 30-60 minutes at a time. There are practice sessions to complete with your other communication options. If a child goes from not hearing at all to receiving stimulus with this device, it can take 7-10 years for them to finally speak with comprehension.
13. There can be some resistance to this technology from the hearing-impaired community.
Deaf identity politics might not be an issue for some children, but it can be problematic for adults. Teens will often deal with this disadvantage as well. The reception of this technology in the hearing-impaired community is not always positive. There are several authors who have told their life story about this device, recalling how their friends would make fun of them as if they were a robot. Instead of being you, others can start seeing you as the “cochlear implant person.”
A Final Thought on the Pros and Cons of Cochlear Implants
There are several different factors to consider if you believe that your child, a family member, or yourself could be a successful candidate for a cochlear implant. Your treatment team will look at how long the hearing loss has been around before considering this technology, the severity of the loss, and the condition of the inner ear as part of the criteria to see if this intervention is possible.
Other medical conditions and how much work or practice that would ensue after receiving the implant system is also taken into account.
The pros and cons of cochlear implants are something to consider with your primary care physician, hearing specialist, and other members of the team. Always seek out advice from trusted health professionals for any treatment on hearing loss rather than rely on general information you can find online. The outcomes may vary, so talk to your health provider about what specific factors could affect the final result.