Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Hearing and Balance is a comprehensive cochlear implant center – one of the only in the Gulf Coast region to offer surgical and audiologic expertise with all three of the FDA approved cochlear implants. Our team of experts have been involved with cochlear implantation since the introduction of these devices to the U.S. market, and as we have grown, we have been able to combine decades of cochlear implant experience with the newest, cutting-edge clinic care and research in cochlear implants, hearing aids and hearing rehabilitation, in general. See our research in our PubMed publications here for Dr. Alex D. Sweeney.
Hearing loss can profoundly affect quality of life, and we believe that our team is able to provide the best possible outcomes for every patient with hearing loss, whether you are ready to consider a cochlear implant or would simply like to learn more about this option and others that may be available to help you hear better. We are proud partners with the implant teams at the University of Houston Speech Clinic, Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Texas Children's Hospital.
What Is a Cochlear Implant?
A cochlear implant is a surprisingly small electronic device that can be placed into the inner ear in a relatively short surgery. These devices were initially created to rehabilitate hearing loss in patients who were profoundly deaf. However, as cochlear implant technology improved over time, we now are able to implant patients who are still able to hear but struggle with best-fit hearing aids. Currently, patients with varying degrees of hearing loss can benefit from cochlear implant technology.
The cochlear implant consists of two parts: a small device that is placed during a relatively short surgery, and an externally worn speech processor. The cochlear implant converts acoustic sound to an electrical signal that can give an individual with significant hearing loss new auditory information to facilitate speech understanding. In fact, with the newest cochlear implant device designs and surgical techniques, it is even possible to preserve natural acoustic hearing in some cases. Cochlear implant speech processors are similar in size to hearing aids and utilize similar technology for noise management and Bluetooth connectivity. And, as with many electronic devices, the components of a cochlear implant are only getting “smaller” and “smarter.”
Who Is a Candidate for a Cochlear Implant?
Individuals who have limited benefit from appropriately programmed hearing aids may be candidates for a cochlear implant. To officially determine whether or not a patient would benefit from a cochlear implant, a patient is first evaluated by our implant team of physicians and audiologists. Generally, this evaluation involves a very comprehensive hearing test in which we are able to measure how well you can hear using advanced hearing aid technology. If you are not a cochlear implant candidate or if you are not sure that you would like to commit to a cochlear implant, we are also happy to give you insight into your specific form of hearing loss as well as different options that may be available to you through our clinic or an audiologist with whom you have an existing relationship.
What Does Cochlear Implant Surgery Entail?
Cochlear implantation is a very routine procedure for physicians who are trained in ear surgery (otology, neurotology, and skull base surgery). Our implant surgeons are double boarded in otolaryngology and neurotology, making them true experts in this field. Decades ago, this type of surgery involved large incisions, long operative times and significant hair shaving. Today, the contemporary implant surgeon can perform the surgery in around one hour with a relatively small incision that is largely hidden by your ear and that requires little to no hair shaving. The surgery consists of making a pathway for the implant into the inner ear, which passes through the mastoid bone behind the ear. We generally insert the implant through a natural orifice in your inner ear in order to minimize cochlear trauma and maximize your hearing potential. The incision is then closed such that the implant is completely beneath the skin and invisible to the naked eye. In other words, the internal part of the device is completely implanted, such that patients are still able to participate in the same types of physical activity they have always enjoyed. In most cases, healthy patients can be discharged on the same day of surgery. Generally, patients can resume most of their normal activities in the days following surgery. The implant is not turned on until swelling around the implant in the skin and inner ear dissipates (usually two to three weeks after surgery). Thereafter, you will work with one of our specially trained cochlear implant audiologists and speech specialists on your road to hearing rehabilitation.
What Are the Benefits and Outcomes of a Cochlear Implant?
Hearing loss isolates people from society in a way that is much different than other disabilities. A cochlear implant, therefore, has the ability to dramatically affect quality of life. Not everyone performs at the same level with a cochlear implant, and it does take time for the brain to learn to interpret the sounds created by a cochlear implant. However, over time, our outcomes demonstrate that most implant recipients are able to rejoin the acoustic world in many ways, having regained the ability to communicate in person and over the phone. With practice, a cochlear implant recipient can quickly realize how many sounds and conversations they have been missing.
What Cochlear Implant Companies Are Available?
Currently, there are three FDA approved manufacturers of cochlear implants in the United States. As mentioned above, the Baylor College of Medicine Cochlear Implant Program routinely implants all three manufacturers: Advanced Bionics, Cochlear, MED-EL.
Education resources are available both through these cochlear implant companies and our clinic. We routinely host seminars for patients who are interested in hearing rehabilitation. Please call our clinic at (713) 798-5900 if you may be interested in an opportunity to learn more!
- What Is the Process for a Cochlear Implant?
Dr. Lauren Placke, an audiologist in the Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, describes the process patients may experience before and after they are implanted with a cochlear implant.