Otorhinolaryngology (Ear, Nose and Throat)
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Cochlear Implants & BAHAs
The BAHA system
The BAHA, or bone anchored hearing aid, is also a surgically implantable system for treatment of hearing loss. It works by enhancing natural bone transmission as a pathway for sound to travel to the inner ear — bypassing the external auditory canal and middle ear. The titanium implant is placed during a short outpatient surgical procedure.
These implants are used for patients with mild to moderate hearing loss. BAHA implants do not restore perfect hearing or make every sound crystal clear. They are intended to help patients with discerning speech and other sounds, making their hearing loss more manageable.
How the BAHA system works
There are three primary parts to a BAHA system:
- The external sound processor, which is responsible for picking up and collecting the sounds around you.
- An abutment or a magnet, which connects the processor to the titanium implant and converts sound into vibrations that are transferred through the abutment or magnet.
- The titanium implant, which is inserted into the bone and, over several months, naturally integrates with the mastoid portion of the temporal bone behind the ear. This implant transfers the vibrations through the skull to the inner ear and functioning cochlea.
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that partially restores hearing. It can be an option for people who have severe hearing loss from inner-ear damage who are no longer helped by using hearing aids.
Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sound, a cochlear implant bypasses damaged portions of the ear to deliver sound signals to the hearing (auditory) nerve.
How cochlear implants work
Cochlear implants use a sound processor that fits behind the ear. The processor captures sound signals and sends them to a receiver implanted under the skin behind the ear. The receiver sends the signals to electrodes implanted in the snail-shaped inner ear (cochlea).
The signals stimulate the auditory nerve, which then directs them to the brain. The brain interprets those signals as sounds, though these sounds won't be just like normal hearing.
It takes time and training to learn to interpret the signals received from a cochlear implant. Within a year of use, most people with cochlear implants make considerable gains in understanding speech.
Cochlear implants can restore hearing in people with severe hearing loss who are no longer helped by using hearing aids. Cochlear implants can improve their communication and quality of life.
Cochlear implants may be placed in one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral). Cochlear implants in both ears have started to be used more often to treat bilateral severe hearing loss — particularly for infants and children who are learning to speak and process language.
Adults and children who are as young as six to 12 months old can benefit from cochlear implants. People who have cochlear implants report improved:
- Ability to hear speech without needing visual cues such as reading lips.
- Recognition of normal, everyday environmental sounds.
- Ability to listen in a noisy environment.
- Ability to find where sounds are coming from.
- Ability to hear television programs, music and telephone conversations.
To be eligible for a cochlear implant, you must have:
- Hearing loss that is so severe it interrupts spoken communication.
- Limited benefit from hearing aids as determined by specialized hearing tests.
- No medical conditions or factors that increase the risks associated with cochlear implants.
- High motivation to participate in hearing rehabilitation and be part of the hearing world.
- Realistic expectations of what cochlear implants can and can't do for hearing.