Hearing is a sense that most of us take for granted. Many of us do not realize that within that seemingly simple organ is a complex and intricate anatomical architecture capable of recognizing and processing sounds. The process begins when the sound waves arrive at the outer ear. After which, they are funneled into the air canal where they will find themselves banging on the eardrum. This creates vibrations which move a tiny connected bone called the hammer or malleus. As the hammer vibrates, it passes down the sound vibrations to the other two small bones (ossicles) and then send them through the fuel-filled and snail-like structure called the cochlea. Inside the cochlea is the spinal organ of Corti, the receptor organ for hearing. The latter contains tiny hair cells, which translate the vibrations of sound into electrical impulses that are carried on to the brain by sensory nerves to be interpreted.
So, that is how our ears process sound. Incredible isn’t it? Not every one of us though is lucky to have that gift of hearing, and this is where cochlear implant makes a world of difference. As soon as a person with hearing disability puts this artificial ear on, he is able to hear the creak of a chair, the crackling of fireworks, the coo of a pigeon, and the swooshing of the waves. It gives him the ability to hear different kinds of sounds, recognize their source, and know where they are coming from. Most important, it helps develop his communication skills, enables him to learn the sounds of words, and allows him to hear and recognize his own voice. This elegant, sophisticated technology bypasses the role of the hair cells by transmitting sound signals directly to the brain.
List of Pros of Cochlear Implants
1. It can improve hearing.
Unlike a hearing aid, a cochlear implant does not amplify sound. Rather, it stimulates just a few locations in the cochlea, replacing the functions of thousands nerves fibers. This improves hearing and allows deaf individuals to hear sounds. The implant enables them to verbally communicate with others and makes it easier for them to function in mainstream society.
2. It allows children born with ANSD to attend regular school.
It can be devastating for parents to hear other children bubble as they talk while their own child can’teven mutter “mum” or “dad”. Choclear implant offers hope because it can be implanted on children beginning at 12 months of age. This gives ANSD children a chance to live a normal life as well as attend normal schools.
3. Adults may benefit immediately.
After the initial tuning sessions, adults may immediately experience the benefits of hearing, which may continue to improve after three months. Although in some cases, improvements are slower and may take more than three months.
4. Helps people understand speech without lip-reading.
Most individuals born deaf learn to communicate through lip reading. A cochlear implant can make communication easier by not needing one to lip read anymore. However, even if this is not possible, the implant can eventually help a person recognize the sound of words with the aid of lip reading.
5. Enables one to enjoy music.
Imagine hearing a beautiful music for the first time. This is inarguably one of the best gifts of hearing.
List of Cons of Cochlear Implants
1. The sounds are unnatural sound.
While cochlear implant makes hearing possible, the sounds patient hear are not the same sound heard through normal hearing. Environmental noises and people’s voices just sound different when heard through the device.
2. The surgical procedure is risky.
A cochlear implant is a major procedure. Since the location of the operation is near the brain, general anesthesia is needed to put the patient to sleep (and we know that general anesthesia has negative side effects to some people). Injury to the facial nerve is also a serious risk. This nerve goes through the middle ear and is the one responsible for the movement of our facial muscles.
When this nerve is injured, a person may suffer from temporary or full weakening of the facial muscles, or at worst full paralysis on the side of the face that is on the same side as the cochlear implant. There is also the risk of acquiring meningitis. In 2002, the FDA first issued its first warning about the increased risk of bacterial meningitis among children who have undergone cochlear implant. A study by both the agency and the CDC showed that children whose implant includes a positioner are at increased risk of bacterial meningitis caused by Streptococcus pneumonia. This risk can continue for up to 2 years after the implantation.
3. Loss of residual hearing.
Another risk presented by having the implant is that any remaining or residual hearing a person has maybe destroyed in the implanted ear.
4. Risk to infection requiring the implant to be removed.
A cochlear implant can cost thousands of dollars, and that money could just be easily wasted when a serious infection requiring the removal of the implant occurs.
5. Made some medical examinations and treatments not possible.
This hearing device is made of a combination rubber, plastic and metal. Certain medical examinations and treatments, such as MRI imaging, ion radiation therapy and electrical surgery, may dislodge the implant or demagnetized its internal magnet.
6. It is for a life time.
Children who have undergone the operation at a very young age may have to grow old with their cochlear implant on in order to retain their ability to hear. What is worse is that during a person’s lifetime, the manufacturer of the implant could go out of business. This makes getting a replacement part or customer service in the future very uncertain.
The cochlear implant is no doubt one of the best things that happened to people with hearing disability. However, its cons showed us that deciding to get one should not be done in a rush. Individuals, and especially parents who are planning to let their toddler go through the implant procedure, should carefully consider its long-term effects.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.