A Breakthrough In Cochlear Technology Prompts Hardware Free Implant

by | Jan 21, 2020 | General Medical Articles | 0 comments

Being diagnosed with severe hearing loss or deafness can be heartbreaking, and although it’s easy to look at all of the negative effects that this will have on your life, there have been so many breakthroughs in audiology technology lately that there is more reason to look on the bright side. Hearing aids are one way that the hearing impaired can improve audio to allow more normal functioning of the ears, but this only works if the damage has been incurred to the outer or middle ear. If damage is done to the inner ear where the tiny hairs vibrate to give you sound then hearing aids won’t do you any good. This is when cochlear technology comes in to save the day. Made available in the last few decades, this tool has made it possible for thousands of people who have never heard before to hear the way that undamaged ears hear.

How It Works Now

Cochlear implants are devices that are surgically implanted behind the ear in a way that bypasses the eardrum and middle ear completely to attach electrodes to the cochlea deep in the inner ear. A microphone is then attached outside of the ear in a way that looks very similar to a hearing aid. The difference here is that rather than amplifying natural sound for the eardrum to capture, a cochlear microphone carries the sound through those electrodes into the cochlea and passes the sound directly to the brain. Ivanhoe.com writes: “Existing cochlear implants require a bulky one-inch diameter transmitter be affixed to the skull, with a wire attached to a microphone and power source.”

These advanced pieces of equipment might be bulky, but they allow people who haven’t heard all of their lives to hear again or for the first time. Although many children and adults who have this surgery performed can listen and talk just like anybody else, the quality of sound is different, especially where music and alternation of tones is concerned. Many people who have heard naturally throughout their lives before losing hearing and obtaining the cochlear implant explain that it sounds mechanical compared to what they were used to before. This makes sense since the human body is a complicated piece of machinery and is impossible to recreate through mechanical means. Still, this has been a huge step for mankind, and the advancements in audiology don’t stop there.

New Technology

Brand new devices discovered only this last year have been created to perform the same job but without this bulky exterior equipment to attach. This is especially convenient for parents of small children who are affected by hearing impairment. Many people don’t stop to consider that it isn’t just adults and teens that are faced with needing these devices. In some countries babies as young as six months old have undergone the cochlear surgery and wear these large electronic pieces around their tiny ears to hear. This new technology means that small ears are no longer weighed down by big pieces of plastic and instead will appear hearing aid free. MIT explains: “The new device would use the same type of sensor, but the signal it generates would travel to a microchip implanted in the ear, which would convert it to an electrical signal and pass it on to an electrode in the cochlea.”

This is also beneficial to young children and teenagers who face pressure from peers to fit in and be “normal” like the rest of the student body. As nice as it is to hope that no child would have to suffer for being different or disabled, the world is full of unfair possibilities and many kids face bullying and teasing due to these devices. New cochlear microchips are exactly what is needed as a next step in this invention to modernize implants and allow people who hear without letting the world know that they were once deaf.

How It Will Work In The Future

These newer models of the cochlear implant will be different in many ways, but one rather large area of difference rests in the fact that there will be no external compartment to place the battery. Instead, they will utilize a microchip that is rechargeable through wireless methods. This could happen through use of a charger or via a pillow while you sleep at night. Gigoam.com advises: “Current cochlear implants use small batteries, similar to the ones used in watches that must be replaced or recharged periodically. The new chip works with a battery that recharges wirelessly in two minutes, which gives it enough juice to last for eight hours.”

This means saving costs in the future for battery replacements, as the tiny watch-like batteries that are inserted into the exterior compartment only last about a week at a time. Some vary, running out earlier than a week or lasting a week and a half, but most tend to run out around the same time, making it a very expensive piece of equipment to run as time goes on.

What This Means

Unfortunately, this new models doesn’t bring all happy vibes to the invention of the cochlear implant. Without the ability to swap out a battery and remove the microphone, there may be a time when more surgery will be required. Luckily, the ability to recharge makes it less likely that pacemaker style surgical procedures will take place to repair and replace every five to seven years, but this doesn’t rule out other problems that might be incurred. This is something that every cochlear user will need to consider carefully to decide which method of implant is best for you.