If you notice hearing loss in yourself or your child, it is perfectly understandable that you start to worry. Do not panic, however, as there are excellent solutions available. In any case, you must act quickly: The sooner you decide on a hearing solution like an implant, the better your chances of regaining good hearing. Experienced HearPeers support you on your way!
Don’t lose time with hearing loss
If you notice hearing loss, you should not waste time and act quickly to avoid long-term damage. The prompt insertion of a cochlear implant, for example, is crucial in both adults and children – but especially in babies born with partial or even complete hearing loss. Children learn to speak through their hearing: By four to six months of age, babies mimic the sounds they hear; by the age of seven to eleven months, they already understand first words. The child’s brain fully develops hearing abilities in the first two years of life – if the process does not take place during this time, the child’s hearing remains permanently impaired.
Cochlear implants for children: the earlier, the better
According to Wolf-Dieter Baumgartner, a professor in the field of ENT at the University Clinic Vienna and the Karolinska University in Stockholm, stimulating the auditory nerve at the earliest possible point in time is crucial. The auditory nerve receives information from the hair cells in the inner ear. If the hair cells are damaged, though, the nerve remains inactive, and the brain region responsible for hearing does not develop any further. However, if stimulation takes place in good time, even if it is through the electrical impulses of an implant, there is great hope. Deaf-born babies who receive implants in both ears in their first year of life “can [...] develop hearing and speech to the same level as their peers who hear normally,” says Baumgartner.
In general, the earlier babies receive their CIs, the better. An implant in the first or no later than the second year of life often allows children to attend a mainstream school. The pedagogic audiologist Ulrike Rücke explains this as follows: “These children go through all phases of speech acquisition, just like those with normal hearing.” However, if children receive a CI at a later point in time, this has dire consequences: The development of language is delayed, the therapy becomes more complex, and attending a regular school is hardly possible. Of the children receiving a CI between the ages of two and four, only half can attend a mainstream school – from the age of four, children never achieve a normal level of hearing and speaking. Nevertheless, a swift implant is also advisable in such cases, especially if a child has already learned to hear and talk, and the hearing loss occurred later. The combination of surgery, rehab, and therapy offers excellent opportunities to reactivate a child’s hearing.
How to recognize hearing loss in your child
If your child is born deaf, this will be determined during routine examinations, i.e. newborn screenings, and you will notice it in everyday life. With a partial hearing loss, however, the task is more complicated: Some children only hear lower frequencies and accordingly only imitate individual word components during their first attempts at speaking. However, this is hardly noticeable in the first few months and only becomes evident at the age of around three years in the form of delayed speech and language skills. If you have any doubts about your child’s hearing ability, consulting a hearing professional and a hearing test will provide information.
The same applies to adults: time is running out
Adults shouldn’t hesitate too long if hearing problems arise. The longer the hearing loss lasts, the more the part of the cerebral cortex that is intended for hearing, processes other sensory stimuli. While this compensates in a sense for hearing loss, regaining hearing becomes more difficult over time. The sooner you decide on a hearing solution, the more effective rehab and therapy will be.
Hearing implants – the safest procedure in ENT
When thinking about surgery, many people get scared. In the case of a cochlear implant, however, this is unfounded, as it is considered a standard procedure. Hundreds of thousands of people of all ages around the world have already opted for such an operation. Today, they enjoy a life with good hearing. According to Professor Wolf-Dieter Baumgartner, a hearing implant is the safest surgical procedure in the ear, nose, and throat area. Babies tolerate the procedure very well, and older people don’t have to worry either, as numerous studies have proven. A study conducted with 232 participants shows: 100 % of those under 79 and 96 % of those over 80 did not suffer any complications.
Do you still have concerns? Do not hesitate to ask your doctor any questions. What can you expect during the operation? What happens after the surgery? In this case, there are no “stupid” questions. It is better to ask them and take courage instead of postponing the procedure.
This is what you can expect from a cochlear implant
As each implant center follows its own procedures, a detailed consultation is essential. In general, however, you can expect the following steps: Before the operation, your health condition will be checked as usual, and the degree of hearing loss is again determined through audiometric examinations, i.e. various hearing tests. Using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography), the condition and length of the cochlea, and thus the length of the implant’s electrode is determined. Since the operation is performed under general anesthesia, you will be given an anesthetic, the effects of which last about four hours. The doctor needs between one and a half and two and a half hours for the procedure itself.
Depending on the facility, you can go home on the same day, but generally, after five days at the latest. Please note that you cannot hear yet in this phase – your device must first be “switched on”. This happens about two to six weeks after the surgery and after the incision has healed. The audio processor is now activated and adapted for the first time. It’s a highly sensitive system, and it will take time for your brain to get used to the new way of hearing. Therefore, several more appointments are necessary in the following weeks. Subsequently, however, you will usually only be asked for an adjustment once a year, and with the help of rehab and regular training, your hearing will improve steadily over time.
Talk to a HearPeer!
Hearing loss – whether it affects you directly or your child – is understandably a source of great uncertainty. In the best-case scenario, your family and friends will be there for you, listen to your problems, and give you emotional support. The specialists at MED-EL will answer your questions about hearing loss and the corresponding solutions. Ultimately, however, you can only get relief from talking to someone who understands your particular worries and needs based on their own experience.
That is why MED-EL launched the HearPeers initiative. People who are affected by hearing loss and are thinking about a CI have the opportunity to find a person to talk to here. You can get in touch through the relevant website quickly and easily and receive answers to your personal questions in private messages. HearPeers are hearing implant users themselves and are happy to share their experiences with you: How is hearing with an implant? Can you enjoy music with it? And what about sports? Take advantage of this free offer and let the HearPeers tell you how you, too, can regain quality of life with an implant!