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Wired for sound.

Today, sophisticated electronic devices are helping children and adults cope with hearing losses due to problems in the inner ear--conditions untreatable by conventional hearing aids or medical treatments.

"Kids who are born deaf are acquiring skills that we never thought possible," said Dr. Richard Miyamoto, chairman of head and neck surgery at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and an internationally recognized researcher on hearing loss. "We are seeing some very exciting results on the very young children who gain access to sound in this way."

Dr. Miyamoto is referring to cochlear implants--a revolutionary technology that can be used when the snail-shaped organ in the inner ear called the cochlea is damaged. He heads a team of researchers who first performed the procedure about 25 years ago as part of an initial national clinical trial.

"A cochlear implant is an electronic device, part of which is surgically implanted into the inner ear," Dr. Miyamoto told Medical Update. "An external portion picks up sound and converts it into an electrical signal. This takes on the function of the ear in many respects."

The treatment is designed to help what doctors call sensory neural losses.

"Inside the cochlea, there are little hair cells that bend, sending an electrical current up the hearing nerve," he explained. "The types of hearing losses we are treating with cochlear implants are those in which the hair cells aren't working. The ear does not have the ability to convert mechanical vibrations into electrical signals, so the implant takes the place of that process."

Surgery to implant the device lasts about two hours, and most patients go home the same day. An audiologist adjusts the unit's electrodes and helps patients learn to detect sounds and attach meanings to them. Children and adults receive the same cochlear implant, which is designed to last a lifetime.

"It is interesting," says Miyamoto. "Children are born with adult-size cochleas. There is some skull growth, but the inner ear doesn't change. We curl the electrode inside the ear. And as the skull grows, the electrode seems to straighten out. We haven't had any growth-related problems."

Most insurance companies cover the FDA-approved device, which is now being implanted by specialists in major medical centers across the country. For more on the promise of cochlear implants, see an upcoming issue of the Post.
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Title Annotation:cochlear implant evaluation
Publication:Medical Update
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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