Monday, 13 May 2013

Making the deaf hear : Cochlear Implants

We always believe that technology and science always go together. Whereas science keeps coming with new ways and burgeoning theories on how to tackle existing problems, technology goes side by side to work its magic and manifest the new principles laid down by science. When it comes to medicine, the sync between these two has been all the more prevalent. Be it the concept of the pacemaker, the artificial kidney and the artificial heart, be it the simpler concept of using Lasik technology to correct eye defects, or be it the introduction of MRI and CT Scan which have helped medical science in gargantuan ways. Technology has always quickly followed up with the findings of science and has presented astonishing ways of treating or diagnosing ailments whose treatment was once not even anticipated. While all these processes have now very well established themselves as the niche means in their respective arenas, there is one technology that is relatively new and which has already brought wonders to the lives of a multitude of people. We're talking about Cochlear Implants.

There are a lot of reasons why people lose their hearing ability. Although it's mainly because of age, in a lot of cases it can also happen because of accidents or appear as a congenital defect. The reasons may vary but hearing defects can pose a lot of problems because hearing is one activity that substantially affects the way we live. Although several external techniques exist for correcting them, they are not deemed very effective because most of them eventually work just by increasing the sounds in magnitude. That does not help that much. A much more sophisticated and logical way of allowing such people to savor the sounds of this world, is the revolutionary technique called Cochlear Implants.

There is a set of sensory receptors inside our ear. These receptors comprise of an extremely sophisticated type of hair. Then there is a set of parts associated with these receptors, and finally there is a set of tangled nerves that connects the ear to the auditory section of the brain. The receptors pick up sounds from the environment,the system of parts connected to these receptors processes these sounds and converts them into electrical signals. Further, these electrical signals are transferred to the brain via the set of nerves connecting the ear to the brain. The brain uses these signals to interpret the sound and make us hear it. People who experience a loss of hearing mostly have complications in either the sensory receptors, or the processing parts connected to it, or the system of nerves that connects the ear to the brain. For those cases when the auditory section of the brain is not functional, different and much more advanced procedures may be needed. However for persons with the aforementioned kind of deficiencies, Cochlear Implants may be the ideal solution.

The overall system of an Cochlear Implant is divided into two parts - One portion is external and lies outside the ear,attached to it, and the other component is planted beneath the skin and bone under the ear. The external portion consists of a microphone, a speech processor and a system of transmission. The internal portion consists of a Receiver & Stimulator and a system of small electrodes. The microphone serves the purpose of picking up the sounds that come to the ear. The speech processor processes the sounds that come to the microphone and filters and/or magnifies those sounds according to the specific cases in which it may be used. Then, the speech processor passes these filtered sound signals to the transmitter. The transmitter takes it from there and transmits these sound signals to the internally planted Receiver & Stimulator. The internal Receiver & Stimulator serves to convert these sound signals into a set of electrical impulses. These electrical impulses are then relayed from the Receiver & Stimulator to the system of electrodes which connect to different places of the system of nerves that connects the ear to the auditory section of the brain.

The overall system works to mimic the functionality of the ear in all aspects. Even in our ears, sound signals are picked up, converted to electrical impulses, and then transmitted to the system of nerves and then towards the brain. Generally, complications arise in the sensory receptors and the system of processing parts which is associated with them. The ear either fails to pick up sounds from the environment or it fails to properly process these sounds and relay them to the auditory section of the brain. The beauty of Cochlear Implant lies in its Receptor and Stimulator, which properly comprehends the external sound signals and then converts them into electrical impulses which are of the same type as those transmitted by a real ear to the brain. Hence all in all, the cochlear Implant serves to help the ear pick up what it earlier couldn't and then transmits those impulses to the brain.

Cochlear Implants have been very very successful in most of the cases. They provide much better quality of sound than what external sound magnifiers do, but it's a fact that they still fall short of the natural hearing quality and this is quite acceptable. After all, there is no replacement for the marvels of nature. But for people who were unfortunate enough to bear the blunt of deafness, this technique can virtually open new possibilities. The best thing about this technique is that it makes an attempt of simulating the whole functioning of ear and this is what results in its exorbitant efficacy. However, the same thing also means that this technique is irreversible. It, in one way, eliminates any remaining natural hearing, and replaces the same. This happens because natural and artificial hearing can not be synced with each other and can lead to complications. Having said that, this technique is a real boon for those who lost most or all of their hearing ability. Its use can bestow tremendous gleam to their lives.

Quite a lot of Cochlear Implants have been successfully deployed all over the world. While most of these were the ones in which they were deployed in one ear, a lot of implants have been performed on both the ears as well. Even in India, the top notch players in health care have transformed the lives of a plethora of people by using this ecstatic technique. This technique, though quite well established, has still not attained the prowess and efficacy it is likely to acquire someday. Most of the research is being done on producing variants with minimal parts and on improving the proximity between the electrical impulses produced by this device and those produced by a natural ear. Some day, the quality of sound may nearly become an exact emulation of that produced by a natural ear. In a nutshell, the process is improving and has already transformed the lives of quite a lot of people and with time, things will only improve. Once again, technology and science have come together to mankind's rescue. With such feats, our future can only be better, our future can only be perfect.

This post was written as a part of Apollo Hospitals' #ApolloTouchingLives campaign. It is an initiative to engage bloggers in blogging about how modern health care is touching lives. To know more about the campaign, visit ApolloTouchingLives.

To know more about Apollo  Hospitals and their cutting edge health care, visit
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  1. Nice read :-) all the best for the contest :-)

    1. Thanks a lot. I'm really glad that you liked reading it :)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Firstly thanks a lot for such a wonderful post. I would like to know more about such topics and hope to get some more helpful information from your blog.