Cochlear implants are meant to enable both adults and children who are chronic to profoundly deaf and who do not or only minimally benefit from other hearing devices. Cochlear implants may even be helpful for people who have mild, moderate, or severe “nerve deafness.” That said, a cochlear implant mistake can prove significantly detrimental to its beneficiaries.
A cochlear implant is an electronic hearing aid that is surgically inserted into the ear. It is intended to electrically stimulate inner ear nerves to provide a person with severe to profound nerve deafness with usable hearing experiences. It is a prime example of healthcare technology easing the lives of thousands across the globe.
Many people with hearing loss have received a cochlear device treatment since 1972. In accordance with data from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), thousands of people and children have chosen to have cochlear implants installed. Many of these patients were born hearing-impaired.
A significant number of such individuals have also reported complications and post-surgery challenges as well. Keeping that in mind, in this article, we will see why and how cochlear implants can go horribly wrong for some. Let’s get started.
Classification of Complications
Before we continue, it’s critical to underline the significance of understanding the hazards of cochlear implantation. Just like any surgical operation, some individuals experience postoperative complications, which are further divided into major and minor difficulties as well as early and late complications.
Early problems are those that appear in the first week following surgery. The major complications necessitate hospitalization, surgery, and further re-intervention. Minor difficulties can either cure themselves naturally or with conservative therapy.
Major risks are rare but substantial and include issues with electrode bundle insertion, flap issues, otomastoiditis, peripheral facial paralysis, implant infection, postoperative CSF fistula, device failure, meningitis, and non-auditory stimulation.
Minor risks include temporary peripheral facial paralysis, injury to the tympanic membrane, hemorrhage, balance issues, chorda tympani nerve injury, altered facial sensation, tinnitus, otitis media, post-operative bleeding, facial edema, surgical emphysema, skin ulcers, minor electrode mal-position, pinna ulceration, and granulation tissue bleeding.
Understanding The Possible Complications In Further Detail
- Injury to the facial nerve, which supplies movement to the face’s muscles through the middle ear. It is vulnerable to damage during surgery since it is situated close to the area where the implant must be inserted.
The same side of the face as the implant may become completely paralyzed or weaker temporarily or permanently as a result of an injury.
- Skin injury infection.
- Cerebrospinal fluid leakage: The fluid that surrounds the brain may leak from a surgically made hole in the inner ear or from a hole in the brain’s covering in other places.
- Surgical site fluid or blood accumulation.
- Perilymph fluid leak—fluid is present in the cochlea or inner ear. The opening made to insert the implant may allow this fluid to leak.
- Episodes of vertigo or dizziness
- Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining that covers the top of the brain. This uncommon but significant consequence appears to be more common in people with improperly developed inner ear structures.
- Tinnitus, an ear-ringing or buzzing sensation.
- The area around the ear becomes numb.
- Disturbances in taste: During surgery, the middle ear nerve, which is responsible for tongue taste perception, may sustain damage.
- Reparative granuloma: This localized inflammation can develop due to the body rejecting the implant, and it can be seen as a granuloma.
With long-term implantation, there can be further unanticipated issues that arise that we are unable to anticipate.
Other Reported Challenges Related to Cochlear Implant Use
Following are some more complications that have been reported in cochlear implant beneficiaries over the years:
Sound perception may differ
People who could hear before going deaf claim that sound sensations from implants are different from those of normal hearing. The initial descriptions of the sound by users are “mechanical,” “technological,” or “synthetic.” Following a few weeks of cochlear implant use, the majority of users no longer perceive this unnatural sound quality.
Possibly unable to comprehend language adequately
Nobody can anticipate how well they will grasp English after surgery by taking a test prior to surgery.
The remaining hearing could be lost
In some rare cases, the implant could render the implanted ear completely deaf.
A failed implant
In this scenario, a patient who had an implant would require additional surgery to address this issue and would once again be subject to the hazards of surgery.
Potentially unpredictable and ambiguous effects
The nerves are immediately stimulated by electrical currents from the cochlear implant. Although it appears that this stimulation is harmless, it is unknown how long these electrical currents will remain in the nerves.
While cochlear implants can be a potentially life-altering addition to the lives of those who face deafness in some form or the other, they can also cause grave consequences for a significant number of such people. We have covered the various complications reported in cochlear implant beneficiaries over the years. That said, we don’t discourage the use of this healthcare technology; we just wish to inform our readers of the possible flip side.