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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

May 18, 2021, Nathan C. Page, MD, FAAP
Better Hearing and Speech: Benefits of Cochlear Implants
Better Hearing and Speech: Benefits of Cochlear Implants

During the month of May (Better Speech and Hearing Month) and into June, we’ll be highlighting some of the people and programs at Phoenix Children’s helping children with speech and hearing difficulties. Today’s post is about our Cochlear Implant Program.

First, what is a cochlear implant? A cochlear implant is more than a hearing aid – it’s a device that converts sound waves in the air to an electrical signal that is sent through a tiny wire in the inner ear (cochlea) directly to a nerve that carries that signal to the brain. This allows a cochlear implant to provide sound to children even with very severe hearing loss. When an implant is placed soon after the hearing loss is diagnosed and the child receives the therapy and education they need, an otherwise healthy child can even develop normal speech.

Hearing loss is one of the most common problems discovered at birth with about three out of a thousand children born with hearing loss. Most of these children do very well with hearing aids and some assistance at school. About one out of a thousand children is born with hearing loss so severe that they can’t benefit from hearing aids. For those children, options for communication include sign language, using a specially made electronic communication device, or listening and spoken language through cochlear implantation.

Placing a cochlear implant requires surgery, but before surgery, there are quite a few steps in the process to make sure that is the right choice for the patient and family. At Phoenix Children’s, the specialists who make up the Cochlear Implant Program work as a team to help children and families with severe to profound hearing loss achieve their potential. For most of these families, their goal is to achieve listening and spoken language and a cochlear implant can help them reach that goal. The Cochlear Implant Program also helps to care for children with more complex needs who may not be able to communicate verbally but still benefit from exposure to sound. Being aware of the sounds around them helps these children to interact with others and to increase their knowledge of the world.

Phoenix Children’s Cochlear Implant Team

Patients see an audiologist (hearing specialist), an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon (otolaryngologist), a psychologist and a speech therapist who specializes in working with children who have hearing loss.  Many of these kids will also see a geneticist, an ophthalmologist, and other specialists depending on their medical needs. They will be connected to organizations specialized in hearing loss to support these children and their families. At Phoenix Children’s, no member of the care team works in isolation. All meet frequently and share important information to support our families. 

Initial diagnosis of hearing loss can be a confusing and stressful time for parents. The Cochlear Implant Program at Phoenix Children’s was formed to help families navigate this process and to provide the information they need to make educated choices about hearing loss.

Over the course of the next couple months, we’ll be highlighting some of the kids who have come through our Cochlear Implant Program with a variety of different experiences. You’ll meet some of our amazing patients like:

  • Natalie and Julia – two sisters who have Pendred syndrome, a genetic condition that causes their hearing to get worse over time. However, that does not slow them down and certainly doesn’t keep them apart!
  • Beau was born with severe hearing loss and was unable to speak. He received his first cochlear implant at age two and now, at six years old, is hard to stop him from talking! 
  • Mckoa was able to learn to speak but was barely getting by, even with powerful hearing aids.  With a cochlear implant, talking and listening takes much less effort and he is now thriving. 
  • Kyna is a 5-year-old girl with CHARGE syndrome which brings hearing loss and lots of other medical challenges. While Kyna can’t speak, her cochlear implant has dramatically improved her ability to communicate with those around her.

Look for these stories and others on Phoenix Children’s Bright Futures blog site to find out what Better Speech and Hearing Month means at Phoenix Children’s. Call our Otolaryngology/ENT department at 602-933-3277or visit the website to learn more.

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