Cochlear Implants: To Hear or Not to Hear

George Humphrey
Feb. 1, 2001


The recently released documentary "Sound and Fury" brings up a controversy surrounding the use of cochlear implants. A deaf 5-year-old girl wants the implant but her deaf parents are afraid their daughter will lose her cultural identity as a deaf person.

Pediatric otolaryngolgist (ears, nose and throat specialist) Dr. Glenn Green, who recently joined the faculty as assistant professor in pediatrics, surgery, and speech and hearing sciences at the University of Arizona, performs cochlear implant surgery at University Medical Center. Green can discuss the benefits and limitations of the cochlear implant.

A cochlear implant is an electronic device that can restore useful hearing and provide improved communication abilities for adults and children 18 months and older who have a bilateral (both ears) severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. People who receive little to no benefit from hearing aids are considered for cochlear implant. More than 20,000 children and adults worldwide utilize cochlear implants.

The procedure involves surgically implanting a sound-transducing electronic device that directly stimulates the cochleas of deaf individuals. Cochlear implants have been available since the 1980s, though most of the advancements have only been made recently, Green said.

The only fellowship-trained pediatric ENT in Arizona, Green also is researching how genetics influence how well kids do with cochlear implants. From tracking the academic achievement of deaf children, Dr. Green has learned that children with the gene for deafness who have cochlear implants perform as well academically as their hearing peers. Children who are deaf for other reasons and have cochlear implants outperform their deaf counterparts, but are not equal to their hearing peers.

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