Hybrid Cochlear Implants: Q&A with Brian Duff, MD
Nearly 3,000 Rhode Island adults have hearing loss so severe that the most powerful hearing aids on the market can’t help them hear much. It’s especially frustrating in places where background noise is high, such as restaurants and public places, and whenever hearing loss interferes with the ability to be independent.
Brian Duff, MD, chief of the department of otolaryngology at Rhode Island Hospital, is an expert on cochlear surgery and the hybrid cochlear device that was approved in 2014 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This combination of a hearing aid and a traditional cochlear implant greatly improves hearing for people who have some residual hearing function but not enough loss to be a traditional cochlear implant candidate.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if I’m a candidate for a hybrid cochlear implant?
The first step is to have a formal hearing test with an audiologist. The hearing loss criteria for the hybrid are firmly established. If the loss fits these criteria, and the patient has had an appropriate trial with hearing aids, then consultation with an implant surgeon is the next step.
How does the cochlear hybrid implant work?
The hybrid device is a combination of a hearing aid and a cochlear implant. The hearing aid portion is used to maximize a patient’s residual low-frequency hearing, and the cochlear implant directly stimulates the hearing nerve in the mid- to high-frequency ranges (where there is little to no residual hearing.) The internal portion of the device is placed beneath the scalp, and the external portion is worn over the ear, similar to a hearing aid.
What’s the difference between a traditional cochlear implant and the hybrid?
Traditional cochlear implants are designed for those patients whose hearing loss is so severe that they receive little to no benefit from hearing aids. A hybrid cochlear implant is for patients who have some residual low-frequency hearing but still struggle to listen in social settings.
After the implant surgery, what kind of long-term maintenance is required?
The external portion of the device requires batteries. Most patients use two sets of rechargeable batteries that they rotate every other day. After the initial programming patients will follow-up with the audiologist for periodic adjustments as the range of comfortable sound expands.
Are there any risks or drawbacks?
The risk of infection or bleeding with surgery is quite small. The biggest concern with a hybrid device is that there is a risk of losing the remaining low frequency hearing. In the initial trials of the hybrid device, those patients who lost residual hearing still performed better with the implant than they had using hearing aids before surgery.