Hearing for the First Time

You may have seen this video during the week, it’s a lovely story of a lady called Joanne Milne (40) who was deaf from birth and her hearing was restored with a cochlear implant. This video shot by her Mum shows the moments when she hears for the first time, in tears as the nurse recalls the days of the week to her. Watching this made me appreciate how much of a difference my ears make to the world I experience everyday. I mean some people (including myself) have recently been talking about the sounds of F1 and how they don’t sound as nice as previously, but imagine that with no sound at all and I think it really puts it into perspective!

It is said that if you have shortfalls in one aspect of life then you more than make up for it in another and this is certainly true in this case! I mean think about it, she’s been deaf for her whole life and partially blind also and as soon as she can hear she can start talking! This is the power of lip reading, something she has very clearly mastered over her life and has been able to work out a whole language even though she has never heard it. I bet none of us could go abroad, having never learnt their language and then pick it up just by lip reading!

Someone who has been through the same thing is a lady called Kate Locke, who has written a blog as she has gone through the process of getting a cochlear implant. If the video interested you then it is definitely something to check out! She writes very well about what a cochlear implant is and how it works, which I am going to try and briefly summarise here!

Cochlea Implant

There are 3 parts to the ear: outer, middle and inner; Joanne’s hearing condition was called sensorineural hearing loss, which is damage to the inner ear. Damage to the outer or middle ear is easier to repair (i.e. perforated ear drum) however the inner ear is the part that sends electrical impulses to the brain which is what makes it harder to heal. Other types of inner ear damage include Presbycusis (old age) and Noise Induced Hearing Loss.

Whereas hearing aids work to simply amplify sound, a cochlear implant is different in that attempts to instead mimic the natural hearing system. It first of all captures sound using a small microphone, similar to in a hearing aid, but instead of amplifying it, the sound is converted into a digital code and then into electrical impulses. These impulses then travel down into the ear and are passed through an array of electrodes in the cochlear that stimulate it. Normally, in a functioning ear, there are tiny hair cells in the cochlear, so that when the sound wave causes them to move, an electrical signal is sent to the brain; however in this case the electrodes trigger this instead as these hair cells are either lost or damaged.

As an aside, this is why you get a ringing in your ear when loud noises are heard over a prolonged period of time. As sound enters the ear, the hair cells are bent, sending signals to the brain, however when this is prolonged the hairs stay bent causing the brain to think of this as a constant noise. Eventually the hairs return to their natural position, causing the ringing to stop, although repeated exposure will eventually cause lasting damage (i.e. noise induced hearing loss or tinitus).

There are many aspects of life where sound is the best part and many others where we just take it for granted. What was your reaction to the video and what sounds would you miss most if you couldn’t hear?

Notes

[1] News Article containing the video – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/10728006/Moment-a-deaf-woman-could-hear-for-first-time.html

[2] Kate Locke’s Blog – http://katelocke.wordpress.com

[3] How Cochlear Implants work – http://www.cochlear.com/wps/wcm/connect/us_OLD/home/understand/explore-your-options-to-treat-hearing-loss/cochlear-implants/how-do-cochlear-implants-work/