Sharjah, UAE: University Hospital Sharjah (UHS) has opened a Cochlear Implant Unit to help restore the hearing of babies born with hereditary deafness or who have suffered damage to the inner ear.
UHS has also announced that from the next school term its doctors will start conducting audiology awareness sessions for students at the Australian International School Sharjah, after a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the school and the hospital. The MoU also provides for regular health and information sessions with parents and teachers to be held each term.
The cochlear implant, also known as a bionic ear, is a tiny device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear and provides sound signals to the brain. Some babies and adults suffer hearing loss because the hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea) are damaged; the cochlear implant addresses that issue by transferring any sound to the hearing nerves, enabling the person to hear.
Commenting on the implant’s benefits, Dr Ahmad Munzer Alwaa, head of the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Department at UHS, said: “The device can be implanted in adults with profound ‘post-lingual’ hearing loss and also in ‘pre-lingual’ deaf babies, before the age of five years — meaning those who are born deaf and have not developed the ability to speak.”
“Globally, one baby out of every 1,000 is born deaf, with hearing loss commonly associated with genetic predispositions, complications during birth, or diseases such as rubella, the cytomegalo virus or herpes. Premature babies are also more prone to infections such as measles, mumps and meningitis, which can also cause deafness. It is estimated that today, there are around 20 million deaf children in the world,” he added.
Dr Alwaa explained that a cochlear implant differs from a hearing aid in that a hearing aid amplifies sound and delivers it to the cochlea. That signal is then processed and sent to the brain with a louder added capability. In this case, the hearing loss is typically associated with damage to the middle ear structure or only partial damage in the inner ear. A cochlear implant, on the other hand, bypasses the damaged hair cells of the inner ear and delivers electrical current direct to the auditory nerves.
Dr Alwaa said the implant is usually fitted after certain investigations are made to check whether there is any remnant hearing that can be used. It takes a year of rehabilitation and training before the baby becomes accustomed to the implant and the processor.
“It should be said that the sound that is delivered with an implant is not like that of normal hearing; it is generally less clear. Therefore, it takes a while for the child to learn how a word should be pronounced before he or she can talk naturally,” he said.
Waterproof processors have also been developed for children to wear when swimming or participating in any water sports.
While it had previously been an option at some hospitals, the UAE has made it mandatory in 2016 for all newborns to be screened for hearing loss. Before establishing its new Cochlear Implant Unit, UHS opened a Hearing Aid Clinic late in 2015, which now offers a one-stop shop for people with hearing disabilities.
© Gulf NewsMar 2016