News & Events > Exeter Hospital Begins Offering Cochlear Implant Surgery

Exeter Hospital Begins Offering Cochlear Implant Surgery

By Karen Dandurant / news@seacoastonline.com

Posted Jun 14, 2018 at 9:43 AM

Updated Jun 14, 2018 at 9:43 AM

EXETER – Doctors at Exeter Hospital are offering cochlear implants to adults who have a severe hearing loss, bringing a treatment that was only regionally available in Boston and Portland, Maine.

Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices that provide sound signals to the brains of people who have a profound hearing loss in one or both ears. The device works by bypassing the normal hearing process. The hearing loss that this procedure addresses is in people who are not helped by traditional hearing aids.

Dr. Brandon Peck, a surgeon in the otolaryngology department of Core Physicians, just finished training on the implant surgery at the Mayo Clinic. He said the resources and expertise for himself and Dr. Alex St. Pierre, an audiologist, are in place to offer cochlear implants immediately.

“This is not a surgery for all people with hearing loss,” said Peck. “This is for severe loss, when people are having to try and rely on lip reading and physical gestures to be successful in a social setting. There are strict guidelines for insurance coverage; however, most people who are considered eligible for the implants will meet those criteria.”

Peck said doctors will try different and more powerful hearing aids with a patient before considering the implants. St. Pierre said she tests a patient’s level of hearing loss to determine if he or she is a good candidate for cochlear implants. She said the first test is done in a special room, with the patient wearing his or her current hearing aid, so she can determine the severity of hearing loss.

“If they score lower than they should, even with their hearing aids in one or both ears, they may be eligible,” said St. Pierre. “We look for things like understanding words. After, we talk about the quality of their life, and what they would like it to be. If we decide to go forward, they meet with Dr. Peck for an evaluation.”

Once a person is determined to be a good candidate for cochlear implants, Peck said surgery is scheduled.

“There is an internal and an external component to the implant,” said Peck. “The internal component is implanted under the skin, with a magnet just behind the ear. An electrode in the inner ear attaches to the external part, which looks just like a hearing aid. The electrode is connected to the hearing aid portion and it stimulates the nerve to create the sound.”

Peck said cochlear implants have been around for decades but are greatly improved.

St. Pierre said the devices can be adapted to be waterproof, which is particularly good for people who like to swim.

“They can be adjusted for most sports,she said. “We are a bit more cautious about contact sports, for obvious reasons. We need to careful with MRIs. But otherwise, the implants shouldn’t affect life in any adverse way.”

St. Pierre said phone calls can be heard through the implants. She said phone calls present a certain challenge to people who are hearing impaired.

“Phones have a limited frequency range, so people do not hear them the same way as other sound,” said St. Pierre. “Plus, they are not looking at a person, where they watch for clues as to what is being said. With the implants, anything they can stream on their phone should be something they can hear. Also, they can use their phone to adjust the device, for things such as volume.”

After receiving the implants, a series of follow-up appointments with St. Pierre will be

scheduled, to fine tune or “map” the device for the best patient outcome. For this reason alone, St. Pierre said having the service available locally is a good idea, saving patients from traveling for all the follow-up appointments.

“With these, we see about 90 percent patient satisfaction,” said Peck. “The sound is a bit different from the normal hearing process, but people are still reporting that they can enjoy things like music; that is fairly close to regular hearing.”

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