- Hearing with two ears (“binaural hearing”) is the natural way. Spatial hearing, sound localisation and robust speech understanding in noise are only possible with two ears.
- Children and adults without hearing in one ear lose these natural hearing abilities and risk negative consequences such as poorer language and learning skills and reduced social interactions.
- Cochlear implantation can be a solution to bring back binaural hearing to children and adults.
April 13, 2020 — (Innsbruck, Austria) — When music student Johanna lost the hearing in her right ear after an illness, she was devastated. Although the hearing in her left ear was normal, the singer strongly felt the disadvantages of her single-sided deafness. She could not localise her mobile phone when it was ringing; she had trouble following conversations, especially in noisy rooms. Listening and understanding demanded so much more effort than before. But most importantly, music sounded incomplete, empty and totally different. After a short period of hearing with only one ear she received a cochlear implant.
She explains the difference in hearing quality: “Two ears are better than one, especially when it comes to music. With binaural hearing I hear the fine nuances and dynamics of music, which make it emotional. Everything sounds fuller, I hear how music moves in a room. This is only possible with two ears, even if one is an electronic one.”
Cochlear implantation for binaural hearing
The prevalence of single-sided deafness is on the rise. In many countries, children and adults who only hear with one ear are included in cochlear implant programmes. Similarly, individuals with profound bilateral hearing loss often receive cochlear implants in both ears.
“Bilateral cochlear implantation has become common practice in many countries in the last decade, because the results are so convincing”, says Reinhold Schatzer, sound coding expert at MED-EL, an Austrian-based leading hearing implant manufacturer. “Knowing the benefits of bilateral implantation and being faced with the hearing deficits reported by individuals with only one hearing ear, clinicians extended cochlear implant treatment to people with single-sided deafness. Hearing with two ears provides the same advantages for these recipients as for bilateral cochlear implant users: more accurate spatial hearing, better sound localization and easier speech perception even when multiple talkers speak at the same time.”
Research has demonstrated that with adequate hearing training early on, a cochlear implant in people with single-sided deafness rapidly leads to a significant improvement in hearing and health-related quality of life1.
Benefits for Children
Children with hearing in only one ear also benefit from binaural hearing. Untreated, they are prone to have poorer language skills than their peers with normal hearing, and they face the risk of learning problems at school.2 A cochlear implant can remedy the disadvantages and deliver binaural hearing electronically. In noisy classroom settings, it reduces listening effort, facilitates speech understanding and improves directional hearing.3
Many countries acknowledge these benefits and have resorted to implanting children with bilateral profound hearing loss early in both ears. Often, this is done simultaneously in one surgical procedure as a standard of care. In single-sided deafness, a child’s age at implantation is not as critical, yet studies recommend early intervention for maximum benefit.4
Cochlear Implant and Hearing Aid: The Bimodal Advantage
Individuals who need a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other one also benefit from binaural hearing. The concept is called bimodal hearing and studies have demonstrated that it works well when the input to both ears is optimally coordinated. Jennifer Robinson, Audiologist and Senior Product Manager at MED-EL, explains: “Users will receive the most benefit from bimodal hearing when the two ears are balanced. Balancing the pitch, loudness, and timing of the cochlear implant with the hearing aid, making sure they are as close as possible, will deliver hearing that is as close as possible to natural hearing.”
MED-EL Medical Electronics, a leader in implantable hearing solutions, is driven by a mission to overcome hearing loss as a barrier to communication. The Austrian-based, privately owned business was co-founded by industry pioneers Ingeborg and Erwin Hochmair, whose ground-breaking research led to the development of the world’s first micro-electronic multi-channel cochlear implant (CI), which was successfully implanted in 1977 and was the basis for what is known as the modern CI today. This laid the foundation for the successful growth of the company in 1990, when they hired their first employees. To date, MED-EL has grown to more than 2,200 employees from around 75 nations and has 30 locations worldwide.
The company offers the widest range of implantable and non-implantable solutions to treat all types of hearing loss, enabling people in 124 countries enjoy the gift of hearing with the help of a MED-EL device. MED-EL’s hearing solutions include cochlear and middle ear implant systems, a combined Electric Acoustic Stimulation hearing implant system, auditory brainstem implants as well as surgical and non-surgical bone conduction devices. www.medel.com
Doz. DI Dr DDr med. h.c. Ingeborg Hochmair
MED-EL Medical Electronics
T: +43 5 7788-0
1 Muigg, F., et al. (2019). "Cochlear implantation in adults with single-sided deafness: generic and disease-specific long-term quality of life." Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2019 Nov 27, epub ahead of print
2 Lieu JE. Unilateral hearing loss in children: speech-language and school performance. B-ENT 2013; Suppl 21: 107-115.
3 Hoth et al., 2016, Cochlear implantation in recipients with single-sided deafness: audiological performance. Cochlear Implants Int Jul 17(4):190-199
4 Liu et al, Single-sided deafness and unilateral auditory deprivation in children: current challenge of improving sound localization ability. J Int Med Res. 2020 Jan;48(1)