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March 27, 2003

Doctors hail double ear implants

From: BBC, UK - 27 Mar 2003

Putting cochlear implants in both the ears of deaf patients could prove far more successful than just one, according to researchers.

Patients already given the double surgery have reported being able to "hear in 3-D", and are much better at spotting where a noise is coming from.

Now the team, based at the South of England Cochlear Implant Centre at the University of Southampton, is embarking on a longer study to see whether it is worthwhile - both in terms of extra operations, and extra cost - to make two cochlear implants the standard approach.

Cochlear implants work by providing a mechanical alternative to the parts of the natural ear that are not working properly.

The implant sits under the skin behind the ear, and is connected by a wire to the inner ear.

A separate device sits on the opposite side of the skin to the implant, attached to it by magnets.

The external device picks up speech and converts it into a series of electrical pulses, which it transmits into the implant.

This passes them along the wire, into the inner ear and along the auditory nerve to the brain, where the brain interprets them as sound.

'Better life'

Currently, only one cochlear implant is put in, but the Southampton study may suggest that a pair could be a better option.

Professor Mark Lutman, who is leading the research, said: "Those who have received a second implant report that they feel they can hear in 3-D and find it much easier to localise sound.

"The way that we hear usually involves two ears, so it is hardly surprising that two cochlear implants work better than one and have a very positive effect on the individual's well-being."

However, as a single implant costs in the region of £17,000, it may be hard to convince the NHS to fund more than one for each patient.

Many patients report finding it difficult to get even one.