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Update on bilateral cochlear implantation.

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University of Iowa, Department of Otolaryngology, Iowa City, USA.



Providing a unilateral cochlear implant in a patient with a profound bilateral hearing loss has now been a standard clinical practice for more than a decade. Although results are often very good, normal hearing has not been restored. One exciting opportunity to improve hearing in this population is to provide a second implant. However, it is not obvious that bilateral electrical stimulation can be integrated by the central nervous system. This article describes binaural hearing and reviews currently published articles on binaural cochlear implants.


Controlled laboratory trials have focused on distinguishing different categories of potential binaural advantages. A potential summation effect occurs when the same stimulus is available at two ears. Listening in noise with two ears should be better than listening with one ear when the additional ear is away from the noise. This head shadow benefit results from acoustic effects, not physiologic ones. When the second ear is added near the noise source, a binaural squelch benefit can occur, requiring neural integration from both sides. Finally, two ears may improve sound localization. Binaural implantees generally benefit from head shadow effects. Only some benefit from summation and squelch effects. Most, but not all, show improved horizontal plane localization.


It is now appropriate to begin experimental studies of binaural cochlear implants. Preliminary results show promise to improve head shadow, a physical advantage, and sound localization. Some benefits have been observed for improved summation and squelch. These findings have demonstrated that the brain can integrate electrical stimulation from the two ears. Future studies will be required to maximize this binaural hearing.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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