For some, hearing loss can be corrected with hearing aids to help amplify sound. But what happens if the inner ear is damaged and the sound isn't making it to the auditory nerve in the first place?

A new option is now available at Tulane Medical Center for people in this situation. With the creation of a neurotology program - a branch of medicine that studies and treats neurological disorders of the ear - Tulane patients have access to innovative new options to treat profound hearing loss.

"There are many people with hearing loss so severe that conventional hearing aids only provide limited benefit," said Dr. Neal Jackson, a Tulane board-certified otolaryngology - or ear, nose and throat - specialist and neurotologist who specializes in hearing and balance disorders. "For those folks, we now offer a device called a cochlear implant, which doesn't just amplify sound but instead transmits impulses directly to the hearing nerve."

A portion of the device is worn outside the ear and looks very much like a hearing aid. A microphone picks up sound and sends it to a receiver that is implanted under the skin and behind the ear. The receiver sends signals to electrodes in the inner ear - or cochlea - which in turn transmits the auditory sensory information to the brain.

After the surgery, patients return to the clinic to have the external parts of the implants programmed for use. The patients then begin hearing rehabilitation treatments to help learn how to receive and interpret the sounds they now hear.

Cochlear implants can be options for people who are completely deaf or have severe to profound hearing loss in both ears, Dr. Jackson said.

"Many of these people haven't been able to have a conversation in years," he said. "It's very gratifying to see the impact this device can have on individuals and their families."

To learn more about the Tulane Health System's ear, nose and throat services, please visit Tulane Healthcare. To make an appointment with a Tulane otolaryngologist, please call the Tulane ENT Clinic at (504) 988-5451.