Modelling the effect of round window stiffness on residual hearing after cochlear implantation

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Preservation of residual hearing after cochlear implantation is now considered an important goal of surgery. However, studies indicate an average post-operative hearing loss of around 20 dB at low frequencies. One factor which may contribute to post-operative hearing loss, but which has received little attention in the literature to date, is the increased stiffness of the round window, due to the physical presence of the cochlear implant, and to its subsequent thickening or to bone growth around it. A finite element model was used to estimate that there is approximately a 100-fold increase in the round window stiffness due to a cochlear implant passing through it. A lumped element model was then developed to study the effects of this change in stiffness on the acoustic response of the cochlea. As the round window stiffness increases, the effects of the cochlear and vestibular aqueducts become more important. An increase of round window stiffness by a factor of 10 is predicted to have little effect on residual hearing, but increasing this stiffness by a factor of 100 reduces the acoustic sensitivity of the cochlea by about 20 dB, below 1 kHz, in reasonable agreement with the observed loss in residual hearing after implantation. It is also shown that the effect of this stiffening could be reduced by incorporating a small gas bubble within the cochlear implant.

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