Preservation of residual hearing is one of the main goals in present cochlear implantation surgery. Especially for this purpose, smaller and softer electrode carriers were developed that are to be inserted through the round window membrane to minimize trauma. By using these electrodes and insertion technique, residual hearing can be preserved in a large number of patients. Unfortunately, some of these patients with initially preserved residual hearing after cochlear implantation lose it later on. The reason for this is unknown but it is speculated about a correlation with an increase in impedance, since increased impedance values are linked to intracochlear inflammation and tissue reaction. Our hypothesis for this study design was that an increase in impedance predicts changes in residual hearing under clinical conditions.
Data of all adult patients (N = 122) receiving a Hybrid-L24 cochlear implant at our center between 2005 and early 2015 were retrospectively evaluated. Impedance values in Common Ground mode as measured during clinical routine and referring audiological test data (audiometric thresholds under headphones) were collected. Changes between consecutive measurements were calculated for impedance values and hearing thresholds for each patient. Correlations between changes in impedances and acoustic hearing thresholds were calculated. Average values were compared as well as patients with largest impedance changes within the observation period were evaluated separately.
Group mean values of impedances were between 5 and 7 kΩ and stable over time with higher values on basal electrode contacts compared with apical contacts. Average hearing thresholds at the time of initial fitting were between 40 to 50 dB (250 Hz) and 90 dB (1 kHz) with a loss of about 10 dB compared with preoperative values. Correlation between impedance changes and threshold changes was found, but too inconsistently to imply a true relationship. When evaluating the 20 patients with the largest impedance changes during the observation period (all >1 kΩ from one appointment to the next one), some patients were found where hearing loss is timely connected and highly correlated with an unusual impedance change. But large impedance changes were also observed without affecting hearing thresholds and hearing loss was found without impedance change.
Changes in impedance as measured during clinical routine cannot be taken as an indicator for a late acoustic hearing loss.