Postimplantation facial nerve stimulation is a common side-effect of intracochlear electrical stimulation. Facial nerve stimulation occurs when electric current intended to stimulate the auditory nerve, spread beyond the cochlea to excite the nearby facial nerve, causing involuntarily facial muscle contractions. Facial nerve stimulation can often be resolved through adjustments in speech processor fitting but, in some instances, these measures exhibit limited benefit or may have a detrimental effect on speech perception. In this study, apical reference stimulation mode was investigated as a potential intervention to facial nerve stimulation. Apical reference stimulation is a bipolar stimulation strategy in which the most apical electrode is used as the reference electrode for stimulation on all the other intracochlear electrodes.
A person-specific model of the human cochlea, facial nerve and electrode array, coupled with a neural model, was used to predict excitation of auditory and facial nerve fibers. These predictions were used to evaluate the effectiveness in reducing facial nerve stimulation using apical reference stimulation. Predictions were confirmed in psychoacoustic tests by determining auditory comfort and threshold levels for the apical reference stimulation mode while capturing electromyography data in two participants.
Models predicted a favorable outcome for apical reference stimulation, as facial nerve fiber thresholds were higher and auditory thresholds were lower, in direct comparison to conventional monopolar stimulation. Psychophysical tests also illustrated decreased auditory thresholds and increased dynamic range during apical reference stimulation. Furthermore, apical reference stimulation resulted in lower electromyography energy levels, compared to conventional monopolar stimulation, which suggests a reduction in facial nerve stimulation. Subjective feedback corroborated that apical reference stimulation alleviated facial nerve stimulation.
Apical reference stimulation may be a viable strategy to alleviate facial nerve stimulation considering the improvements in dynamic range and auditory thresholds, complemented with a reduction in facial nerve stimulation symptoms.