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Why doesn’t a sneeze blow ...

Posted Nov 29 2008 12:28pm

Why doesn’t a sneeze blow the electrode array out of the ear?

Asked by yours truly when he came down with a cold on Friday, four nights after implant surgery. The speed of a sneeze has been reported as being anywhere between 100mph and 85% of the speed of sound. The ear is connected to the mouth via the eustachian tube, so air pressure changes in one carry over to the other. In diagrams of a cochlear implant ( here, for example) it looks as if the electrode array is just sitting inside the cochlea, unanchored. And right after surgery, it’s all squishy and wet in there. So why isn’t a sneeze followed (metaphorically) by the kind of tinkling sounds that happen when a clock is dropped onto concrete?

Same question goes for nose-blowing. It’s got to cause a tremendous overpressure in the middle ear.

I asked Jerry Loeb, who was chief scientist at Advanced Bionics for a number of years, and he told me, “The only thing likely to dislodge a cochlear electrode is a large traction movement applied directly to the lead.” In other words, to move it, you have to pull directly on the electrode array. A sneeze doesn’t do that. Also, I figure, a medical device that could be blown loose by a sneeze wouldn’t be on the market. “Sneeze away,” Jerry told me. I got through my cold with no trouble, and I appear to be fully intact.

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