A cochlear implant is an electronic device that is implanted during surgery. It helps provide hearing to people who have a certain type of hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is usually caused by damage or a defect in the inner ear. The implants can directly stimulate the auditory nerve to send information to the brain.
Cochlear implants have 3 parts: Speech processor—The speech processor looks like a long, narrow calculator. It is worn behind the ear or on a belt. It increases sound, converts it into digital signals, and sends these signals to the transmitter.Transmitter—The transmitter is a headphone that is worn behind the ear. It receives electrical signals from the speech processor and sends them through the skin to the receiver.Receiver—The receiver is the part that is implanted. It is a magnetic disc about the size of a quarter. It is placed under the skin behind one ear. A wire that runs from the receiver to an electrode array that is placed in the inner ear, where it stimulates the nerves of the cochlea.
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Cochlear implants provide a heightened sense of sound for adults and children with profound hearing loss. They are designed for people whose hearing does not improve with surgical correction or the use of a hearing aid. Cochlear implants will not restore or create normal hearing.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Complications may include: InfectionDamage to nearby nervesProblems with balanceEmotional stress caused by having higher expectations for the technologyPoor quality of hearing following the surgery
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include: SmokingPrevious surgeryPrevious ear infectionsAbnormal inner ear anatomy
Your doctor may do some or all of the following.
Your doctor will examine you, paying particular attention to your ears. This can be done with:
A medical history and physical examEar examHearing evaluationPsychological evaluation
Evaluate internal structures with imaging tests, such as: MRI scanCT scan
You should be up-to-date on immunizations.
vaccines are especially important. There has been a link between cochlear implants and
Leading up to your procedure: Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure.The night before, eat a light meal. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
There are 2 parts to the procedure: Implantation of receiver—A cut will be made in the skin behind the ear. A hole will be drilled through the bone behind the ear to the cochlea. A wire with the electrode array will be placed through the hole and into the cochlea. The receiver will then be put against the bone behind your ear. The wire will be attached to the receiver. The incision will be closed with stitches.External hook-up—In 4-6 weeks, the area should be healed. At this point, the transmitter headpiece and speech processor will be connected.
About 1½-2 hours for adults and up to 5 hours for children
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
The length of stay depends on the reasons why you are having the implant. Speak to your doctor about how long your stay may be.
After your procedure, be sure to follow your doctor's
You will have frequent follow-up visits for the following: Headpiece fitting, done 4-6 weeks after surgeryAdjustments to the speech processorOngoing evaluation of hearing status
In addition, you will have cochlear implant training. This will help improve your ability to: Identify soundsRead lipsDevelop speech skills
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor: Severe headachePainLightheadedness or vomitingFacial paralysis or twitchingSigns of infection, including fever and chillsRedness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge at the incision site
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Cochlear implants. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at:
http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/treatment/cochlear_implant.htm. Accessed May 5, 2016.
Cochlear implants. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at:
http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/coch.aspx. Updated May 3, 2016. Accessed May 5, 2016.
Cochlear implants. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at:
http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/ImplantsandProsthetics/CochlearImplants/default.htm. Updated October 28, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2016.
6/2/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Am J Med.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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