A cochlear implant (CI) is a surgically implanted neuroprosthetic device that provides a sense of sound to a person with moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss. Cochlear implants bypass the normal acoustic hearing process, instead replacing it with electric signals which directly stimulate the auditory nerve. With training the brain may learn to interpret those signals as sound and speech.
The implant has two main components. The outside component is generally worn behind the ear, but could also be attached to clothing, for example, in young children. This component, the sound processor, contains microphones, electronics that include DSP chips, battery, and a coil which transmits a signal to the implant across the skin. The inside component, the actual implant, has a coil to receive signals, electronics, and an array of electrodes which is placed into the cochlea, which stimulate the cochlear nerve.
The surgical procedure is performed under general anesthesia. Surgical risks are minimal but can include tinnitus and dizziness.
Cochlear implants can improve communication and quality of life for people with severe hearing loss who receive little benefit from hearing aids. Increasingly, cochlear implants in both ears (bilateral) are accepted as standard care for the treatment of severe hearing loss — particularly for infants and children who are learning to speak and to process language
Cochlear implantation is done under general anesthesia, which means you or your child will be asleep during the procedure. You or your child might need to:
Your doctor will give you specific instructions to help you prepare.
You or your child will need a thorough medical evaluation to determine if cochlear implants are a good option. The evaluation is likely to include:
Cochlear implant surgery is done in a hospital or clinic. The surgery lasts two to four hours. You are given medication (general anesthesia) to make you sleep during the procedure.
Generally, after surgery, you or your loved one will be taken to the recovery area until the anesthesia has worn off. This may take a few hours. As it wears off, there may be a little pressure or discomfort around the implant area. Once your medical team is happy with the progress, you will be able to go home.
A bandage will likely be wrapped around the head to protect the incision site. Instructions will be given on how to care for the bandage and when to remove it. It is possible to get back to normal activities a few days after the surgery, but you will need to take extra care of the implant area.
Your doctor will let you know when the implant can be activated and paired with a sound processor, typically three to four weeks after surgery.
Cochlear implant surgery is a safe and well-tolerated procedure. Rarely, as with all surgeries, risks can occur, including:
There may be other risks, depending upon your medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your health care provider before the procedure