What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a medical device that can partially restore hearing. A cochlear implant works by directly stimulating the auditory nerve to deliver a sense of sound.

Cochlear implants work by processing sound signals and transmitting them to a receiver that is implanted behind the ear. The receiver will then transfer the signals to electrodes that are implanted in the inner ear. These signals stimulate the auditory nerve, which directs the signals to the brain. The brain will translate the signals as sounds to help you hear.

Although cochlear implants can help patients hear better, they do not restore hearing or cure hearing loss.

Who is a candidate for a cochlear implant?

Cochlear implants are most effective for patients who have:

  • Severe hearing loss due to inner ear damage that interrupts spoken communication.
  • Not experienced improvement with specialized hearing aids.
  • No other medical conditions that increase risks associated with the implant.

You must also be willing to participate in rehabilitation to help you hear better with the cochlear implant.

What are advantages of cochlear implants?

Advantages of having a cochlear implant include:

  • Hearing speech at a normal sound level
  • Understanding speech without having to reach lips
  • Being able to hear someone talk on the phone
  • Hearing music better
  • Distinguishing different levels of sound
  • Being able to speak more clearly so others understand you

What are disadvantages of cochlear implant?

Surgery to implant a cochlear implant is generally safe, yet complications can occur.

Complications may include:

  • Severe bleeding
  • Infection
  • Side effects associated with anesthesia
  • Nerve damages that can cause changes to sense of taste or weakness in the face
  • Balance issues
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Fluid leaks in the and around the brain
  • Meningitis

What to expect during cochlear implant surgery

Cochlear implant surgery can be performed under general anesthesia in a hospital or clinic setting. The procedure may take as long as four hours to complete.

During the surgery, your surgeon will:

  • Make an incision behind the ear to open the mastoid bone.
  • Identify the facial nerves and make an opening between them to reveal the cochlea.
  • Open the cochlea.
  • Insert the implant electrodes into the cochlea.
  • Place a receiver behind the ear and secure it to the skull.
  • Close the incisions.
  • Move you to a recovery room where you will be closely monitored.

Recovery from cochlear implant surgery

After cochlear implant surgery, you may experience any of the following side effects:

  • Pressure or discomfort in the affected ear
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion or feeling disoriented
  • Sore throat from breathing tube

You will go home a day or two after the surgery. After discharge, your doctor will encourage you to:

  • Keep the bandages on for a specified period of time
  • Schedule an appointment to remove stitches - approximately one week after the implant
  • Follow instructions on how to care for the stitches, washing your head, showering and nutrition
  • Schedule a follow-up appointment to activate the implant — approximately three to six weeks after the surgery

Results after a cochlear implant

Cochlear implants can help you:

  • Improve your ability to hear without having to read lips
  • Recognize sounds in the environment
  • Determine where sounds are originating
  • Listen in a noisy environment
  • Hear TV programs and conversations on the phone

Find an ENT doctor nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you