What is a Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant is an extraordinary option for patients with severe hearing loss who no longer benefit from hearing aids.

The cochlear implant is placed into the inner ear to restore hearing. This exciting advancement in the field of otology has resulted in the restoration of functional hearing in countless people, young and old.

A cochlear implant is placed surgically, with the use of an operating microscope, by an otologist skilled in this advanced procedure. Once the device is activated, the components work in concert to send digital signals to whichever fibers remain intact in the hearing nerve. The signals are recognized by the brain as sound signals, and result in the ability to hear. This occurs within milliseconds, so there is no detectable delay between the production of sound and its reception in the listener’s brain.

What are the components of a cochlear implant?

The device has several parts: a microphone, speech processor, transmitter, and electrodes. The speech processor is worn externally, while the receiver/stimulator is placed underneath the scalp. The receiver/stimulator has an electrode coil that is placed into the cochlea (the organ of hearing) during surgery.

How does a cochlear implant work?

Once the device is activated, sound is picked up by a microphone and sent to the speech processor, which analyzes the sound and converts into digital signals, which are sent to the transmitter. The transmitter then sends a code across the skin to the internal implant, which converts the code into digital signals. These signals are sent to electrodes to stimulate the remaining nerve fibers in the auditory nerve. The signals are recognized by the brain as sound signals, and produce hearing.

How will I hear with a cochlear implant?

Cochlear implants can provide excellent hearing and understanding of speech. While it may not perceived to be completely natural, the majority of individuals who receive cochlear implants report better ability to communicate in challenging situations, such as when there is background noise. Word discrimination and understanding vastly improve, resulting in improved ability to socialize and interact with others.

How do I know if I am a candidate for a cochlear implant?

Patients with severe hearing loss, who no longer benefit from hearing aids, are most likely candidates for a cochlear implant.

There are specific tests to determine candidacy for cochlear implantation. These criteria are different for adults and for children. An otologist can help counsel and determine if you or your child is a candidate for a cochlear implant.

How is the recovery process after a cochlear implant procedure?

The surgery is performed in an outpatient surgery center and usually go home on the same day. Patients can return to light activity the day after surgery. There is a small incision behind the ear that takes about 1 week to heal. Patients usually report very little pain, which can be usually treated with over the counter pain medication.

How soon after the surgery will I be able to hear?

The cochlear implant is activated approximately one month after surgery. This is done in the office and does not require another procedure. Most adults take between one and three months before they can really appreciate the full benefits they receive from a cochlear implant. Typically their hearing continues to improve over time as they continue to gain experience listening to sounds and speech.

Children may take longer, and this may require more work, as hearing is often a completely new experience. However, there are vast protocols and resources available to guide children into the world of hearing with a cochlear implant. The remarkable gains these children make reinforce the value of cochlear implantation in the selected child.

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