What is a cochlear implant?
A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that can help "make" sound if you have a certain type of severe hearing loss in both ears. The implant does the job of the damaged or absent nerve cells that in a normal ear make it possible to hear. Cochlear implants can be programmed according to your specific needs and degree of hearing loss.
Cochlear implants have been shown to improve a person's ability to understand speech and speak clearly. Unlike hearing aids, cochlear implants do not make sounds louder but improve how well you hear sound.
How does a cochlear implant work?
A cochlear implant consists of a:
- Microphone worn behind the ear, to pick up sound.
- Speech processor worn on the body. Some types may be worn behind the ear.
- Small device placed under the skin near the ear, with electrodes placed in the cochlea. This is the cochlear implant.
The microphone picks up sound and sends it to the speech processor, which changes the sound to information the cochlear implant can understand. The implant then tells the nerves in the ear to send a message to the brain. The message is understood as sound.
How do I best benefit from a cochlear implant?
Speech therapy will help you make the most of your cochlear implant. Training in listening, language, and speech-reading skills (paying attention to people's gestures, facial expressions, posture, and tone of voice) also help you.
Do cochlear implants have any complications?
Cochlear implants have a low rate of complications, which may include:
- Risks of surgery, such as infection and medicine that numbs your senses during surgery (general anesthesia).
- The implant moving out of its proper location. You may need a second surgery to relocate the implant.
- The implant not working. It may not work because it was made incorrectly or because of an injury to or problem within the ear.
- Twitching of the face (such as a tic) or not being able to move muscles in the face. This is uncommon and rarely permanent.
Bacterial meningitis occurs more often in children with cochlear implants than in children the same age who do not have implants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with the Food and Drug Administration recommend the following:
- Your child should have all required vaccinations for his or her age at least 2 weeks before cochlear implant surgery. After surgery, children need to be up to date with all vaccinations.
- Watch for signs of meningitis. These include high fever, headache, stiff neck, feeling sick to the stomach or vomiting, difficulty looking into bright lights, and sleepiness or confusion. A young child or infant might be sleepy, cranky, or eat less. If you see any of these signs, contact your doctor.
- Recognize the signs of an ear infection, including ear pain, fever, and eating less. If you see any of these signs, contact your doctor.
It is possible that a cochlear implant can be affected by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. This could cause the implant to stop working. Before you have an MRI, make sure you tell your doctor you have a cochlear implant.
Other Works Consulted
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Risk of bacterial meningitis in children with cochlear implants. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/hearingloss/meningitis.html.
- Gluth MB, et al. (2012). Cochlear implants. In AK Lalwani, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, 3rd ed., pp. 850–860. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2006). FDA public health notification: Continued risk of bacterial meningitis in children with cochlear implants with a positioner beyond twenty-four months post-implantation. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/PublicHealthNotifications/UCM062104.
Current as of: April 15, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Charles M. Myer III MD - Otolaryngology