Overview A cochlear implant is an electronic device that improves hearing. It can be an option for people who have severe hearing loss from inner-ear damage who are not able to hear well with hearing aids. Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sound, a cochlear implant bypasses damaged portions of the ear to deliver sound signals […]
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that improves hearing. It can be an option for people who have severe hearing loss from inner-ear damage who are not able to hear well with hearing aids.
Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sound, a cochlear implant bypasses damaged portions of the ear to deliver sound signals to the hearing (auditory) nerve.
Cochlear implants use a sound processor that fits behind the ear. The processor captures sound signals and sends them to a receiver implanted under the skin behind the ear. The receiver sends the signals to electrodes implanted in the snail-shaped inner ear (cochlea).
The signals stimulate the auditory nerve, which then directs the signals to the brain. The brain interprets those signals as sounds, though these sounds won’t be just like natural hearing.
It takes time and training to learn to interpret the signals received from a cochlear implant. Within 3 to 6 months of use, most people with cochlear implants make considerable gains in understanding speech.
Why it’s done
Cochlear implants can improve hearing in people with severe hearing loss who are no longer helped by using hearing aids. Cochlear implants can improve their communication and quality of life.
Cochlear implants may be placed in one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral). Adults will often have one cochlear implant and one hearing aid at first. Adults may then progress to two cochlear implants as the hearing loss advances in the hearing aid ear. Cochlear implants are often placed in both ears at the same time in children with bilateral severe hearing loss — particularly for infants and children who are learning to speak and process language.
Adults of any age and children who are as young as 6 to 12 months old can benefit from cochlear implants.
People who have cochlear implants report improved:
- Ability to hear speech without needing visual cues such as reading lips
- Recognition of everyday environmental sounds
- Ability to listen in a noisy environment
- Ability to find where sounds are coming from
- Ability to hear television programs, music and telephone conversations
- Symptoms of ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in the implanted ear
To be eligible for a cochlear implant, you must have:
- Hearing loss that interrupts spoken communication
- Limited benefit from hearing aids as determined by specialized hearing tests
- Motivation to participate in hearing rehabilitation and be part of the hearing world
- Realistic expectations of what cochlear implants can and can’t do for hearing
The results of cochlear implant surgery vary from person to person. Factors that can affect the outcomes of cochlear implantation include the age when hearing was lost and the length of time between hearing loss and the cochlear implant surgery.
For children, the best results generally occur with getting a cochlear implant at a young age if they are born with significant hearing loss.
For adults, the best results are generally associated with a shorter period of profound hearing loss before cochlear implantation. Adults with little or no experience with sound tend to benefit less from cochlear implants, although both groups of adults generally improve after cochlear implantation.
Some predicted outcomes may include:
- Clearer hearing. Many people who meet the hearing criteria for cochlear implantation may eventually get clearer hearing with using the device.
- Improved tinnitus. Although ear noise (tinnitus) isn’t a primary reason to receive a cochlear implant, the cochlear implant may partially suppress or improve the severity of tinnitus during use. It can rarely worsen tinnitus severity.