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Cochlear Implant Surgery in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What is cochlear implant surgery?

Cochlear implant surgery is used to place a cochlear implant in one or both of your child's ears. A cochlear implant is an electronic device that helps improve hearing in people who have severe hearing loss. A cochlear implant will not restore normal hearing, but it may help your child better understand speech and lip movements.

Ear Anatomy

What are the parts of a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant has 2 parts:

  • The external part is worn behind your child's ear. It has a sound processor, microphone, and battery. It receives sounds and changes them into electric signals. Those signals are sent to the internal part called the receiver.
  • The receiver is implanted under the skin behind your child's ear. It sends the electrical signals to electrodes that are placed into the cochlea of the ear. The cochlea sends those signals to your child's hearing nerve and brain.
    Cochlear Implant in Children

What happens before cochlear implant surgery?

  • A hearing test measures how well your child hears sounds and words. Your child may be tested to measure how well he or she hears with and without hearing aids.
  • CT or MRI pictures may show if your child has problems with the structure of his or her inner ear. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help healthcare providers see the inner ear better on the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with any metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his or her body.
  • Vaccines may be given to protect your child from meningitis. This is an infection of the brain and spinal cord. Cochlear implant surgery increases the risk for meningitis.

How do I prepare my child for cochlear implant surgery?

  • Your child's healthcare provider will tell you how to prepare your child for surgery. The provider may tell you not to let your child eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of surgery. He or she will tell you which medicines to give your child or not give your child on the day of surgery.
  • Depending on your child's age, it may help to show your child what a cochlear implant looks like. Explain how it is placed during surgery and how it is used. You may also want your child's healthcare provider to explain speech therapy so your child knows what to expect.

What happens during cochlear implant surgery?

  • Your child will get general anesthesia to help keep him or her asleep during surgery. He or she may also get an antibiotic to prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Your child's surgeon will make an incision behind your child's ear along the hairline. The surgeon will open a bone called the mastoid bone to reach your child's inner ear. He or she will go through the opening in the mastoid bone to get to the cochlea. Your child's surgeon will make a hole in the cochlea and implant the electrodes. He or she will place the receiver against your child's mastoid bone. The incision will be closed with stitches.

What should my child and I expect after cochlear implant surgery?

Your child may be dizzy for a day or two after surgery. He or she will not be able to hear right away. The incision should heal in 3 to 6 weeks. After the incision heals and the swelling is gone, your child will receive the external part of the cochlear implant. Your child will go to therapy to learn how to listen and understand sounds using the cochlear implant. You and your child will also learn how to care for the cochlear implant.

What are the risks of cochlear implant surgery?

Parts of your child's ear or facial nerves may be damaged during the surgery. This can cause numbness and loss of movement to parts of his or her face. Cochlear implant surgery increases the risk of meningitis. This is an infection of the brain and spinal cord. Your child will be at a higher risk for meningitis his or her entire life. Your child's cochlear implant may not be in the right place, or it could stop working. He or she may need another surgery to fix it.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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