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Cochlear Implants


What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant (CI) is an electronic device that helps improve hearing in people with severe hearing loss. A CI has 2 parts. The external part is worn behind your 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 ear. It sends the electrical signals to electrodes that are placed into the cochlea of your ear. The cochlea sends those signals to your hearing nerve and brain. A CI will not restore normal hearing, but it may help you better understand speech and lip movements.

What tests may I need before CI surgery?

Your healthcare provider will test your ears to decide if a CI is right for you. A CI may be implanted in one or both of your ears. You may need any of the following tests:

  • A hearing test measures how well you hear sounds and words. You may be tested to measure how well you hear with and without hearing aids.
  • A CT , or CAT scan, is a type of x-ray that is taken of your head to see the bones of your inner ear. The pictures may show if you have problems with the structure of your inner ear. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • An MRI takes pictures of the nerves in your inner ear and brain. The pictures may show if you have damage to nerves or if you do not have a hearing nerve. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Do not enter the MRI room with any metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

What happens during CI surgery?

Your healthcare provider will make an incision behind your ear along your hairline. He will open the mastoid bone to reach your inner ear. He will go through the opening in the mastoid bone to get to the cochlea. Your healthcare provider will make a hole in the cochlea and implant the electrodes. Your healthcare provider will place the receiver against your mastoid bone. Your incision will be closed with stitches.

What happens after CI surgery?

You will not be able to hear right away. Your incision should heal in 3 to 6 weeks. After the incision heals and the swelling is gone, you will receive the external part of your CI. You will go to therapy to learn how to listen and understand sounds using your CI. You will also learn how to care for your CI.

What are the risks of CI surgery?

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

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.