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A cochlear implant is a medical device to help with some types of hearing loss.
The device has 2 parts. One part is worn behind the ear on the outside of the head. The other part of the device is placed in the inner ear (cochlea) through surgery.
Cochlear implants use electrical signals to transmit sound to the cochlea and auditory (hearing) nerve. The brain interprets these signals as sound.
Cochlear implants can help with hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear. This is called sensorineural hearing loss. Certain chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy can cause this type of hearing loss.
After a cochlear implant, patients need therapy to learn how to use the device and improve hearing and speech skills. Your cochlear implant care team usually includes an audiologist, otolaryngologist (ENT doctor), and speech-language pathologist.
A cochlear implant has 2 main parts that work together: an external device worn behind the ear and an internal device placed during surgery. A magnet holds the 2 parts together.
External Device: The outside part of the cochlear implant device sits just behind the ear. It has a microphone that picks up sound. The sound signals are sent to a sound processor. The sound processor turns the sound into a digital signal.
Internal Device: The cochlear implant has a receiver located under the skin. It receives the digital signals and sends the signals to tiny electrodes placed in the inner ear. The electrodes stimulate the auditory nerve, which sends the message to the brain. The brain interprets the message as sound.
Cochlear implants improve hearing, but they work differently than normal hearing. Patients will need therapy to learn how to use the device and improve hearing and speech skills.
Cochlear implants are for people 12 months or older who:
A team of specialists will help you before, during, and after cochlear implant surgery. Your cochlear implant care team usually includes an audiologist, otolaryngologist (ENT doctor), and speech-language pathologist. You may also meet with a psychologist, child life specialist, or social worker.
Cochlear implant surgery may be an outpatient or inpatient procedure. Patients are under general anesthesia for the surgery. The surgeon makes a small incision behind the ear and creates an opening to place the electrodes into the cochlea. The receiver is placed under the skin behind the ear.
The surgery usually takes up to 2 hours for one ear. You will also spend some time in recovery after surgery. Your care team will let you know when you can go home after surgery.
Before you go home, you will learn how to care for the incision and change the dressing. A few weeks later, your audiologist will activate the cochlear implant and teach you to use and take care of the device.
Patients will have regular rehabilitation sessions with an audiologist and speech-language pathologist. It takes time to adjust to the cochlear implant and learn hearing and speech skills.
Once cochlear implant programming is stable, patients should have routine check-ups with an audiologist at least once a year.
Reviewed: May 2021