Cochlear Implants: What, How, & Who

Is your hearing aid no longer providing enough amplification? Perhaps it is time for a change. You may wish to consider using a cochlear implant. Hearing aids are excellent devices, but sometimes a hearing loss requires a different solution. If your hearing impairment requires more than a hearing aid, you may qualify for a cochlear implant. According to the policy of the Food and Drug Administration, both children and adults must demonstrate limited-to-no-benefit from traditional hearing aids. If this is you, here is necessary information regarding cochlear implants.

What is a Cochlear Implant?

In simplest terms, a cochlear implant is a small electronic device that provides a sense of sound to those with a hearing loss. It gives a representation of sounds for a person to better understand speech. The implant features an external portion that sits behind the ear, and an internal portion placed under the skin. A cochlear implant consists of four parts:

  • Microphone– picks up sound from the environment.
  • Speech processor– arranges the sound picked up by the microphone.
  • Transmitter/receiver– converts signals from speech processor into electric impulses.
  • Electrode array– a group of electrodes that collect impulses from stimulator and sends them to various regions of the auditory nerve.

How Does a Cochlear Implant Work?

A hearing aid amplifies sound to be heard by a damaged ear. A cochlear implant bypasses damaged portions of the ear and stimulates the auditory nerve. The signals produced by the implant, by way of the auditory nerve, are recognized by the brain as sound. This type of hearing differs from normal hearing and requires an adjustment period.

Who Needs a Cochlear Implant?

A child or an adult who are deaf or who have a hearing impairment qualify for a cochlear implant. The devices are particularly useful for young children as the implant exposes them to sounds aiding in speech and language skill development. Evidence concludes that children who receive a cochlear implant before 18 months of age develop language proficiency comparable to children with normal hearing. An adult who has lost all or most of their hearing will also benefit from cochlear implants. Adults associate signals from the implant with sounds they remember.

The Future of Cochlear Implants

There is an increasing number of follow-up studies with people who are using cochlear implants. Researchers are hoping that cochlear implants may treat other types of hearing loss, and convey speech more clearly.


Will cochlear implants restore normal hearing? No, a cochlear implant is a tool for communication and not a cure for deafness.
Are there risks associated with cochlear implant surgery? Any surgery requiring anesthesia carries a risk. There are minimal risks associated with cochlear implant surgery, and it requires only a brief hospital stay.
Will my child outgrow the internal device? Cochlear formation occurs at birth with skull development almost complete by age two. The electrode array is designed to accommodate head growth.
Can I swim and shower? Yes, you can participate in all water sports as long as the external equipment is off. Skydiving and scuba diving are the exceptions due to the dramatic pressure changes.
If speech is hard to hear even when you are wearing a hearing aid, consider a cochlear implant. The Cochlear Implant Awareness Foundation can provide you with information regarding the numerous benefits of cochlear implants.


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