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Cochlear Implants

A cochlear implant may be an option for some people with hearing loss. An audiologist can help you find out if a cochlear implant will help you. Audiologists are health care professionals who provide patient-centered care in the prevention, identification, diagnosis, and evidence-based treatment of hearing, balance, and related disorders for people of all ages. Visit ASHA ProFind to locate a professional in your area.
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About Cochlear Implants

A cochlear implant is a device that can help someone with hearing loss perceive sound. You may see the term “cochlear implant” abbreviated as CI. Getting a cochlear implant requires surgery. Part of the implant is placed inside your inner ear, and part of the implant is worn on the outside of your head. These parts work together to help you notice sound; however, a cochlear implant does not lead to "normal" hearing. Cochlear implants can be used in one or both ears.

How a cochlear implant works: Some types of hearing loss involve damaged hair cells in your inner ear. These hair cells cannot send sound to your auditory nerve. A cochlear implant bypasses the hair cells and sends sound right to the auditory nerve.

The part of the cochlear implant worn on the outside of your head has a microphone to pick up sound. The sound is sent to the speech processor, which looks like a hearing aid worn behind the ear (or attached to clothing). The speech processor turns the sound into a digital signal. This digital signal goes from the speech processor to the transmitter (on the outside of your head) and then to the receiver under your skin. The receiver sends the sound signal to electrodes placed in your inner ear, or cochlea. The electrodes trigger the auditory nerve and let your brain notice incoming sounds.

Who Can Get a Cochlear Implant?

Both children and adults can use cochlear implants. Cochlear implants are not appropriate for everyone. Your audiologist can help you determine if a cochlear implant may be right for you and can refer you to cochlear implant specialists.

Cochlear implants may be recommended most often for individuals who

  • have significant hearing loss in one or both ears,
  • are not helped enough by hearing aids, and
  • have no other medical problems that would make surgery risky.

How well a cochlear implant works for you depends on many factors, including

  • your age when you get the implant,
  • whether you had started to talk before you lost your hearing,
  • your motivation and support system, and
  • whether you get treatment to work on hearing skills.

The Process of Getting a Cochlear Implant

The process starts at a cochlear implant center. At these centers, a team of professionals will work with you from start to finish. Team members usually include

  • an audiologist;
  • an ear, nose, and throat doctor or surgeon;
  • a psychologist or counselor; and
  • a speech-language pathologist, or SLP.

You will have testing to make sure that you can use a cochlear implant and that surgery is a good option for you. The team is there to answer all of your questions and provide needed information to help decide if a cochlear implant is right for you. You will learn about how cochlear implants work and what an implant can and cannot do to help you. It is important to understand what you will need to do to get the most out of your cochlear implant.

Surgery: Some people need to stay overnight for surgery. Others can leave the same day. The surgeon will implant the receiver and electrodes. You will need time to heal before the implant is turned on and used.

Follow-Up: You will go back to the center about 2–4 weeks after surgery. This is when you will have the external parts of the device added. The team will program your implant. This may take a few visits to get right. During these visits, you will learn how to use your implant and take care of it. After that, you may need to visit the center regularly to monitor progress and/or address concerns.

You will not experience immediate results with the implant. You will need treatment to help you figure out what the sounds are and what they mean. This is called audiologic habilitation or audiologic rehabilitation. You may see an audiologist, an SLP, a teacher, or a counselor. This follow-up can take place at clinics or schools near your home.

Find information for professionals on ASHA’s Practice Portal page on Cochlear Implants.

Resources

This list does not include every website on this topic. ASHA does not endorse the information on these sites.

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