Cochlear Implants

Hearing aids do not help everyone with hearing loss. A cochlear implant may be an option. An audiologist can help you find out if a cochlear implant will help you.

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About Cochlear Implants

A cochlear (koe-klee-er) implant is a device that can help if you have a severe hearing loss. It allows you to take in information through your auditory nerve. It does not, however, lead to "normal" hearing.

Do you have a sensorineural hearing loss? This means that you have damaged hair cells in your inner ear. These hair cells cannot send sounds to your auditory nerve. A cochlear implant skips around the hair cells and sends sound right to the nerve.

How well a cochlear implant works for you depends on factors like:

  • Your age when you get the implant
  • If you had started to talk before you lost your hearing
  • How motivated you and your family are

Cochlear implants are not new. The FDA first approved cochlear implant devices for adults in 1985 and children in 1990.

The number of people who use cochlear implants keeps growing. More than 324,200 people across the world have cochlear implants. In the United States, over 96,000 people have cochlear implants (Source: National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 2017).

More information on this topic is in our Audiology Information Series [PDF].

How a Cochlear Implant Works

A cochlear implant goes on both the outside and inside of your head. These parts work together to help you notice sounds.

External, or outside, parts: You will wear a device that looks like a hearing aid behind your ear. It has a microphone that picks up sounds and sends them to a speech processor. The speech processor turns the sounds into a digital signal.

The speech processor sends the signal to a transmitter. This device goes on your head, behind your ear. The transmitter sends the signal to a receiver under your skin. A magnet holds the two together.

Internal, or inside, parts: The receiver is under the skin behind your ear. It sends the signals to electrodes in your inner ear, or cochlea. The electrodes trigger the auditory nerve. This lets your brain notice the incoming sounds.

Who Can Get a Cochlear Implant

Cochlear implants will not work for everyone. They may work for adults who:

  • Have severe to profound hearing loss in both ears
  • Have found that hearing aids do not help them
  • Have no other medical problems that would make surgery risky
  • Want to be able to listen, speak, and speechread
  • Started to talk before they lost their hearing

Children can also get cochlear implants. They may work best for children who:

  • Have profound hearing loss in both ears
  • Were not helped by hearing aids
  • Have no medical problems that would make surgery risky
  • Will be able to get treatment to work on hearing skills

If your child is old enough, it is helpful if she can:

  • Be a part of all the steps in the process
  • Understand what she needs to do to use the cochlear implants
  • Understand what the implants can and cannot do for her hearing
  • Be ready to work on her hearing and speech skills

It is important that your child has your support. This will help him have success with the cochlear implants.

Where to Get a Cochlear Implant

There are cochlear implant centers around the country. At these centers, teams of professionals work with you from start to finish. Team members usually include:

  • An audiologist
  • An ear, nose, and throat doctor or surgeon
  • A psychologist
  • A counselor
  • A speech-language pathologist, or SLP

The team will help you find out if a cochlear implant is right for you. They can also do the surgery and see you for follow-up. Follow-up can also take place closer at clinics or schools near your home.

The cost for one cochlear implant can be up to $100,000. This includes hearing testing, surgery, the device, and follow-up. Medical insurance and Medicare may pay for cochlear implants. You can learn more about funding cochlear implants from the American Cochlear Implant Alliance.

The Process of Getting a Cochlear Implant

The process starts at a cochlear implant center. There you will have testing to make sure that you can use a cochlear implant. They will test your hearing, give you a check-up, and do tests needed for surgery. You may also talk with someone about what will happen after the implants. It is important that you understand what the implants will and will not do for you. You also need to understand what you will have to do to make your implants work.

Surgery is next. Some people need to stay overnight. Others can leave the same day. The surgeon will implant the receiver and electrodes. You will need time to heal from that before you can turn on the implants.

You will go back to the center about 2–4 weeks after surgery. This is when you will have the external parts 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 will need to visit the center at least once a year for checkups.

You will not hear right away with the implants. You will need treatment to help you figure out what the sounds are and what they mean. This is called audiologic rehabilitation. You may see an audiologist, an SLP, a teacher, or a counselor. You will learn to listen, say speech sounds clearly, and speechread.

Many people are successful cochlear implant users. It takes time and hard work, but cochlear implants can work for you.

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

Other Resources

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

To find an audiologist near you, visit ProFind.

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