What is a Cochlear Implant?
Introduction to Cochlear Implants
A cochlear implant is a device
which restores some hearing to individuals who have a severe to
profound hearing loss. A cochlear implant consists of internal and
external components. The internal component, also known as
the receiver/stimulator, is inserted during an
operation which lasts approximately 2 hours. The external
component, known as the speech processor, allows the internal
component to receive sound and is generally fit 3-4 weeks after
Click here for a
demonstration of how a cochlear implant changes sound into
electrical stimulation and allows the deaf to hear sound.
People are usually referred for a cochlear implant assessment by
their GP, ENT consultant, or other healthcare professional. First
visits will consist of hearing testing and information gathering.
The team will be able to give the patient an indication about
whether a cochlear implant is the right option for them or their
In general, cochlear implants are considered for those patients
who have a significant
sensorineural hearing loss (ie, nerve deafness) for
hearing aids are not beneficial.
Candidacy for each person will be decided on an individual
basis and each patient will be counselled about cochlear implants
and their limitations and potential benefits. There will be plenty
of opportunities for patients to ask questions and become familiar
with the procedure before surgery takes place.
For more specific information about candidacy for an implant,
please click on the appropriate link: Adults, Adolescents,
Paediatrics (link to pre-operative visits section for each)
Surgery for an implant is considered routine and the side
effects are limited. Patients and parents will be fully advised of
the risks of surgery prior to giving consent and every opportunity
will be given for patients and their families to ask questions.
In general, implant surgery lasts about two hours. Most patients
are admitted as day cases but some patients may be kept in the
hospital overnight for observation and usually go home the next
day. Patients are advised to stay out of work or school for
approximately two weeks after surgery. The risks of surgery are
similar to any type of ear surgery and will be discussed fully with
the patient/parents before the surgery takes place.
The external parts of the cochlear implant will not be fitted
for about 3-4 weeks after surgery to allow time for the scar to
heal. Patients will be able to hear sound through the implant when
the external components are fitted, but their ability to understand
what is heard will be limited at first. This will change
considerably over the first weeks, months and even years of use.
Patients will require frequent programming changes and therapy
during the first months of use. The post-operative follow-up is
very different for adults and children. Please click on the links
for information about follow-up for adults, adolescents and
adults.(link to each section on follow-up care)
Q & A
Is this a new or experimental technology?
The field of cochlear implants is very exciting and new
technologies are constantly being introduced and researched. The
first experimental cochlear implants were performed in the late
1970's in the United States. In 1984, the first multi-channel
cochlear implants were developed in Australia and marketed
throughout the world. Although technology has progressed a great
deal since that time, the basic structure and function of cochlear
implants has been well-established for over twenty years.
Currently, nearly 9,000 people in the UK use cochlear implants
(source: BCIG survey 2011) and there are over 75,000 cochlear
implant users worldwide (source: Cochlear Corporation, Advanced
Bionics Corporation and MedEl Corporation).
What does a cochlear implant sound like?
A cochlear implant allows users to hear and understand speech
and allows some users to appreciate music. Most users report that
the sound is slightly "mechanical" at first and the first sounds
heard through an implant may range in quality from just "beeps and
buzzes" to being able to understand voices without lipreading. For
a more in depth discussion of the sound of a cochlear implant,
please follow this link and click on "Tuning In": http://www.pbs.org/saf/1509/
Who may receive a cochlear implant?
Cochlear implants are designed to restore some level of hearing
when traditional hearing aids do not provide enough benefit.
Candidacy for a cochlear implant is carefully determined for each
patient on an individual basis. Generally, adults who are severe to
profoundly hearing impaired and who lost their hearing and who use
spoken language are considered to be candidates if they perform
poorly on tests of speech recognition. Children who are severe to
profoundly hearing impaired and are unable to make progress on
spoken language with hearing aids are also considered for
candidacy. It is important to remember that the process of
determining candidacy will be different for each person. The goals
of the procedure and the possibility of reaching those goals will
be discussed at length with each candidate before a decision is
made. Click here for further referral guidelines (link to adult,
adolescent and paediatric referral guidelines).
Are there different types of cochlear
There are three main cochlear implant manufacturers in the UK
and throughout the world. These are
Each of the manufacturers has its own design of internal
speak processor. There are many different types of speech
processors that have been available throughout the years for
cochlear implants; many of the differences are related to changes
in technology. Currently, ear level processors are available for
all three manufacturers. Although there is no conclusive evidence
that patients perform better with one manufacturer over another,
there are differences in the way the speech processors look, how
they function and the options that are provided. The clinicians
will advise patients which is the most appropriate device in their
How can I find out if a cochlear implant is right for
Potential candidates are referred to the cochlear implant
programme by their GP, local audiology or
ENT services. Discuss with your doctor or
audiologist if a referral is appropriate.
There are many more resources available on the internet about
cochlear implants. Try the implant manufacturers' websites first
and then see the following links for further information or contact
your local audiology centre:
Cochlear Implant Manufacturers