How does a cochlear implant work?

cochlear implant

Getting a cochlear implant is a big decision, but it can be life-changing.

Cochlear implants are designed for people with severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss. With this type of hearing loss, the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged, and can’t detect sounds properly. A cochlear implant bypasses these damaged hair cells, stimulating the auditory nerve and directing the electric signals to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound.

A cochlear implant system consists of two main components. The externally worn audio processor detects sounds and sends it to the internal implant, which is placed just under the skin behind the ear.

Advantages of a cochlear implantation.

  • The benefits of a cochlear implant go beyond simply just hearing better.
  • A cochlear implant makes it easier to socialise with friends
  • It improves your ability to hear and understand words and sentences without lip-
  • It helps improve a child’s speech- and future development of listening and spoken
    language skills.
  • It improves relationships with family members
  • It gives better hearing in noisy settings, such as restaurants
  • It makes listening on the phone easier
  • And it improves enjoyment and appreciation of music

Who can receive a cochlear implant?

Children and adults who are deaf or have severe to profound hearing loss can be fitted with cochlear implants. For young children with a severe to profound hearing loss, using a cochlear implant while they are young exposes them to sounds during an optimal period to develop speech and spoken language.

How does a cochlear implant work
A cochlear implant system


Candidacy for a cochlear implant revolves around three basic questions:

  • Is physical implantation of the device possible and/or advisable given the medical status of the patient?
  • Is it likely that an individual will receive more communication benefit from a cochlear implant than from a hearing aid or, alternatively, from no hearing prosthesis at all?
  • Do the necessary support systems exist in the individual’s psychological, family, educational, and rehabilitative situation to keep a cochlear implant working and integrate it into the patient’s life? If not, can they be developed?

The cochlear implant team

Most often the evaluation of these questions with respect to the candidate is accomplished in a team format involving the following team members:

  • ENT surgeon
  • Audiologist
  • Radiologist
  • Speech Therapist
  • Psychologist/ Psychiatrist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Educator
  • Neurologist
  • Paediatrician
  • Vestibular Specialist
  • Tinnitus Specialist
  • Social Worker
  • Geneticist
  • Physiotherapist

What are the different steps in receiving a cochlear implant?

  • Assessment
    First, you’ll undergo routine assessments to ensure you’re a candidate for a cochlear implant, and if there are any additional factors your cochlear implant team should consider. Your clinical team will walk you and your family through the specifics of what to expect in the following steps.
  • Implantation
    To implant a CI, the surgical procedure is straightforward and usually lasts between 1–2 hours under general anesthesia. Recipients are usually back on their feet the next day. Your hospital stay may last one or more days, depending on your individual needs and the surgeon`s instructions.
  • Activation
    About four weeks after implantation, you’ll have your first fitting. This “activation day” is when your audiologist will turn on your audio processor for the first time and you’ll hear your first new sounds. The audio settings of your processor will be adjusted to fit your hearing preferences, also known as Mapping.
  • Mapping
    Several appointments may be needed after this initial activation to adjust the programs as patients adapt to sound and practice listening with the device. The number of appointments needed varies from person to person but is typically 6 to 9 appointments the first year and one to four appointments per year after that.
  • Rehabilitation                                                                                                                                                                                   After activation, it’s important to follow up with a rehabilitation program so that you can adapt to hearing through your cochlear implant. Rehabilitation is essential to make the most of your implant. It can be done together with speech-language professionals and at-home listening exercises.

Learn how cochlear implants work by watching this video:

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