Cochlear Implants

What is a cochlear implant? 

Cochlear implants are an electronic medical device that help both children and adults who are very hard of hearing understand speech and hear other sounds. The cochlear implant system works by a person wearing a on-ear device (called a “sound processor”) which sends speech and other sounds from the environment to a tiny wire which has been placed inside the hearing organ (“cochlea”). Unlike a hearing aid which makes sounds louder, the cochlear implant is able to bypass any damage which causes permanent hearing loss and directly send signals to the hearing nerve. 

Why get a cochlear implant instead of a hearing aid? 

Hearing aids provide enough benefit for most people with hearing loss. However, cochlear implants are an excellent solution for people who have tried hearing aids, but still have difficulty understanding speech. In general, someone cannot understand speech without being able to see the speaker’s face should ask their doctor about a cochlear implant. 

Who can get a cochlear implant? 

Because a cochlear implant requires surgery from an ear doctor (“otologist”), anyone who is interested in a cochlear implant must have testing done by both an audiologists and otologist to confirm they are a candidate. This usually takes multiple visits. These visits include: 

  • Basic tests of hearing
  • A hearing aid trial (if the person does not currently wear hearing aids)
  • Several tests of speech understanding
  • A medical referral to an otologist who may also require other testing 

What happens after someone is determined to be a cochlear implant candidate?

If the audiologist and otologist determine that the person would benefit from a cochlear implant, the person will be scheduled for outpatient surgery. After surgery, the person must heal for approximately one month before their cochlear implant can be turned on (“activated”). They will have several appointments with the audiologist in the first few months so their device can be fine-tuned (“mapped”). 

Will my insurance pay for a cochlear implant? 

Most insurances cover cochlear implantation, including Medicare. There may still be costs associated with the cochlear implant. Please check with your insurance for coverage details. 

What else do I need to know about cochlear implants? 

  • Research tells us that people who go through listening therapy (“aural rehabilitation”) have the best results with their cochlear implants. Our clinic recommends aural rehabilitation, either informal or formal, for every person who receives a cochlear implant. 
  • While cochlear implants are remarkable medical devices, they do not “cure” deafness. People with cochlear implants can only hear when the device is turned on and many people who use cochlear implants still compensate with strategies such as reading lips and closed captioning on the television. 
  • It is our recommendation that people who have a cochlear implant on one ear wear a device on their contralateral ear—either a hearing aid or a second cochlear implant. While it is not a requirement for a cochlear implant to work, wearing devices on both ears help with listening in noise and knowing where sounds are coming from. Your audiologist can help you decide if a hearing aid or cochlear implant on your second ear will work best for you. 
  • It is a common misconception that someone has to be completely deaf before they can have a cochlear implant. Many people with some hearing still receive benefit from a cochlear implant.
  • There is no age limit to who can get a cochlear implant. Anyone who is healthy enough to have elective surgery may be evaluated for a cochlear implant. 
  • Research tells us when a child has hearing loss, seeking treatment as soon as possible leads to the best outcomes. If you think your child could benefit from a cochlear implant, do not delay in asking your doctor about an evaluation. 

More information: https://www.acialliance.org/page/CochlearImplant 

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