What is a cochlear implant?
A prosthetic device that uses electrical stimulation to provide sound to patients with severe to profound hearing loss who gain little or no benefit from conventional hearing aids.
There two parts to a cochlear implant:
- An external part
- And and internal part
The external part
This is the part that looks like a hearing aid.
It is made up of two main parts:
- The sound processor …
- The headpiece …
The internal part
- Surgically implanted on the mastoid bone behind the ear.
- The receiver package (see right) receives signals from the speech processor through the headpiece (which is held in place with a magnet) and converts them into electrical pulses.
- The electrode array (direct to picture) sends these impulses to different parts of the hearing nerve, and they are interpreted as sounds by the brain.
What the assessment may include
This involves a detailed history of your hearing and measures how you are hearing both with and without your hearing aids.
This appointment is where you will be given a lot of information about what you could expect from a cochlear implant. For adults, this appointment looks at your current lifestyle and your expectations from a cochlear implant. For children, this appointment looks at speech and language development and the support which is currently in place at home and from other local professionals.
At this appointment, you will meet one of the surgeons. The surgeon will ask you questions about you or your child’s medical health and explain the operation. You will have the opportunity ask questions also.
CT or MRI scan of your head
This is to check the structure of the inner parts of the ear and hearing nerve.
Adults, and some children, may need a balance assessment for information about which ear would be best to implant.
It may take several appointments to get all the information we need for your assessment. We cannot tell you at the beginning of the assessment how long this will take, or how many visits this will take.
- Once all the assessments are finished the cochlear implant team meets to discuss each person under assessment.
- The decision is made by the whole team as to whether each person is suitable for a cochlear implant.
- The operation takes around one and a half to three hours (for children who are having two implants this may be longer).
- A small strip of hair behind the ear is shaved on the side where the implant will be (hair grows back following surgery).
- The implant is tested during the surgery to make sure it is working.
- An x-ray is done after surgery (usually the following day) to check the position of the implant.
- The cochlear implant is ‘switched on’ around three weeks after surgery. This is to give the area time to heal. You won’t be able to wear the processor or hearing aid(s) during this time.
- During the switch-on appointment the audiologist will do several tests to check the implant is working and to set it correctly for each person.
- After this appointment, there are regular appointments with the audiologist and keyworker.
- These appointments last around an hour each and it is important that all appointments are attended. Commitment is required from the patient and their family and friends to get the most from their cochlear implant.
- For children, the keyworker will work closely with other professionals, such as education, when devising a rehabilitation plan.
Frequently asked questions
Everyone referred for a cochlear implant assessment has many questions. Most people have very little knowledge about cochlear implants before they come for an assessment.
Here are some of the most common questions.
You will be able to ask as many questions as you like during your assessment.
If I come for an assessment, am I committed to having a cochlear implant?
No. You can withdraw from the process at any time, including after the team have met to discuss your case.
Can I bring someone with me to my assessment appointments?
Yes, of course. It is very useful to bring a family member or close friend with you to your appointments. This means you have someone to talk things over with as it is a big decision.
Is there an age limit for cochlear implants?
No. We will consider individuals of any age for a cochlear implant.
What would I hear with a cochlear implant?
A cochlear implant does not give you back normal hearing. Everyone is different and some people get more benefit from their cochlear implant than others. What you are likely to hear depends on your hearing history and will be discussed in detail with you during the assessment.
When an implant is first switched on it sounds very strange. Some people just hear beeping noises, and some people say that all speech sounds like a robot or a cartoon character. The sound improves with time, and it takes time and effort from the individual to get the best from their implant.
If I got a cochlear implant and didn’t like it, could I go back to my hearing aids?
No, a cochlear implant replaces your hearing so you would not be able to go back to hearing aids. This is why we are so careful that the people we implant are suitable candidates.
Individuals who are only fitted with one cochlear implant can continue to use a hearing aid in the other ear.
Will a cochlear implant help me hear in background noise?
A cochlear implant may help you to hear better in background noise compared to your hearing aids. However, most cochlear implant users still struggle to hear in background noise to some degree.
Would I be able to use the phone with a cochlear implant?
Some people with a cochlear implant can use the phone, but many cannot. It is by no means guaranteed.
Are there different models of cochlear implant available and do I get a choice?
Yes, there are different models available, and you may get to express your preference as to which you prefer. The final decision regarding which model you will receive will be made by the implant team.
Does the cochlear implant last forever?
No. An implant is like any electrical device, at some point it will need to be replaced. The companies expect the internal part of the implant to last at least 10 years, but some people need their implant replacing before then and some people’s last longer than this.
If the internal part of the implant needed to be replaced there would be a further operation involved to replace it.
Does it run on batteries?
Yes. The external sound processor needs batteries to work. These are usually rechargeable.
Can I use a loop system or Bluetooth device?
Yes, the processors have a loop system built in, and can also be used with Bluetooth devices.
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust would like your feedback. If you wish to share your experience about your care and treatment or on behalf of a patient, please contact The Patient Experience Department who will advise you on how best to do this.
This service is based at The James Cook University Hospital but also covers the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, our community hospitals and community health services.