People of all ages with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss are considered for cochlear implantation. A cochlear implant is an electronic device that is implanted behind the ear under the skin. An electrode is inserted into the inner ear, and restores hearing in patients who have severe to profound hearing loss. A cochlear implant bypasses the normal sound conduction mechanism through the external, middle and inner ear, directly stimulating the auditory nerve.
An implant does not restore or create normal hearing. Instead, under the appropriate conditions, it can give a person with severe hearing loss a useful auditory understanding of the environment and help him or her to understand speech. Cochlear implants were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the mid-1980s and are covered by most private insurance policies, Medicare and some forms of Medicaid/Medi-Cal.
Placement of a cochlear implant is a routine type of surgery for our physicians who specialize in ear surgery. It takes about an hour to do the procedure and involves making an incision behind the ear. The mastoid bone behind the ear is drilled to visualize the inner ear. The body of the device is placed next to the skull and the electrode is delicately inserted into the inner ear using a soft-surgery approach. The incision is then closed. In most cases, this is an outpatient procedure, but sometimes very young children or very old adults are kept overnight in the hospital for observation.
It is not particularly painful, and patients can resume their normal activities within 2-3 days typically. The implant is not turned on until the incision has fully healed, typically 2-4 weeks after surgery.
Many patients desire bilateral cochlear implants (one for each ear), and our physicians do this routinely when indicated.