What is a cochlear Implant?

Cochlear implantation is the most effective treatment for severe-to-profound hearing loss. A cochlear implant consists of two parts: the electrode array that is surgically implanted in the cochlea (inner ear) and the sound processor that is worn on the outside (over the ear or above the ear). The electrode array bypasses the damaged part of the ear and stimulates the hearing nerve directly. The nerve then sends a signal to the brain where it is interpreted as sound. The implanted electrodes can provide hearing for the first time or restore hearing to people who became deaf.

How does a Cochlear Implant function??

A cochlear implant consists of two parts – referred to as the internal and external parts. The internal part is positioned surgically under general anaesthesia while the external part is worn behind the ear.
The following diagram illustrates the different parts of the cochlear implant.

1. Microphones on the sound processor pick up sounds and the processor converts them into digital information.

2. This information is transferred through the coil to the implant just under the skin.

3. The implant sends electrical signals down the electrode into the cochlea.

4. The hearing nerves fibres in the cochlea pick up the signals and send them to the brain, giving the sensation of sound.

A cochlear implant can significantly improve quality of life; however the signal received through the implant is not normal hearing and consequently patients require time and training to become accustomed to it. Rehabilitation is required post-implantation to promote optimal benefit from the device, especially young children who may have had limited exposure to sound requires intensive rehabilitation.


What is hearing loss?

When a part of the ear doesn’t work as well as it should, it becomes harder to hear—this is known as hearing loss. Hearing loss can have many different causes, and can range in degree from mild to profound. There are many treatments for hearing loss, including hearing aids and hearing implants.

Who can benefit from a cochlear implant?

People with moderate to profound hearing loss. Children who were born without hearing and children who lose their hearing can benefit from an implant if implanted early enough. Adults and older children who once had enough hearing to perceive the sounds of speech have an easier time learning to use the new sound through an implant.

How is a cochlear implant different from a hearing aid?
  1. Hearing aids amplify sounds so that the residual part of the ear can use it to hear. A cochlear implant transforms sounds into electrical current that is used to stimulate the hearing nerve directly.
  2. Cochlear implants have internal (under the skin) and external parts (behind or off the ear).
What does a cochlear implant sound like?

Because everyone’s hearing system is different, everyone’s experience with a cochlear implant is different. Generally adults report that initially the sound is quite high pitched and electronic but becomes ordinary over time. Young children often only know the sound they hear with a cochlear implant, so it sounds “normal” to them. It is just not the “normal” that a person with normal hearing experiences.

Can people with cochlear implants identify environmental noises as well as speech?

Cochlear implants provide a wide range of sound information. Performance in speech perception testing and in the real world varies among individuals. With time and training, most patients understand more speech than with hearing aids and many communicate by telephone and enjoy music.

Does a cochlear implant provide normal hearing?

No. A cochlear implant provides a limited sense of hearing in the implanted ear. However, most individuals with good language abilities can learn to use this sound to understand spoken language and having improved quality of life. Most cochlear implant users can learn to understand spoken sentences without looking at the person who is talking, particularly if there is no background noise. Many can also learn to use the telephone. An important factor determining the possibility of understanding speech without lipreading is duration of deafness and prior use of hearing aids.

How long does it take me to get maximum benefit from a cochlear implant?

It depends a lot on you and your listening therapy (rehabilitation), as well as how long you have been without hearing. Usually, there is a rapid rise in your ability to interpret sounds after receiving an implant. This rapid rise slows after about 3 – 6 months but your benefit gained often continues to improve for several years.

What can I expect if my child has a cochlear implant?

We cannot predict how well any child will progress with a cochlear implant. A child’s progress depends on many factors, including:

  • the age at which the child became deaf
  • the length of time the child has been deaf
  • family and educational support
  • family’s and child’s motivation
  • child’s level of speech language development
  • child’s cognitive development and learning style
  • presence of a cochlear abnormality
  • consistency of use of the device


The cochlear implant:

  • will NOT provide normal hearing
  • will NOT guarantee intelligible speech or age appropriate language skills
  • will NOT guarantee educational success

However, with consistent use of the cochlear implant and ongoing training, the sound the child hears through the implant should become more meaningful and should enhance the child’s ability to communicate.


Can people with cochlear implants swim, shower and participate in sports?

Yes, people with cochlear implants can swim, shower and participate in virtually all types of sport activities when they are not wearing the external equipment (or if the speech processor is water resistant). The only restriction relates to skydiving and scuba diving (>25m) because significant changes in air pressure are not advised. Some processors are waterproof when used with their respective Aqua+ or WaterWear accessories. Participation in all other activities is unrestricted, although protective headgear is always recommended during contact sports.