Key Points about Cochlear Implant Surgery

  • Cochlear implant surgery is surgery to implant a cochlear implant. Cochlear implants can restore hearing loss.
  • Adults and children as young as six months may be candidates for a cochlear implant if they have not benefited from hearing aids and have severe hearing loss that interferes with their ability to speak clearly.
  • Complications that could occur during cochlear implant surgery include loss of hearing, device failure, and inflammation of surrounding membranes.
  • While cochlear implants can help restore hearing, they are not a cure for hearing loss.


A cochlear implant is a device that can restore hearing loss in patients who have severe hearing loss where hearing aids are not helping.

A cochlear implant can be used in one ear, called a unilateral cochlear implant, or both ears, called a bilateral cochlear implant.

Bilateral cochlear implants are used to treat severe hearing loss, such as in infants who are learning to speak.

Candidates for a Cochlear Implant

Your doctor or child’s doctor may recommend a cochlear implant for patients who:

  • Severe hearing loss that interrupts the ability to speak clearly.
  • Have not benefited from hearing aids.
  • Do not have medical conditions that increase the risk associated with a cochlear implant.
  • Are motivated to rehabilitate their hearing.
  • Understand the limitations associated with cochlear implants.

Risks Associated with a Cochlear Implant

While cochlear implant surgery is generally safe, complications can occur.

Complications may include:

  • Loss of hearing. During the implantation process, you may lose any natural hearing.
  • Device failure. If your device fails, you may need surgery to repair it.
  • The membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord can become inflamed after cochlear implant surgery.

Other complications include:

  • Facial paralysis
  • Dizziness
  • Spinal fluid leak
  • Loss of taste
  • Infection in the device
  • Bleeding
  • Problems balancing
  • Spinal fluid leak

Preparing for Cochlear Implant Surgery

In preparation for the procedure, your doctor will outline guidelines to follow to ensure a successful surgery. Guidelines include:

  • Stop taking medications that may interfere with the surgery or healing at the specific time outlined by your doctor.
  • Do not eat or drink after midnight the day before surgery.

What to Expect During a Cochlear Implant

Cochlear implant surgery is performed under general anesthesia, so you or your child will be asleep during the procedure.

During the procedure, your surgeon will make an incision behind the ear to create a hole into the mastoid (skull bone). He or she will then make an opening between the facial nerves to reveal the cochlear.

Then, your surgeon will make an opening in the cochlea to thread an electrode on the internal device. A receiver will be placed behind the ear, securing it to the skull. The incision will be stitched back together so that the device is implanted under the skin.

Recovery from Cochlear Implant Surgery

After surgery, you or your child may feel dizzy, nauseous, or pressure over the implant. Some patients are able to go home after surgery, while others will need to stay in the hospital overnight.

Your doctor will activate the implant two to six weeks after surgery after the site has healed.

During activation, an audiologist will:

  • Ensure the sound processor is fit for you.
  • Make sure the implant is functioning correctly.
  • Evaluate you to determine what sounds you hear.
  • Provide guidance on how to care and use the implant.
  • Set the device to optimal specifications so you can hear clearly.

After activation, you will need rehabilitation to train your brain to hear using the cochlear implant.

Many people experience clearer hearing and improved tinnitus (ringing in the ears) with a cochlear implant. The degree to which hearing is restored varies depending on the severity of hearing loss when your hearing was lost, and the length of time between hearing loss and implant surgery.

Patients with cochlear implants also have reported, they are able to recognize normal environmental sounds, listen in a noisy environment, can find where the sounds are coming from, can hear tv programs, music, and telephone calls.

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