Cochlear implants help people with severe hearing loss. Unlike hearing aids, cochlear implants don’t make sounds louder. Instead, these devices use sound energy converted into electrical pulses to stimulate the auditory nerves in the cochlea, the organ that allows us to hear.
Cochlear implants allow many patients to listen to music or talk on the phone. They can improve a patient's speech, too. Most do well with one implant, but speech quality and hearing ability improves with two implants, one in each ear.
At UVA, our expert teams of surgeons and audiologists have been implanting cochlear devices since they were first available in the 1980s.
About the Cochlear Implant Device
Two parts form the device:
- The implanted stimulator/receiver
- The external sound processor
Worn on the ear, the external processor looks like a hearing aid, uses batteries and is programmed for each individual patient.
How it Works
The external sound processor holds a microphone that turns sound into electrical pulses. These pulses travel to the internal stimulator, from there to electrodes placed in the cochlea and then via the auditory nerve to the brain.
Some devices have Bluetooth technology, so you can transmit sounds wirelessly from your phone directly to your implant.
Device Access & Cost
We have extensive experience working with all three cochlear implant device manufacturers currently approved by the FDA:
Unlike hearing aids, most insurance companies, including Medicare, cover a portion of the cost of cochlear implantation.
The Implant Process
Your provider team will evaluate your readiness for an implant device through:
- A hearing test, with and without hearing aids
- A review of your hearing history and immunizations
- CT and/or MRI imaging
- Balance evaluation, if needed
Cochlear Implant Eligibility
In order to receive a cochlear implant, you must:
- Be healthy enough to undergo outpatient surgery
- Have severe hearing loss (less than 30 percent hearing ability with a hearing aid)
- Have a word recognition score of less than 50 percent in the ear
- Get little to no benefit from hearing aids
- Be motivated to have the surgery and work with the implant to learn how to use it
Having a cochlear implant increases your risk for meningitis. We recommend getting the Prevnar-13 vaccine prior to surgery to reduce this risk.
The Implant Procedure
Cochlear implant surgery:
- Lasts 2 to 3 hours
- Takes place without an overnight hospital stay
- Requires general anesthesia
- Causes minimal pain
Most patients return to normal activities within a week of the operation.
You’ll need to visit the surgeon and/or audiologist:
- One week after surgery, for a post-surgery evaluation
- Four weeks after for device activation, which takes two days
- Multiple times in the months following to adjust and fine-tune the device programming