It is a small electronic device that electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve (nerve for hearing). The implant has external and internal parts.

The external structure fits behind the ear. It picks up sounds with a microphone. It then processes the sound and transmits it to the internal part of the implant.

The internal part is placed under the skin behind the ear during an outpatient surgery. A thin wire and small electrodes lead to the cochlea, which is part of the inner ear. The wire sends signals to the cochlear nerve, which sends sound information to the brain to produce a hearing sensation. Although normal hearing is not restored, with appropriate therapy and practice, the improved hearing experience can mean an increased awareness of sounds in the environment, as well as better communication through easier lip reading and listening.


A cochlear implant may help someone with hearing loss restore or improve the ability to hear and understand speech. A cochlear implant is different than a hearing aid. A hearing aid makes sounds louder but may not significantly improve speech understanding. When a person struggles to understand speech, even with appropriately fitted hearing aids, a cochlear implant should be considered. When the device is tuned appropriately and the recipient is committed to rehabilitation therapy, the -cochlear implant can significantly increase hearing in adults. Cochlear implants in infants and toddlers may help them listen and learn to speak.

Why is surgery required?

You, your health care provider and an audiologist may consider a cochlear implant if you are experiencing hearing loss and continue to rely heavily on lip reading. Candidates for cochlear implant surgery include individuals who:

  • Are experiencing hearing loss and are not helped by hearing aids
  • Have hearing in both ears but with poor clarity
  • Miss half or more of spoken words, without lip reading, even when wearing hearing aids
  • Rely heavily on lip reading, despite wearing hearing aids

In cases of more moderate hearing loss, a partially inserted cochlear implant is used to preserve hearing so that both a hearing aid and the cochlear implant may be used simultaneously in the same ear. In more severe cases of hearing loss, however, a fully inserted cochlear implant is needed to achieve the full benefit of electrical hearing.

How much cochlear implants help varies from person to person. Most individuals note a significant growth in their awareness of sounds within days after their cochlear implant is turned on, which is about four to six weeks after surgery. Speech understanding improves more gradually, with most individuals experiencing the largest improvement within the first six months. The size of this improvement varies considerably between people. Improvements in speech understanding can be aided with auditory, or hearing, therapy after surgery.


Cochlear implant surgery is done in a hospital setting. The surgery lasts two to four hours. You are given general anesthesia to make you sleep during the procedure.

  • The surgeon makes a cut behind the ear and then opens the mastoid bone.
  • The surgeon identifies the facial nerves and creates an opening between them to access the cochlea, which is then opened. He or she inserts the implant electrodes into the cochlea.
  • The surgeon places an electronic device called the receiver under the skin behind the ear, securing it to the skull in this area.
  • The incisions are then closed, and you will be moved into the recovery area and watched closely.
  • You will be discharged the next day