10 Surprising Facts About Cochlear Implants

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN on May 11, 2021
  • Middle aged Caucasian woman smiling at outdoor picnic
    Surgery, Cost and Other Cochlear Implants Facts
    Many decades ago, scientists came up with the idea of a device that could transform sound vibrations into signals to bypass injured areas of the ear. However, it was only in the 1980s that such a device—a cochlear implant—to help people with hearing impairments became widely available. The implant has helped people with certain types of hearing loss hear sounds they once couldn’t, or hear more clearly overall. And cochlear implant surgery is available for people from infancy to well beyond the so-called golden years. Learn about cochlear implant pros and cons—and some facts that may surprise you.
  • closeup of external parts of cochlear implant
    1. A cochlear implant is not an implanted hearing aid.
    Hearing aids amplify sounds—they make them louder, like increasing your computer volume. The sound signals picked up by the aid are sent to the auditory nerve through damaged portions in your ear, which then go to your brain. Cochlear implants are different: instead of making sounds louder, cochlear implants bypass the damaged part of the ear altogether. A sound processor outside the skull picks up sound signals and sends them directly to a receiver implanted in the inner part of your ear called the cochlea. This then stimulates the auditory nerve, which in turn sends the signals to the brain. The brain interprets the signals as sounds.
  • deaf or hearing impaired woman with cochlear implant
    2. The implant isn’t connected through your skull.
    Because we usually see the external processor on the skull, some people believe it is directly attached through the skull to the ear. Having a cochlear implant does require surgery, but only to insert the internal (receiver) part of the implant and the electrodes. The surgeon makes a slight indentation on the external surface of the skull and drills a few tiny holes to attach the implant. A small hole is made in the mastoid bone to access the cochlea. The surgeon threads the electrodes into the cochlea and connects the implant to the electrodes via tiny wires. Once the incision is healed, you get an external processor that can be attached to the outside of your skull using a magnet, special tape, an ear mold, or special headbands. It can even be kept in a pocket or harness.
  • boy with cochlear implant jumping into swimming pool
    3. You can go swimming if you have a cochlear implant.
    When you get a cochlear implant, find out if it is water resistant (can get wet but not soaked) or waterproof. Waterproof devices can be used while swimming or participating in water sports, except scuba diving. Most newer models are one or the other. If yours isn’t waterproof, you can simply remove the external device before entering the water.
  • boy with cochlear implant playing indoor soccer
    4. You can play sports with a cochlear implant.
    While you should wear suitable headgear to protect your cochlear implant if you participate in contact sports or activities that usually require helmets, such as cycling, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be active. Whether you work out at the gym, play team sports like soccer or basketball, or other activities like tennis or skiing, your physical well-being is still important. Staying active is one aspect of staying as healthy as possible.
  • Male doctor speaking to a mature woman
    5. You’re never too old or too young for a cochlear implant.
    Although we usually hear of children getting cochlear implants, babies as young as a few months to adults in their late 90s have implants. The only prerequisite for getting a cochlear implant is being healthy enough to undergo the surgery. Infants who receive an implant early in life benefit from picking up language earlier than later and, in 2014, a 99-year-old woman in the United Kingdom restored her hearing with a cochlear implant after her hearing began failing when she was in her 70s.
  • cochlear implants
    6. Cochlear implants do not need regular replacements.
    Unless the implant, electrodes or wires break or malfunction, there is usually no need to replace cochlear implants. They are designed to last many years, and often they last a whole lifetime. The external processor may need to be replaced at some point as they are exposed to situations that could break or damage them. However, newer processors should be able to work with the older implants. Children don’t outgrow their implants either, so they don’t need replacements as they grow, regardless of how young they were when they first got their cochlear implant.
  • giving financial or medical payment advice to senior couple
    7. Cochlear implants can be costly, but may be covered by insurance.
    Costs for cochlear implant surgery can vary considerably between facilities and different parts of the country. The costs are for the device itself, surgery, device activation, and medical and speech therapy follow-up. Cochlear implant cost can go as high as $100,000 for one implant, but it may be covered by private insurance or Medicare. If your doctor suggests you’re a candidate for an implant, ask about payment options and obtain all the information you need to present your case to your insurance company for reimbursement of at least part of the costs.
  • concept art of sound waves traveling into inner ear and cochlea
    8. Cochlear implants do not help all types of hearing loss.
    Sounds make your eardrum vibrate, allowing the waves to move to the tiny bones in your middle ear, which in turn relay vibrations to your inner ear. There, tiny hairs detect the vibrations and send impulses based in the individual sound waves to your auditory nerve, which travels to your brain and gives meaning to the sound. Cochlear implants bypass the damaged parts of the ear that stop the waves from reaching your auditory nerve. If your hearing impairment is due to problems with the nerve rather than the movement of sound, a cochlear implant will not help.
  • medical alert bracelet
    9. You may set off security detectors with your cochlear implant.
    After your cochlear implant is inserted and activated, you will receive an implant identification card that you should keep with you at all times, particularly when you travel. Metal scanners won’t damage your implant or processor, but a handheld wand will likely beep while it moves over the processor. Your ID card informs the staff that this is expected. However, putting the processor in a bin to go through the X-ray machine could cause damage to your device. So, don’t take your processor off when passing through security as it is also important to be able to communicate with the staff.
  • radiologist preparing young patient for MRI
    10. Your implant may interfere with some medical exams or treatments.
    MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnets to create images, so most cochlear implants could be damaged or dislodged if you undergo an MRI. Newer implants may be safe, but your doctor should verify this with the manufacturer before moving ahead. All healthcare professionals who care for you need to know about your implant to avoid complications. Other procedures that may not be possible for people for cochlear implants include neurostimulation, electrical surgery, electroconvulsive therapy, and ionic radiation therapy (including the type used with some cancer treatments). Speak with your doctor about what options are available to you should you need this type of treatment.
10 Surprising Cochlear Implant Facts | Cochlear Implant Surgery & Cost

About The Author

Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, has been writing health information for the past 20 years. She has extensive experience writing about health issues like sepsis, cancer, mental health issues, and women’s health. She is also author of the book Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Medications and How to Take Them Safely.
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  10. Cochlear Implant Frequent Asked Questions. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/otolaryngology/specialty_areas/listencenter/faq.html
  11. Ozdamar S. Cochlear Implants and Airport Security. https://www.audiologyonline.com/ask-the-experts/cochlear-implants-and-airport-security-107

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Last Review Date: 2021 May 11
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