What to Expect After a Cochlear Implant

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Young African American toddler getting head bandage at doctor's office

Now that you’ve decided to go ahead with a cochlear implant, you may be wondering what’s going to happen after the surgery. Although it may take some time to get used to your new device or devices, the good news is that most people in the United States who have at least one cochlear implant (about 67,000 people) say it improved their quality of life. Cochlear implant surgery recovery involves both surgical recovery time and learning how to live with a cochlear implant. You may have an easier time after surgery and adjusting to your implant when you know what to expect.

Cochlear Implant Surgery Recovery

Cochlear implant surgery is generally performed in a hospital operating room with a general anesthetic. If you cannot have a general anesthetic, some surgeons perform the procedure with a local anesthetic. Unless there are medical reasons for you to remain overnight, your doctor will let you go home after you wake up and are stable.

You will have a bandage covering the area where the surgeon made the incision to insert the implant. The discharge nurse or doctor will tell you when you may remove the bandage and how to care for the incision once the bandage is off.

Cochlear Implant Surgery Recovery Time

Usually, recovery following the surgery is 4 to 6 weeks, but it can be longer for some people. Most people feel some pain from the incision for a few days, and perhaps a headache. The swelling around the incision may last about a month. You may also feel a popping or clicking sensation in your ear, or you may feel dizzy. Avoid sudden movements or jerks to your head, as these can contribute to dizziness. If you continue to feel dizzy after a few days, contact your doctor.

Before your procedure and again before you leave the hospital, ask your doctor or team about how to care for yourself at home. Some examples include:

  • What can I take for the pain?

  • Should I elevate my head while sleeping?

  • When can I drive again?

  • When can I go back to work?

  • Do I have restrictions, like not picking up anything heavy or bending over too far?

  • When can I wash my hair again?

  • Can I go under water?

  • When is my follow-up appointment?

  • What complications should I watch out for?

  • Who do I contact if anything happens before my first follow-up appointment?

Possible Complications from Cochlear Implant Surgery

Most people who receive a cochlear implant recover without any complications. However, like all surgical procedures, cochlear implants also have risks associated with either the surgical procedure or the implant itself.

Possible complications include:

  • Electrode problems, for instance if the surgeon can’t make a reliable connection with the electrodes or they move out of place

  • Infection at the surgical site

  • Meningitis. There is an increased risk of bacterial meningitis with a cochlear implant. Being fully vaccinated against pneumococcal and meningococcal meningitis is especially important with a cochlear implant. Check your medical records or with your doctor to make sure you (or your child) is vaccinated.

  • Prolonged dizziness or ringing in your ears (tinnitus)

  • Damage to the facial nerve that affects taste

Contact your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Bleeding at the incision

  • Swelling more than expected near the incision

  • Dizziness or vertigo, which is a ‘spinning’ sensation

  • Nerve-related symptoms, such as numbness or changes in taste

  • Ringing in the ears

Device Activation and Hearing!

Surgery to implant the device is only the first part of the cochlear implant program. Once your incision heals, it’s time to activate the sound processor, which will send sound waves to the implanted device. This is done during a session with an audiologist, who checks how well the device works, calibrates the device, and determines what levels of sound you should hear. This is a big day for the patient. It may be the first time the patient has heard sound. The sounds may not make sense at first, but with time, therapy and experience, you will learn what they mean.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 11
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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