Are You a Candidate for a Cochlear Implant?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Young woman with cochlear implant
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If you’re deaf or very hard-of-hearing, you may want to consider a cochlear implant. The small device can help people with severe hearing loss understand speech and other sounds.

Cochlear implants aren’t right for everyone, and getting one is an important decision. Part of the device must be surgically inserted behind the ear. You will most likely wear the implant for life. And some people have better results than others. If you’re interested in a cochlear implant, here’s what you need to know.  

Cochlear implants help when the inner ear is damaged.

Cochlear implants are for people with severe hearing problems that don’t benefit from hearing aids. This type of hearing loss occurs when the hairs of the inner ear—or cochlea—are damaged. 

A cochlear implant works by bypassing the damaged part of the ear. Instead, the implant sends sound signals straight to the auditory nerve. This is the nerve leading from the ear to the brain.

You will need to undergo testing for cochlear implants.

Before moving forward with a cochlear implant, you may need several tests. Your primary care doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist—or ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor—for testing. 

The following steps help you and your doctor determine if you are a candidate for a cochlear implant:

  • An ear exam to make sure your ears are normal and you don’t have an infection

  • Hearing checks, such as tests to see how well you understand speech

  • Scans to look at the structures of the middle and inner ear

  • Trying a hearing aid to see how well it works for you

Not everyone responds to cochlear implants.

Some people don’t notice much of a difference with a cochlear implant. Others experience significant hearing improvement. The people who tend to have the best results:

  • Are motivated and dedicated to learning how to use the implant

  • Became deaf after they developed speech and language skills

  • Have been deaf for a short period of time

  • Have severe hearing trouble in both ears

No test or screening before the surgery can say how well you will be able to hear with the implant. So it’s important to work closely with your doctor both before and after implantation to get the best results.

There are other factors to consider.

As you weigh the pros and cons of cochlear implants, consider the following:

  • Cost. The surgery, follow-up care, and replacement parts can be expensive. The average cost for the procedure is more than $40,000. Most insurance companies cover cochlear implants. But you may be responsible for copays and deductibles.

  • Surgical risks. Cochlear implant surgeries are almost always safe. All surgeries carry the risk of complications, however. Ask your doctor about any risks the surgery would pose for you. Also, ask about complications the surgeon has encountered and how they were resolved.

  • Time. After the surgery, you will need to learn how to interpret the sounds you hear. An audiologist or speech-language pathologist can help. The process may take several months.

Before you decide to get a cochlear implant, consult with a hearing specialist or cochlear implant surgeon about the procedure. Start your search on Healthgrades.com for a cochlear implant surgeon near you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 16
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