Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants are designed to help patients with severe to profound hearing loss who no longer benefit from conventional hearing aids. When patients have a sensorineural hearing loss (nerve loss) hearing aids are usually used to improve hearing. Hearing aids do have limitations and if the hearing loss progresses to the point where the patient no longer benefits, a cochlear implant may be considered.

Wichita Ear Clinic began their cochlear implant program in 1987.

Kansas First Cochlear ImplantWichita Ear Clinic began their cochlear implant program in 1987 when we implanted the first recipient in the state of Kansas. We have implanted individuals ranging in age from infants to geriatrics. Our Cochlear Implant Team consists of 2 neurotologists, 2 audiologists and a speech language pathologist (SLP). Wichita Ear Clinic is proud to work with two major cochlear implant manufacturers: Advanced Bionics and Cochlear Nucleus.

Wichita Ear Clinic will support you throughout the process from pre-surgical evaluation to post-surgical rehabilitation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant consists of a speech processor, which is worn on or near the ear and an internal electrode, which is implanted surgically. The speech processor captures sound with a microphone and then converts these sounds to electric impulses. The internal electrode receives the impulses and sends them to the hearing nerve, bypassing damaged hair cells in the inner ear. These signals are then sent to the brain and interpreted as sound.

A cochlear implant does not restore your normal hearing. However, a majority of cochlear implant users experience an increase in their ability to understand speech and report an improved quality of life.

How is a cochlear implant different from a hearing aid?

Hearing aids amplify sound and rely on the natural anatomy (ear canal, tympanic membrane, ear bones and inner ear) to transmit sound to the hearing nerve and auditory portion of the brain. A cochlear implant is an implanted device coupled to an external sound processor that bypasses the anatomy of the ear to deliver electrical impulses to the hearing nerve directly.

Am I a candidate for a cochlear implant?

You may be a candidate for a cochlear implant if your speech understanding is less than 50% while wearing hearing aids. To determine if you are a cochlear implant candidate, we recommend having a cochlear implant evaluation.

We will perform a comprehensive hearing assessment both with and without amplification.

After testing is completed, you will meet with an audiologist who will tell you about your options and show you the different types of processors from each cochlear implant company. You will also meet with a Speech Language Pathologist who may assess cognitive function. The audiologist and SLP will also help you establish realistic expectations for your results and answer any questions you may have.

You will also need to meet with a neurotologist (ear surgeon/specialist) who will give you an otologic exam, discuss the surgery, answer questions, and order and review a CT scan.

Occasionally, you will be required to obtain medical clearance from your general practitioner or other specialists you see in order to verify you are healthy enough for surgery.

How well will I hear with a cochlear implant?

There is a broad range of experience for cochlear implant users. Generally patients experience better hearing and understanding of words and sentences spoken to them. Often hearing in background noise is also improved. Some implant users will only have improved awareness of environmental sounds while others will be able to have conversations in background noise with little difficulty. Several factors will impact your results such as the cause of your hearing loss, the length of time you have had a hearing loss, your age, your motivation to hear better, the amount of time you wear the cochlear implant, practice/rehab time and the support of your family and friends. Implantation is only the beginning of your journey towards improved hearing. Success requires a commitment to the process. Your Cochlear Implant Team will be able to give you an idea of your projected outcome at your cochlear implant evaluation.

Are cochlear implants for children?

Yes! Children can be implanted as young as 12 months old. There are four important factors that help to determine the outcome for implanted children.

  1. Age at onset of deafness and duration of deafness before implantation.
  2. Progression of hearing loss.
  3. Educational setting.
  4. Support system at home.

Generally, earlier implantation favors more rapid development of oral (listening and speaking) communication ability. Children with progressive hearing loss, which allows for the development of speech reading skills and sometimes speech, generally do very well with a cochlear implant. Placement in a school setting that stresses oral communication is also important for a good outcome. It is important that children have a collaborative team including their parents and caregivers, cochlear implant audiologist, school audiologist, and speech language pathologist to ensure the best possible hearing outcomes for our young cochlear implant patients.

Tell me more about surgery.

Cochlear implant surgery is performed under general anesthesia through an incision behind the ear and involves opening the mastoid (bony area behind the ear) and middle ear. Surgery lasts about 2 to 2 ½ hours. Typically, your hair will need to be shaved above and behind the ear.

A coil (internal receiver) is embedded under the skin behind the ear and a wire (active electrode) is placed into the fluid filled cochlea (inner ear). Residual hearing in the implanted ear may be lost. Hearing in the opposite ear is not affected.

You are usually discharged from the hospital the day of the surgery or after a night in the hospital.

One ear or two?

If both ears are equally impaired, implantation of the ear with the shorter duration of deafness is encouraged. The choice of which ear to implant is ultimately up to the patient. The neurotologist and audiologist will also make recommendations based on speech scores and the CT results.

Some insurance will allow for bilateral implantation. Prior authorization will be required to determine your specific benefit.

What will happen after surgery?

One week after surgery you will return to the doctor’s office for post-op follow up. The ear will then be allowed to heal for three to four weeks (your surgeon will determine the specific time frame) prior to turning the implant on.

What is meant by Initial Stimulation?

Initial stimulation means the first time your speech processor is turned on, approximately 2-4 weeks after surgery. At the initial stimulation, you will be fit with the external speech processor. The internal implant will be tested and the speech processor will be programmed. Initially the sound will be very artificial and voices may sound robotic or like a cartoon character. With time, practice, and further programming, the sound quality will improve. At the initial appointment, the care and use of the speech processor will be explained along with any accessories you may have chosen.

Why do I need to return for programming?

Programming the implant is a complicated process done in the office using a computer to adjust the electrical impulses the cochlear implant sends to the hearing nerve. Programming is very important to “fine tune” the processor as your brain begins to understand the new signals. To properly program the implant several appointments are needed, especially during the first six months. You will discuss this timeline with your audiologist but at minimum you will need to return once a year for follow up once the initial programming period has been completed.

Why is it important to practice listening with my cochlear implant?

It is very important to wear the speech processor daily and to interact with people in order to train your brain to recognize sounds and understand speech through the speech processor. Your audiologist and SLP may recommend reading out loud or using a computer program. Aural rehabilitation is usually completed in 2-6 months, but many patients continue to improve in using the implant for up to 12 months. You will work with the SLP to ensure you are getting enough practice using the speech processor.

Will I be able to hear on the telephone?

A large percentage of cochlear implant users can hear on the telephone. Many cochlear implant users successfully use blue tooth streaming devices or a voice captioned telephone like Caption Call® so that they can read the message and hear the voice at the same time.

Will a cochlear implant fix tinnitus or ringing in my ears?

Severe tinnitus may be decreased by the implant but it can also remain unchanged. Rarely tinnitus is worse. If this is a concern, please discuss it with your neurotologist and audiologist.

Which cochlear implant is the most reliable?