What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a device that may restore some hearing for people with substantial sensorineural hearing loss, a type caused by problems in the inner ear. During surgery, the device is implanted into the inner ear. Research indicates that cochlear implantation gives patients with severe to profound hearing loss access to sounds and speech and that it improves quality of life.

A cochlear implant is made up of internal and external parts. The receiver/stimulator is implanted in the temporal bone behind the ear, and the electrode array is placed in the cochlea of the inner ear. The device also includes the speech/sound processor, which is worn behind the ear. The sound processor converts speech and sounds into electrical energy. The implant directly stimulates the hearing nerve.

How is a cochlear implant different from a hearing aid?

A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. The implant is appropriate for people for whom hearing aids don’t help.

A hearing aid makes sounds louder. Sound still travels through all the portions of the ear (outer ear, middle ear, inner ear) to the hearing nerve. A cochlear implant bypasses these structures and directly stimulates the hearing nerve with electrical energy.

Because hearing aids amplify sounds and rely on the hearing system to convey the message, people with severe to profound hearing loss may be able to hear, but not understand speech well. The main objective of a cochlear implant is to stimulate the hearing nerve directly to improve hearing and speech understanding. Clarity with a cochlear implant is usually better than a hearing aid because the implant does not make sounds louder but delivers them to the hearing nerve.