A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve (nerve for hearing). The implant has external and internal parts.
The external part sits behind the ear. It picks up sounds with a microphone. It then processes the sound and transmits it to the internal part of the implant.
The internal part is placed under the skin behind the ear during an outpatient surgery. A thin wire and small electrodes lead to the cochlea, which is part of the inner ear. The wire sends signals to the cochlear nerve, which sends sound information to the brain to produce a hearing sensation. Although normal hearing is not restored, with appropriate therapy and practice, the improved hearing experience can mean an increased awareness of sounds in the environment, as well as better communication through easier lip reading and listening.
A cochlear implant may help someone with hearing loss restore or improve the ability to hear and understand speech. A cochlear implant is different than a hearing aid. A hearing aid makes sounds louder but may not significantly improve speech understanding. When a person struggles to understand speech, even with appropriately fitted hearing aids, a cochlear implant should be considered. When the device is tuned appropriately and the recipient is committed to rehabilitation therapy, the -cochlear implant can significantly increase hearing in adults. Cochlear implants in infants and toddlers may help them listen and learn to speak.