Frequently asked questions & Debunking Myths
Q: Are cochlear implants a type of hearing aid?
A: No, hearing aids are designed to amplify sound and still make use of the ear’s natural hearing pathway. Often when hearing aids are not enough to make sound any clearer or speech any easier to understand, a cochlear implant may help. Cochlear implants bypass the damaged part of the ear (inner and outer hair cells in the cochlea) and send the sound directly to the hearing nerve where it’s relayed on to the brain.
Q: What ear should be implanted first?
A: If you or your child are only getting one cochlear implant and need to choose what ear to implant, there are many factors to consider. Some people prefer to implant their poorer-hearing ear in order for them to continue using a hearing aid in their better-hearing ear. Others might decide to implant their better-hearing ear, hoping for a better hearing outcome. Other factors to consider include surgical considerations of each ear’s anatomy, duration of deafness in each ear and preferred handedness. The cochlear implant team will help you decide which ear is best by considering you or your child’s specific case. If the cochlear implant team feels that both ears have an equal chance of success, you may have the ultimate say in choosing which ear to implant.
Q: Can I use a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other?
A: You or your child may continue to wear a hearing aid in the non-implanted ear as this may help you or your child to hear better in noisy environments, appreciate music and assist with localization of sound. This solution is known as bimodal hearing. By continuing to stimulate the auditory pathway of the non-implanted ear, you or your child may have better outcomes with a second implant.
Q: When I wake up from a cochlear implant surgery, will I or my child be able to hear immediately
A: No, a cochlear implant consists of two parts; the internal receiver-stimulator and electrode and then the external sound processor. When you or your child wakes up from surgery, only the internal components will have been implanted and you or your child will typically have to wait another month for the wound to heal before your audiologist can fit the external sound processor. Since wearing a cochlear implant is a lifetime commitment, you or your child must return to the cochlear implant centre for a number of follow-up services, starting with the activation and programming of the implant and its speech processor; thereafter making necessary adjustments and reprogramming and annual check-ups. In addition, recipients must also undergo regular (re)habilitation sessions to help with their understanding of speech, music appreciation or telephone training.
Q: Will all my hair be shaved off for the cochlear implant surgery?
A: No, the ENT surgeon typically shaves off a very small area of hair located behind the ear (1cm to 2 cm).
Q: What does a cochlear implant sound like?
A: There is no straight forward answer as it varies for all recipients. Most commonly reported sound qualities at activation of the sound processor are described as “metallic”, “robotic”, “mechanical” or “cartoon-like”. Some recipients report they “feel” the stimulation when it is first turned on. It is very important to realize that receiving a cochlear implant is a process and that over time the sound quality will change as the brain starts to re/learn the stimulation patterns. Generally, the process of improving sound quality over time may take between six to twelve months.
Q: Will a cochlear implant fix my or my child’s ability to understand speech in a large group or noisy situation?
A: The simple answer is no. You or your child will likely still have a lot of frustration and difficulty when listening in large groups or noisy situations. However, you may find that over time your or your child’s ability to communicate in those situations will get easier as you or your child will have greater access to information and one’s brain generally learns to ignore some of the noises you don’t want to hear.
Q: Can I sleep with my cochlear implant on?
A: Although many people prefer to take off their processor at night, it is possible to sleep with the sound processor on. However additional retention options might have to be used to ensure the sound processor does not come off during your sleep time.
Q: Will I or my child be able to use assertive listening devices such as an FM system or Telecoil- neckloop with a cochlear implant?
A: Yes. All cochlear implants have internal telecoils available for use and available connectivity to FM systems, other wireless devices or Bluetooth. The Nucleus 7 sound processor is compatible with certain Apple products.
Q: Will my child outgrow the internal device and require a new one?
A: No, the cochlea is fully formed at birth and the skull structures are almost fully grown by 2 years of age. Also, the electrode array is specifically designed to accommodate skull growth in children.
Q: What are the steps to getting a cochlear implant?
A: 6 main steps:
Visit a hearing implant professional for an evaluation
Choose the right device for the person (special considerations to take into account)
The person receives surgery
The person’s implant system is activatedCare for the person’s implant system AND (re)habilitation
Q: Will a cochlear implant fix my/my child’s hearing?
A: A cochlear implant doesn’t replace the natural hearing process – it copies natural hearing. Unlike hearing aids which simply amplify sound, cochlear implants bypass the damaged part of the inner ear to stimulate the hearing nerve directly.The person will only be able to hear with the processor on the head, when you remove the processor, the person will still have a hearing impairment.
Q: If my child gets a cochlear implant, will he be stuck with that model forever? Will I need more surgery as new technology becomes available?
A: The surgically implanted part of a cochlear implant, the receiver-stimulator and the electrodes may last a lifetime. The sound processor that enables the child to hear sounds, which is worn behind the ear, can be replaced as new technology becomes available. To date, 10 generations of processors have been released.
Q: Will I/my child be able to travel on a plane?
A: Travelling on an aeroplane is safe and they can keep their processor on inside the airport and during the flight. Please refer to the Cochlear website for safety precautions when going through x-ray security.
Q: Would I/my child be able to shower or swim with a cochlear implant?
A: Yes. The surgically implanted internal receiver stimulator is placed underneath the skin, making it waterproof. The external processor traditionally is not fully waterproof however many models of external processors do have waterproofing options that can be used in the pool, bath or shower. For more information of ingress protection ratings (IP ratings) as well as waterproof accessories, please visit the Cochlear™ website.
Q: May I/my child play sports with a cochlear implant?
A: Contact sports should be avoided where possible and the only other restriction relates to skydiving and scuba diving because of the significant changes in air pressure are not advised. Participation in all other athletic activities is unrestricted, although protective headgear is always recommended.
Q: May I/my child work with Wifi devices?
A: There is no interference with the cochlear implant when using wifi, computers, cellphones etc. The latest 2 generations of processors are compatible with a range of wireless devices for easier listening in those challenging listening situations such as phone conversations, watching TV, conversations in background noise or over a distance.
Q: Could I/my child have an MRI?
A: Most Cochlear™ Nucleus® implants are safe to undergo MRI up to 1.5 Tesla with or without prior removal of the magnet, and up to 3 Tesla with the magnet removed. For more specific information and precautions, please consult a cochlear implant professional and the Cochlear™ website.
Q: If I or my child gets a cochlear implant, will he/she/I have an increased chance of being struck by lightning?
A: No. Although sound is delivered directly to the acoustic neve using electrical stimuli, this does not increase your or your child’s chance of being struck by lightning.
Q: Are cochlear implants experimental devices?
A: Cochlear implants have been used since the 1970s and several devices are currently approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CE Mark for use in children and adults. There are many recipients worldwide that are still able to hear with their 32 year old Cochlear™ implant.
Q: Is it brain surgery? What is the surgery like?
A: Cochlear implant surgery is not brain surgery. The surgeon makes a small incision behind the ear, places the implant, and closes it up. The surgery is minimally invasive and relatively simple, in most cases, you can return home later the same day (adults). The procedure alone typically takes two to four hours, with additional time allocated for preparation and recovery because the implantation is done under general anesthesia.
Q: Are there wires coming out of the skin?
A: Nothing comes out of the skin, the entire implant is under the skin and the processor connects to the implant with a magnet.
Q: Will my child be paralyzed?
A: It is a small, relatively simple and minimally invasive surgery that doesn’t involve the brain or spinal cord so there is no risk to be paralyzed.