Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices that provide hearing to patients with moderate to severe hearing loss. They are used when hearing aids are no longer adequate to obtain quality hearing, especially for communication.

Our Capabilities

As a national pioneer in cochlear implantation, we have extensive experience treating advanced hearing loss and offer device expertise for all three manufacturers. Our patient-driven support group, one of the largest in the country, is comprised of volunteers.

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Our Otology & Neurotology subspecialists bring their advanced training and expertise in neurologic and structural disorders of the ear to diagnose and treat every patient. At UC Health, our team works closely with neurosurgeons to deliver leading-edge procedures to treat even the most complex conditions.

To schedule an appointment, please call the UC Health Otology & Neurotology team at 513-475-8400. For cochlear implant or bone-anchored hearing aid appointments, you can reach us at

At UC Health, we understand how critical hearing is to your life. Our Audiology experts deliver world-class care with deep compassion to diagnose and treat hearing loss and hearing conditions. We were the first in Greater Cincinnati to pioneer cochlear implants — and our innovative techniques have only grown since then.

To schedule an appointment, please call the UC Health Audiology team at 513-475-8453.


Understanding Cochlear Implants

Transforming Lives with Advanced Hearing Solutions

Hearing is a vital sense that connects us to the world, enabling communication and enhancing our ability to interact with our surroundings. Unfortunately, millions of individuals globally face the challenges of hearing loss, a condition that can significantly impact every aspect of daily life, from personal relationships to professional opportunities. 

Among the various solutions available, cochlear implants stand out as a beacon of hope for those who have not found relief with traditional hearing aids. Unlike conventional devices that amplify sound, cochlear implants do more than just increase sound volume. They transform the way sound is processed, offering a new avenue for clearer understanding and communication. 

This innovative technology has the potential to profoundly change lives, opening up a world of sounds to people who have lived in silence or muffled hearing for too long. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the journey from understanding hearing loss to embracing the life-changing benefits of cochlear implants, offering insights and information every step of the way.

Understanding Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a complex condition with various forms, each affecting individuals in unique ways. At its core, hearing loss can be categorized into three main types: sensorineural, conductive, and mixed. Sensorineural hearing loss, the most common type, occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Factors such as aging, exposure to loud noise, and certain medical conditions can lead to this type of hearing impairment.

Conductive hearing loss, on the other hand, arises when sound waves are prevented from reaching the inner ear, usually due to obstructions or malformations in the outer or middle ear. Conditions like ear infections, fluid in the middle ear, or abnormal bone growth can be culprits. Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive issues, offering a dual challenge to effective hearing.

The impact of moderate to severe/profound hearing loss extends far beyond the inability to hear soft sounds. It can hinder one's ability to understand speech clearly, even in quiet environments, and significantly disrupt communication. The ripple effects can be felt in every aspect of life, from strained social interactions to missed opportunities in education and employment.

At the heart of our hearing capability is the inner ear, also known as the cochlea, which works alongside the auditory nerve to translate sound waves into electrical signals that the brain can interpret. When these critical components are damaged or impaired, the clarity of sound and speech is compromised, leading to the challenges many with hearing loss face.

What Are Cochlear Implants?

Cochlear implants are a marvel of modern medicine and technology, offering hope and a renewed sense of hearing to those with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. These devices differ fundamentally from hearing aids. While hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears, cochlear implants bypass the damaged portions of the ear to directly stimulate the auditory nerve, allowing for a form of hearing that's closer to natural auditory processes.

A cochlear implant consists of two main parts: an external component that sits behind the ear and an internal component that is surgically implanted under the skin. The external part includes a microphone, which picks up sounds such as speech; a speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone; and a transmitter, which sends the processed sound signals to the internal implant. The internal component, the actual cochlear implant, is a small electronic device that receives signals from the transmitter and converts them into electrical impulses. These impulses are then sent to the auditory nerve, providing the sensation of sound.

How do cochlear implants work? 

The process begins with the external microphone picking up sound, which is then transformed into a digital signal by the speech processor. This signal is transmitted across the skin via the transmitter to the internal implant. The implant's electrodes directly stimulate the auditory nerve, bypassing the damaged parts of the inner ear, and send these signals to the brain, which interprets them as sound.

This direct stimulation of the auditory nerve is what sets cochlear implants apart from other hearing devices. It's a sophisticated process that enables individuals with profound hearing loss to perceive sounds differently, often allowing them to understand speech without relying on lip-reading or sign language.

The Journey to Cochlear Implantation

Embarking on the path to cochlear implantation is a significant step for individuals with severe to profound hearing loss. This journey begins with understanding who can benefit from cochlear implants and proceeds through a detailed evaluation process to ensure the best outcomes for each candidate.

Who Can Benefit?

Cochlear implants are designed for those for whom traditional hearing aids provide little to no benefit. This typically includes individuals with sensorineural hearing loss in one or both ears and have reduced clarity in understanding speech. Candidates often have profound hearing loss in one or both ears and struggle to understand speech, even with the best-fitted hearing aids.

The Evaluation Process

The process to determine candidacy for a cochlear implant is thorough, involving specialized auditory tests as well as a medical examination. Potential candidates undergo detailed hearing assessments to evaluate the extent of hearing loss and its impact on their ability to understand speech. A comprehensive medical evaluation ensures that the individual is safe for cochlear implantation, considering the entire health picture beyond just hearing issues.

A key part of the evaluation involves consultations with a cochlear implant team—a multidisciplinary group that typically includes audiologists, surgeons, and other specialists. This team works together to assess the potential benefits and risks for each individual, ensuring that candidates have realistic expectations about the outcomes of the implantation.

Preparing for Surgery

Once deemed a suitable candidate, individuals and their families are guided through the preparation for cochlear implant surgery. This preparation involves discussions about the surgical procedure, what to expect during the recovery phase, and how to plan for life with the implant. It's a collaborative process, with ample opportunity for candidates to ask questions and express any concerns they might have.

Education plays a crucial role at this stage, with candidates learning about the technological aspects of the implant, the importance of post-operative hearing rehabilitation, and the commitment required to achieve the best possible hearing outcomes. The goal is to ensure that candidates feel informed and supported as they prepare to take this transformative step.

The Cochlear Implant Surgery

Cochlear implant surgery is a pivotal moment in the journey toward improved hearing. It's a procedure that holds the promise of connecting individuals to the world of sound more effectively than ever before. Understanding the surgery and what follows is crucial for candidates and their families.

Overview of the Surgical Procedure

The surgery to implant the cochlear device is typically performed under general anesthesia and takes about two to three hours. The operation involves making a small incision behind the ear to access the mastoid bone. The surgeon then creates a small space within the mastoid bone to place the internal component of the cochlear implant.

One of the remarkable aspects of this surgery is its minimal invasiveness compared to the profound impact it can have on a person's life. As an outpatient procedure, most patients can return home the same day and resume normal activities soon after

Recovery and What to Expect

The recovery period for cochlear implant surgery is relatively short. Patients might experience mild discomfort and dizziness in the initial days but these symptoms typically subside quickly. The external part of the cochlear implant, including the microphone, speech processor, and transmitter, is usually activated a few weeks after surgery to allow the surgical site to heal.

It's important for patients to follow their surgeon's advice closely during this period. This includes taking prescribed medications, keeping the surgical area clean and dry, and avoiding strenuous activities that might affect the implant site.

Importance of Follow-up Visits and Adjustments

Following surgery, a series of follow-up visits are scheduled to monitor the healing process, activate the cochlear implant system, and make necessary adjustments to the speech processor. These visits are essential for optimizing the settings of the implant according to the unique needs of each patient.

The activation process involves fine-tuning the implant's settings to ensure the recipient can hear sounds as effectively as possible. This phase may require patience and adjustment, as the brain learns to interpret the new signals it is receiving as sound. Support from healthcare providers, family, and friends is crucial during this time.

Life with Cochlear Implants

Receiving a cochlear implant is more than just a surgical procedure; it's the beginning of a new chapter in life for individuals with moderate to severe/profound hearing loss. This section sheds light on the activation of cochlear implants, the rehabilitation process, and the inspiring stories of transformation that follow.

Activation and Tuning of the Cochlear Implant

A few weeks post-surgery, the cochlear implant is ready to be activated. This moment is often filled with anticipation and emotion, as it marks the first time recipients will hear sound through the implant. The external components—the microphone, speech processor, and transmitter—are adjusted by an audiologist to fine-tune the device according to the user's auditory responses.

This tuning process is vital for ensuring that the implant works optimally for the recipient. It typically involves several sessions where the speech processor's settings are adjusted to match the individual's hearing preferences and needs. These adjustments are crucial for maximizing the clarity of sound and speech recognition.

The Importance of Rehabilitation and Therapy

Adapting to a cochlear implant involves more than just physical healing; it requires auditory rehabilitation. This process helps recipients learn or relearn how to interpret the sounds transmitted by the implant. Through specialized therapy and training, individuals work on improving their speech recognition and communication skills.

Rehabilitation is a personalized journey, varying in length and intensity based on the recipient's age, previous hearing experience, and specific needs. It often includes speech therapy, auditory training, and sometimes, counseling to adjust to the new way of hearing. The support of family, friends, and professionals is pivotal during this transformative period.

Stories of Transformation

The journey with cochlear implants is filled with stories of remarkable transformation. Individuals who once lived in a world of muffled sounds and silence find themselves rediscovering the joy of sound. From the laughter of loved ones to the subtleties of nature's whispers, cochlear implants open up a rich tapestry of auditory experiences.

These stories are not just about the return of sound; they're about the restoration of confidence, independence, and the deep human connection that comes with communication. They underscore the profound impact that cochlear implants can have on an individual's quality of life, offering hope and a renewed sense of possibility.

The Advantages and Considerations

Cochlear implants have transformed the lives of many, offering unparalleled benefits in terms of hearing and communication. However, as with any medical procedure, it's essential to weigh these benefits against the potential risks and considerations. This holistic view ensures that individuals make informed decisions tailored to their unique situations.

Advantages of Cochlear Implants

The primary benefit of cochlear implants lies in their ability to provide a sense of sound to individuals with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss, for whom traditional hearing aids offer limited help. Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Improved Speech Understanding: Cochlear implants often result in significant improvements in the ability to understand speech, even in noisy environments. This enhancement is crucial for effective communication and can dramatically improve quality of life.
  • Access to a Wider Range of Sounds: Recipients can experience sounds they may not have heard before or haven't heard for a long time, including music, nature sounds, and the nuances of different voices.
  • Increased Independence: With better hearing, individuals can feel more confident in social situations, workplaces, and public settings, leading to increased independence and participation.
  • Educational and Professional Opportunities: Children and adults with cochlear implants may find it easier to engage in educational activities, pursue career goals, and achieve academic and professional success.

Considerations and Potential Risks

While cochlear implants offer numerous benefits, there are also considerations and potential risks to bear in mind:

  • Surgical Risks: As with any surgery, there's a risk of complications, though serious complications are rare. Potential risks include infection, nerve damage, and issues related to anesthesia.
  • Adjustment Period: Adapting to a cochlear implant can take time. Sounds may initially seem unusual or artificial, requiring a period of adjustment and auditory training.
  • Maintenance and Care: Cochlear implants require ongoing maintenance, including regular check-ups and adjustments. The external components must be cared for properly to ensure optimal performance.
  • Financial Considerations: The cost of cochlear implantation, including the surgery, device, and rehabilitation, can be significant. While insurance may cover some of the cost, financial planning is crucial for many families.

Making an Informed Decision

Deciding to proceed with cochlear implantation is a deeply personal decision that should be made after careful consideration of the benefits and potential challenges. Consulting with healthcare professionals, connecting with cochlear implant recipients, and considering personal lifestyle and goals are all essential steps in making an informed choice.

Advances and Future Directions

The field of cochlear implants is one marked by rapid advancements and an ever-evolving understanding of how we can enhance the human experience of sound. These developments not only promise to improve the efficacy of existing implants but also to expand the possibilities for those considering this life-changing technology.

Ongoing Clinical Trials and Research

The pursuit of excellence in cochlear implant technology is ceaseless, with clinical trials and research efforts focused on every aspect of the experience. From refining the clarity of sound to minimizing surgical invasiveness, researchers are dedicated to advancing the science of hearing restoration. Innovations in signal processing and electrode design aim to provide users with more naturalistic hearing experiences, potentially enabling a greater appreciation of music and complex auditory environments.

Unilateral Cochlear Implants and Their Benefits

In 2019 the cochlear implant was FDA approved for treatment of unilateral hearing loss and asymmetrical hearing loss. This expanded indication for Cochlear Implants opens an additional option for this patient population. This is an area that has been researched extensively.  The potential benefits of unilateral cochlear implants include improved localization, and improved hearing in quiet and in noise. The benefit of a cochlear implant over other current treatments for SSD is a direct result of treating the profound hearing loss ear.  

Bilateral Cochlear Implants and Their Benefits

A significant area of development is the use of bilateral cochlear implants, where implants are placed in both ears. This approach has shown promise in enhancing spatial hearing abilities, improving the ability to localize sound, and facilitating better understanding in noisy environments. The synchronization of auditory input from both ears offers a more balanced and effective hearing experience, closely mimicking natural binaural hearing.

Looking to the Future

As we look to the future, the potential for integrating smart technology with cochlear implants opens new avenues for user interaction and personalization. Developments in artificial intelligence could lead to implants that adapt in real-time to the acoustic environment, optimizing the listening experience for each user. Moreover, the exploration of gene therapy and regenerative medicine offers hope for even more fundamental solutions to hearing loss.

Help Along the Way

Answers to Your Cochlear Implant Questions

A cochlear implant works by converting sound waves to electrical signals, allowing the cells in the cochlea (hearing organ) to directly process sound. This helps improve communication through better word understanding and speech clarity. 

The procedure is performed under general anesthesia in the operating room and takes two to three hours. Patients will have a 2–3 inch scar along the back of the ear, about one finger away from the external ear (pinna). 

Patients may experience mild to moderate pain after surgery. Most people are able to go home the same day or before lunch the next day if no complications arise.

A cochlear implant bypasses damaged parts of the ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve, allowing individuals with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss to receive sound signals.

The implant converts sounds into electrical impulses that the brain interprets as sound, enabling the recipient to perceive sounds differently than with natural hearing.

Cochlear implants aren't inherently bad, but like any medical procedure, they carry risks and are not suitable for everyone.

Some concerns include the surgical risks, the permanence of the change to the structure of the ear, and the varying outcomes for recipients.

There's also debate within the Deaf community about the cultural implications of cochlear implants, as some view them as an unnecessary intervention into a natural way of life.

Initially, recipients may describe the sound from a cochlear implant as mechanical, beeping, or robotic. Over time, as one adapts, these sounds can become more natural. Each person's experience is unique, and the brain gradually learns to interpret the signals as more familiar sounds.

The external components of a cochlear implant, like the processor, may need to be replaced every few years due to wear and tear. The internal components are designed to last a lifetime, although some individuals may require a replacement due to technical failures or upgrades in technology.

Cochlear implants do not work for everyone. Success depends on various factors including the cause of deafness, the age of implantation, and the user's auditory memory, among others. They are most effective for individuals with sensorineural hearing loss who have not benefited from conventional hearing aids.

Cochlear implants are controversial primarily within the Deaf community, as some members feel the implants undermine Deaf culture and sign language. There are ethical debates about implanting children who are too young to make their own choice and concerns about societal pressures to conform to hearing norms.

Yes, you can swim with a cochlear implant, but precautions are necessary. The external processor needs to be waterproof or removed before swimming. There are special waterproof covers available for the processors, allowing users to hear while in the water.

Are Cochlear Implants Waterproof?

The internal component of a cochlear implant is sealed and waterproof. However, the external processor is not typically waterproof unless it is a model specifically designed to be water-resistant or it is housed in a waterproof case.

It's generally advised to wait at least two weeks before flying after cochlear implant surgery to allow time for any swelling to go down and to reduce the risk of discomfort or complications due to changes in air pressure. However, patients should always follow their surgeon's specific advice.

Why UC Health

Experience and Expertise

Years of Experience

UC Health has helped improve the quality of life for thousands of patients since 1994 with cochlear implant surgery and therapy.

Highly Successful

More than 90% of our cochlear implant patients report improved quality of life following surgery, and most have improved communication in social situations.

Leaders in Innovation

We’re one of only in the region to provide adult cochlear implants and the only one with hearing preservation techniques. We also rank in the top 10 programs in the U.S. and are active in clinical trials, offering patients the latest technology.

Comprehensive Care

Our team of experts includes surgeons, physicians, audiologists, speech-language pathologists and auditory rehabilitation professionals, all working together to ensure world-class care and only the best results.

Partner with Us

Referring Physicians

We are committed to providing optimal care to patients by collaborating with healthcare professionals throughout our community and provide several avenues for patient referrals and easy access for referring physicians and clinicians to consult with UC Health specialists.

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At UC Health, we lead the region in scientific discoveries and embrace a spirit of purpose – offering our patients and their families something beyond everyday healthcare. At UC Health, we offer hope.