FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions about pediatric cochlear implantation at UNC

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is severely hard of hearing or profoundly deaf.

How long have cochlear implants been available?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved cochlear implant devices for adults in 1985 and for children in 1990.

Who is eligible to receive an implant?

Adults and children who meet the criteria approved by the FDA, and are medically healthy for surgery, are candidates for a cochlear implant.

What is the surgery like?

Cochlear implant surgery takes 2 to 3 hours under general anesthesia [an-uhs-thee-zhuh]. Most patients are discharged the same day as operation. An incision is made behind the ear and a section is made in the bone to secure the implant package and to protect it. Once the mastoid bone is opened, the electrode array is placed into the cochlea. Please refer to the pre-surgery & post-surgery section of this handbook for further information.

Does a cochlear implant provide normal hearing?

No. A cochlear implant provides the sense of sound to the hearing system by electrically stimulating the remaining neural elements in the cochlea. A patient will need to learn to listen to these new sounds. Working with an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, early interventionist, or teacher of the hearing-impaired will help the child identify sounds and improve auditory skills.  Therapy and training that focuses on listening can help the child speak more clearly. Speech and language develops with time and experience. 

What outcomes can be expected from a cochlear implant?

The vast majority of patients at our center who receive cochlear implants use them successfully. However, there is a wide range of outcomes. These outcomes will be discussed with you during the evaluation process.

Should my child receive one implant or two?

All children receiving a cochlear implant through our center will begin with one cochlear implant, unless there is a medical reason for obtaining two. One implant will provide the child with access to sounds in their environment and most importantly speech. Two implants improves the ability to hear speech in noisy situations and help with localization or knowing the direction of where the sound is coming from. After some time using one cochlear implant successfully, we can discuss implanting the second ear.

How is the external transmitter held in place correctly?

Usually, the transmitter and receiver contain magnets, which attract each other to stay aligned.

Is re-implantation possible if my implant breaks?

Yes, re-implantation is almost always possible.  It may take time for the child to return to his or her previous level of hearing.  With time, hearing outcomes after re-implantation have been reported to be as good as or better than the previous device. An older implant is never removed/replaced if it is still working unless there is a decline in performance. The CI manufacturers release new outside equipment every 5 years or so. If it is not immediately compatible with your implant, the manufacturer will work to make it compatible within a few years.

Can the sound processor be removed at night?

Yes. The processor should be removed at night to let the scalp rest and to charge the processor’s batteries. The processor should be stored in a Dry-N-Store to remove moisture. 

Can I use the implant while playing sports?

Probably. Most implants are durable enough to wear while playing sports. Some devices are waterproof so you may use them in the water. Ask your audiologist if the device chosen may be used in water. Deep water diving may harm the internal implant due to the high water pressure.

What about FM?  

The use of FM or other assistive listening devices such as the Roger system should be made on a case by case basis.  The UNC pediatric program policy can be found here.  A chart showing the different FM/Roger receivers that work with each available processor can be found here.