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Pediatric Cochlear Implant - UNC Health in North CarolinaWhat is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a device that allows people with more severe or profound hearing losses to have access to sounds in their environment. It provides sound electrically instead of acoustically bypassing the part of the ear that is not working.

The device has two components. The inside part is placed by a surgeon. The outside part (sometimes called a processor) is programmed by an audiologist. It is worn on the ear and connects to the inside part via a magnet.

Why choose UNC for cochlear implant surgery?


UNC has been performing cochlear implant surgeries and managing cochlear implant follow-up for over 25 years and have implanted over 2000 ears. Read more about our cochlear implant numbers. Download your “Patient Guide” at the bottom of the page.

Team Approach

Our team of surgeons, audiologists, and speech language pathologists work together to provide your child the best care possible. We regularly communicate with the other professionals involved in your child’s care. This includes (but is not limited to) the early interventionists, Beginning’s coordinators, school audiologists, teachers of the deaf, and speech language pathologists.


Our speech language pathologists routinely join audiology appointments for our younger patients in those pivotal language development years. This allows us to make sure that all areas of language development are being addressed within one appointment. They also provide individual therapy sessions to get our little ones started on the right foot.


UNC is leading the way in cochlear implant research. Our team regularly presents at international, national, and statewide conferences to help further the field of cochlear implantation. To learn more about current research projects visit our UNC Cochlear Implant Clinical Research Lab page.


At UNC our goal is to provide care using the best technology available. Not only does this include the devices themselves, but also includes the way we provide care. Our virtual clinic provides multiple options to receive care remotely or closer to home.

Cochlear Implants for Children:

The Process

Consult/Evaluation: You will meet with a team of specialized professionals including an audiologist, a speech language pathologist, and a surgeon. They will evaluate your child for potential cochlear implant candidacy and discuss this device with you. These professionals will also collaborate with other professionals in the community who work with your child.

Scans: The surgeon will order scans that may include MRI or CT scan. This is done so that we can evaluate your child’s ear anatomy prior to surgery.

Device Choice: Your team will help you choose one of the three brands of cochlear implants. In some situations, your surgeon may recommend a specific device. Your team will talk to you about the different devices options and help you select the best one for your child.

Surgery: The procedure is considered outpatient and generally takes about 3 hours. The surgeon will place the inside part into the ear. The ear will then have to heal for about 2-3 weeks before activation. Your child will have a bandage that wraps around the head protecting their ear. There is also a smaller bandage called Steri-Strips or surgical glue underneath the larger bandage protecting the incision. There will be a small scar (about 2 inches) behind the ear from the incision.

Post-Surgery: Following surgery, we ask that you try to keep the larger bandage on for a few days. Some children do experience some pain after surgery. The surgeon will prescribe medication as needed. Your child also may experience some dizziness. This is very common after surgery and typically resolves on its own. Most children are able to resume typical activities after about 1 week.

Activation: About 2-3 weeks later the audiologist will see your child to active the device. This appointment will be the first time your child hears with the device. The audiologist will program the outside piece and show you how to use it. You and the audiologist will see how your child first reacts to sounds. Any reaction is normal!

Follow-up appointments: The audiologist will continue programming the device over several appointments. Over time your child will become more used to sound and start hearing better. The audiologist and speech language pathologist will work together to help your child make progress with the device.

What to Expect after cochlear implant surgery

Hearing with a cochlear implant is a process. It takes time to adjust to the different sound. Every child’s journey is different. The audiologist and speech language pathologist will help your child learn to listen with the device and begin to develop speech.

The biggest factor of success with a cochlear implant is wear time. It is important that your child wear the device all waking hours. We will be there to help you in making wear time a success!

Is my child a cochlear implant candidate?

Bilateral Hearing Loss

My child has been diagnosed with severe or profound hearing loss in one or both ears
My child doesn’t react/respond to sounds
My child doesn’t react/respond to speech
My child is struggling in school
My child is not progressing with speech/language

If you felt like one of these statements applies to you, your child may be a cochlear implant candidate. For more information contact us at (919) 419-1449 or speak with your audiologist.

Single Sided Hearing Loss

My child has severe or profound hearing loss on one side only
My child has difficulty hearing in background noise
My child is struggling in school
My child has difficulty telling where sounds are coming from

If you felt like one of these statements applies to you, your child may be a cochlear implant candidate. For more information contact us at (919) 419-1449 or speak with your audiologist.

Patient Guides

Download your Children’s Cochlear Implant guide by clicking on one of the links below.