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What Are Cochlear Implants and How Do They Help a Child’s Hearing?

Jan 31, 2019

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a device implanted into the inner ear to directly stimulate the hearing nerve. Cochlear implants may be needed when hearing aids no longer work for a child.

Placing a cochlear implant requires an outpatient surgery and your child will need to “learn” how to use the device. This typically involves training with several professionals including a team of audiologists and speech-language therapists to make sure the implant is being utilized in the best way possible.

Who can get a cochlear implant and how is that need determined?

Cochlear implants are typically utilized when hearing aids fail to provide enough hearing to support speech and language development. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates hearing aids and recognizes children with bilateral profound hearing loss 12 months and older to be candidates for cochlear implants, but some children can receive a cochlear implant below the age of 12 months.

Hearing loss is determined through a variety of tests. Depending upon the age of the child, different types of tests are recommended. For very young infants, tests that do not require patient cooperation are typical. These include auditory brainstem response testing (ABR) or otoacoustic emissions (OAEs). These tests can be administered almost immediately following birth. Behavioral tests that require patient cooperation can be performed as early as 6-8 months of age. These rely on a learned (conditioned) response to certain (sound) stimuli.

The candidacy process also involves an evaluation with an otolaryngologist (ENT physician) as well as special x-rays to evaluate the anatomy of the inner ear and auditory system. This helps determine the underlying cause of the hearing loss and ensure that a cochlear implant is the best treatment available.

What to expect after surgery? What to expect long-term?

The cochlear implant will be activated a few weeks after surgery. After that, the child will work closely with their audiologist to have the cochlear implant adjusted to the best settings. They may also work with other specialists, such as speech language therapists. These therapies will help the cochlear implant to function at its best. Commonly, hearing with the cochlear implant will continue to improve up to a year as the child adjusts to the device.

When implanted early (around 12 months old), cochlear implants have the ability to allow hearing impaired children to develop normal or near normal speech and spoken language. These are the main goals of restoring hearing with a cochlear implant.

For more information about the Hearing Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

Featured Expert

Doctor Profile
Oliver Adunka, MD, FACS
Ear, Nose and Throat (Otolaryngology)

Oliver Adunka, MD, FACS, specializes in otology, neurotology and lateral skull base surgery and shares his time between The Department of Otolaryngology at The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children's Hospital as full professor, the Division Director for Otology, Neurotology, and Cranial Base Surgery and the Director of the University's Hearing Program.

Jameson Mattingly, MD
Neurotology Fellow, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Jameson Mattingly, MD is currently the Otology/Neurotology fellow at The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He completed his residency in Otolaryngology at the University of Colorado. His clinical and research interests include hearing devices, mainly cochlear implants, and balance disorders.

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700 Children’s features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.