What Is a Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that helps those who are profoundly deaf or have severe hearing loss to interpret sounds and understand speech. They do not restore hearing, nor do they work in the same manner as hearing aids do.

The implant provides a sense of sound to a person through internal and external parts that work together to bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The signals made by the implant are sent to the brain, which then interprets the sound.

How Do Cochlear Implants Work?

Cochlear implants require both surgery and intense therapy in order to be effective.

The implant itself is made up of four different parts, both external and internal:


  • A microphone to pick up sounds from the environment
  • A speech processor (computer) that creates sound signals and sends them to a transmitter
  • A transmitter worn above the ear that sends the signal to the surgically implanted internal receiver/stimulator


  • A receiver/stimulator that receives signals from the processor and converts them into electric impulses
  • An electrode array that takes the signals and sends them to the auditory nerve, stimulating it; from there the transmitted information is sent to the brain to interpret the signals into meaningful information


Who Gets Cochlear Implants?

Children (12 months and older) and adults can benefit from cochlear implants if:

  • They have moderate (understanding speech is difficult in background noise) to profound hearing loss (only some loud noises can be heard) in both ears
  • They have profound hearing loss in one ear
  • Hearing aids are found to be ineffective
  • They score 65% or less on sentence recognition tests done by a hearing professional

A cochlear implant requires invasive surgery, so candidacy is based on a strict set of requirements agreed upon by the manufacturer, the ENT physician, and the doctor of audiology. A cochlear implant is a good option for a patient who cannot benefit from traditional hearing instruments alone. One caveat: Patients might state that they get little benefit from hearing devices when, in actuality, their devices are poorly fit or in need of an update.

How Do Cochlear Implants Work?

I’ve heard some pretty unbelievable things about cochlear implants — are they true?

You hear perfectly as soon as your cochlear implant is activated.

FALSE! Success with a cochlear implant takes patience, rehabilitation, and time. The average length of time for acclimatization is 6 to 18 months.

A BAHA (bone-anchored hearing aid) and a cochlear implant are the same thing.

FALSE! Although they are both implantable devices, a BAHA is specifically for single-sided deafness or conductive hearing loss, whereas a cochlear implant treats sensorineural hearing loss.

The external part of the cochlear implant is gigantic.

FALSE! We’ve come a long way. The Kanso2 (a type of cochlear processor) is a mere inch and a half wide and hides underneath the hair. The Nucleus 7 processor is larger, but patients always have a choice in the implant’s style.

A patient can be cured of true deafness with an implant.

TRUE! For the appropriate candidate, a cochlear implant can restore functional hearing. It does take a lot of effort for both the patient and the audiologist, but with determination, hearing is possible for most.


What kinds of questions do you ask people who are interested in a cochlear implant?

  • Have you worn a hearing aid before?
  • Was the hearing aid purchased from a professional?
  • How old are your hearing aids?
  • How much do you know about a cochlear implant?
  • Have you ever had a hearing test?

The ideal cochlear implant candidate has an established relationship with a clinical audiologist who is familiar with their hearing journey so far. Contact us today if you suspect you need a hearing test!

Ready to Begin Your Journey to Better Hearing?

Contact our hearing professionals today to begin.

Request an Appointment