Cochlear Implants

A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that sends sound information via electrical stimulation directly to the auditory nerve, bypassing the damaged, missing or non-functioning hair cells – the inner ear’s hearing receptors.

Also known as nerve hearing loss or sensorineural hearing loss – deafness and hearing loss caused by problems in the inner ear do not respond to traditional hearing aids. For decades, medical science had no direct treatment for people with nerve hearing loss beyond training and adaptive techniques for communicating in a world without sound, including sign language and lip reading.

Cochlear implants have revolutionized treatment of nerve hearing loss. In the years since the devices were first pioneered in the 1960s, implants have improved with significant advances in technique and technology – many the direct result of research at Mass. Eye and Ear. Today, schools for the deaf are closing as the direct result of success with cochlear implantation in children.

To access environmental sounds and speech information, a person with a cochlear implant must wear an external sound processor (either a body-worn, pager-sized model or a behind-the-ear model) and a microphone. Sound is picked up at the level of the microphone and sent to the sound processor where the sound signals are converted into digital signals. These digitized signals are then delivered to an internal electrode array that was surgically placed in the cochlea, in the inner ear. The electrode electrically stimulates hearing nerve fibers which, in turn, carry the signals to the brain where they are “heard."

Who is a candidate?

Cochlear implants are FDA approved for adults with severe or profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears who receive little or no benefit from the use of hearing aids. They are similarly approved for children 12 months of age or older who have profound hearing loss in both ears and who receive little or no benefit from hearing aids.

Cochlear implant candidates at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary undergo a thorough medical and audiologic evaluation as well as X-ray imaging (CT scan) and psychosocial evaluation. Children also have a speech/language or educational evaluation as part of the assessment process.

Each case is subject to approval by a multi-disciplinary Cochlear Implant Review Board prior to surgery. For more information regarding possible candidacy for cochlear implantation for yourself or a family member, contact the Audiology Department at 617-573-3266.

The Mass. Eye and Ear Cochlear Implant Program

The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary is equipped to manage the full range of services for adult and pediatric patients.

Individuals with cochlear implants may be seen for evaluation, device programming, maintenance and follow-up at our offices in Boston or our satellite center in Stoneham, Mass.