Cochlear Implants

The Pediatric Ear, Hearing, and Balance Center at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary provides state-of-the-art multidisciplinary care for infants and children who have severe to profound hearing loss and may be candidates for a cochlear implant. We are the only center in Boston that provides both experience and expertise for all three FDA approved cochlear implants made by Advanced Bionics Corporation, Med-El Corporation, and Cochlear Corporation.

Cochlear implant candidates are seen and evaluated by a pediatric otologic surgeon, pediatric audiologist, and a speech therapist. Additionally, children who have congenital hearing loss and whose parents are interested in pursuing full developmental and genetics evaluation are referred to our colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, who can then provide state-of-the-art testing and evaluation of an infant or child who has a congenital hearing loss. This is done to ensure that there are no other conditions associated with a child’s hearing loss, as well as to determine the potential cause of the hearing loss through genetic testing.

Infants and children who are found to be cochlear implant candidates can undergo implant surgery one ear at a time, or simultaneously in both ears, based upon the family’s wishes and the child’s hearing loss status.

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is not a hearing aid. It is the most successful example of a bionic device interfacing with the human brain. It replaces the cochlea, a special sensory organ, with an implant that provides electronic sensations to the hearing nerve or auditory nerve found in the inner ear. This is the portion of the device that is surgically placed during a 1-2 hour outpatient surgery. This internally implanted device communicates wirelessly across the skin with an internally placed speech processor which has a battery, microphone, and electronics to convert sound to an electronic signal that is then transmitted via an FM antenna to the internally implanted device. If the child has profound hearing loss at birth, habilitative services as well as continued and close follow up with Audiology are absolutely important to ensure success with the cochlear implant in order to achieve speech and language skills associated with enhanced sound and speech perception with the cochlear implant.

Therefore, the cochlear implant bypasses the non-functioning hair cells of the inner ear to electrically stimulate the auditory nerve. The signal is then sent to the higher processing cells in the brain to provide enhanced sound and speech understanding.