What happens when a child gets a cochlear implant?

What happens when a child gets a cochlear implant?

When it comes to hearing loss in children, the earlier we identify a problem, the better. Early detection allows providers to develop individualized treatment plans that help children develop speech and language skills similar to their peers.

A cochlear implant is one treatment option that works well for many patients. The device is surgically implanted under the skin and guided into the cochlea, the part of the ear that generates nerve impulses as a response to sound vibrations.

Generally, a child is a candidate for a cochlear implant if they are:
  • Older than 9 months with bilateral profound sensorineural hearing loss (inability to hear most sounds).
  • 5 years of age and older and experiencing single-sided deafness (SSD). Increasingly, we are performing cochlear implant surgery in younger children who have single-sided deafness, significantly improving speech and language acquisition.

Before a child is approved for a cochlear implant, their hearing ability is evaluated through hearing tests, speech and language assessments and medical imaging. If a cochlear implant is deemed an appropriate option, we perform the procedure, which takes a few hours under general anesthesia. During the implantation, an audiologist performs testing to confirm the device is working properly. Recovery varies but typically takes a few days to one week. During that time, patients may experience mild pain, nausea or dizziness.

About three weeks after surgery, an audiologist will turn the device on to allow access to sound. After this activation, the child may require additional appointments with an audiologist to customize the device to their needs. A cochlear implant can be paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth for further customization.

The cochlear implant consists of internal components – an electrode surgically placed into the cochlea connecting to a device underneath the scalp. The child wears an external sound processor that magnetically connects to the internal parts. The device is easy to wear and can even be made waterproof for swimming. Cochlear implants are designed to last many years, though it is possible replacement will be required during a child’s lifetime. A childhood with a cochlear implant can look very normal and is a great option to help children interact fully with their environment using all senses.

Dr. Rebecca Compton is a pediatric otolaryngologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

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Dr. Rebecca Compton

Dr. Rebecca Compton is an otolaryngologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital.