Cochlear Implants in Children 

Hill family photo with Suskind

The pediatric cochlear implant program at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital has the tools to deliver comprehensive care for children who are need cochlear implants. A safe and proven surgical treatment, cochlear implants teach your child to hear by transmitting sound beyond the damaged portion of the ear.

Our dedicated cochlear implant team is made up of surgeons, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, auditory-verbal therapists, child life specialists, a social worker, a geneticist, a developmental pediatrician, a psychologist and an education consultant, and together, we make sure each step of the process is executed successfully.

Our primary goal is to represent the best interest of your child. We are experts in determining if a cochlear implant is the best choice or if another alternative would serve your child better. To decide the best treatment plan for your child, we thoroughly evaluate his or her’s health and hearing.

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a safe, FDA-approved surgical device that transmits sound past the damaged part of the cochlea, enabling children with hearing loss to hear in a new way. The internal transmitter portion — the implant — is positioned within the cochlea. The external portion — the processor — is worn on the child’s outer ear. The processor picks up sounds with microphones and sends them to the implant using a magnet, which then stimulates the hearing nerve directly.

Who is a candidate for cochlear implants?

Cochlear implants are not for everyone. To know whether a cochlear implant may be right for your child, we first need to know the extent of his or her hearing loss. Children with mild to moderate hearing loss are not candidates for cochlear implants. Hearing aids and other forms of amplification can usually help those patients. Cochlear implants are used to help children who have severe sensorineural hearing loss who get little or no benefit from hearing aids.

The earlier your child receives an implant, the greater the potential is that he/she will develop listening/speaking skills at the same level as their peers who have no hearing loss. Our multidisciplinary cochlear implant team has the ability and resources to help your child make as much progress as possible with listening/speaking skills.

Finally, for your child to be successful with their cochlear implant, your family must make this strong commitment together. We know that you are the most important part of the process for any child.

If you are considering this treatment for your child, there are many families with children have had cochlear implants at Comer Children’s that would be happy to share their experiences with you during your decision-making process.

Frequently Asked Questions: Cochlear Implant Surgery

Initial evaluation is done on an outpatient basis. It is noninvasive and usually takes several hours.

Our audiologists will administer a series of tests individually tailored to your child's condition. Common assessments include:

  • Behavioral audiometric evaluation, with and without hearing aids
  • Speech perception testing to determine the functional benefit of hearing aids
  • Immittance measurements to determine if the child has or may have a tendency toward middle ear fluid
  • Electrophysiologic testing to gather information about inner ear and auditory nerve function

Parents are asked to complete questionnaires to help determine functional hearing and hearing aid benefit.

Speech and language evaluation and educational plan assessments are ongoing components of the process involved in helping your child attain appropriate developmental levels.

After your child’s cochlear implant evaluation with audiology, you and your child will meet with one of our surgeons for a medical evaluation. During the appointment, we will do a detailed history and physical examination, and if needed, we may ask for imaging (either a CT scan and/or MRI) of the temporal bone will be often be performed to assess the anatomy of the inner ear. We will discuss with you which of your child's ear(s) make sense to implant. It is important to consider your child’s overall medical health and surgical risk, as this is a procedure performed under general anesthesia.

Cochlear implant surgery is a routine outpatient procedure that typically lasts two to three hours, but we like for your child to stay overnight so we can monitor their progress. During surgery, a small incision is made behind the ear to access the mastoid bone, which is partially drilled away to give access to the inner ear structures and allow the internal device to be seated. Your child will wake up with a gauze dressing over the ear that should remain in place for 24 to 48 hours after surgery to help reduce swelling. Once removed, please keep the incision dry until your child's surgeon tells you that it can get wet. Pain after surgery is usually minimal, typically acetaminaphen or ibuprofen is enough to relieve your child's pain. Additionally, the surgeon may prescribe a course of antibiotics to take after surgery to help your child prevent infection. 

At Comer Children’s, you may wait in the operating room until the anesthesia takes effect and your child is asleep — one of many extra steps our cochlear implant team takes to assure the best experience for your child and for you. For your comfort, we can also arrange an overnight stay for your child and family.

Three to four weeks after surgery, your child returns to have the implanted device activated. This involves linking the implanted internal receiver to the external speech processor. The audiologist creates the initial MAP or program, which allows your child to hear sound for the first time with the cochlear implant.

This is a truly momentous occasion — the moment at which your child moves from a world of silence into a world of sound. Our surgeon and staff celebrate this major turning point in your child’s life with you at a "Hearing Birthday" party, which marks a totally new beginning for your child and family.

Once the cochlear implant is activated, your child returns for check-ups and therapy on a regular basis. Typically, there are evaluations at the two-week, one-month, three-month, six-month and nine-month marks. At each evaluation, your child’s speech processor is remapped and additional testing is provided as needed. Each child hears differently, and our audiologists excel at matching programs to each child’s unique style of hearing. Quarterly speech therapy appointments with our speech-language pathologist/auditory-verbal therapist document the progress your child is making in listening and spoken language.

After the first year, audiograms and speech perception tests are given every six months for two to three years, and then switch to annually. Programming is done at the same intervals, and speech and language evaluation is done once every six months or on an annual basis. If necessary, your child may require more frequent follow-up visits.

If you live far away and/or it is not convenient for you to come here on a regular basis, we work with you to find health care professionals in your area who can provide care that is both appropriate and convenient.

Telemedicine at Comer Children's

Woman holding her baby looking at a computer screen
Pediatric Video Visits

For your convenience and safety, we offer secure and easy virtual visits by video or phone for most pediatric care, with the only exception being regularly scheduled well-child visits. We want to ensure that every child has the best healthcare possible.

Phone appointment icon
Get a Second Opinion Online

Whether you are facing a complex health issue or difficult treatment decision, getting a second opinion can help you make an informed decision about your care. Get an online second opinion from one of our experts without having to leave home.

Find a Hearing Loss Location Near You

Request an Appointment

* Required Field

Cochlear Implants