For hearing loss caused by severe dysfunction of the inner ear, restoring hearing may be possible using cochlear implantation. Most inner ear (sensorineural) hearing loss is due to disruption or absence of specialized cells deep within the ear that detect sound vibration (hair cells). However, the hearing nerve itself is still capable of detecting sound if stimulated electrically by a cochlear implant. Examples of where cochlear implantation may be appropriate include:

  • Hearing loss due to meningitis or other severe infection affecting the ears
  • Inherited forms of progressive hearing loss
  • Fractures of the skull base that involve the ears
  • Severe otosclerosis (abnormal bone formation and fixation of stapes bone) involving the inner ears
  • Meniere’s disease or other inner ear diseases
  • Severe noise-induced trauma
  • Hearing loss due to the aging process
  • Ototoxic effects of certain medications

When considering a cochlear implant, you should think the implant process as the start of a lifetime relationship with the institution and our cochlear implant team. The University of Chicago Medicine Cochlear Implant Program is one of the most comprehensive and experienced cochlear implant teams in Chicago, and we treat the most complex cases in both children and adults. Because our audiologists and surgeons have dedicated their lives to perfecting the art and advancing the science of cochlear implantation, you can feel confident that our team has the passion and experience you need. 

If you are an adult wondering if for a cochlear implant is right for you, call 1-773-702-1865 to make a cochlear implant assessment appointment. For adults, we offer a streamlined evaluation process that typically allows us to determine if a patient is a candidate during their first visit.

If you are interested in cochlear implantation for a child, learn more about our pediatric cochlear implant program.  

Cochlear Implant Services

Our Cochlear Implant Program provides comprehensive testing for pre-implant candidacy, as well as post-implant rehabilitation and mapping services. Below please find a comprehensive list of available services:

  • Comprehensive hearing assessment
  • Cochlear implant consultations
  • Educational liaison to provide educational support
  • Mappings
  • Equipment checks and maintenance
  • Bimodal hearing aid services
  • Auditory verbal therapy
  • Aural habilitation therapy
  • Candidate speech-language evaluations

Frequently Asked Questions: Cochlear Implantation

Patients with bilateral (both ears), severe to profound sensorineural (nerve) hearing loss who no longer get adequate benefit from traditional hearing aids may be candidates for a cochlear implant. Patients typically have poor word recognition scores on their hearing tests. Patients may also be candidates if they still have residual, low-frequency (bass tone) hearing or just have hearing loss in one ear. Our cochlear implant program offers devices from all three FDA approved manufacturer, Advanced Bionics, Cochlear Americas and MED-EL.

If we determine that you are a candidate based on your recent hearing test (audiogram), we will schedule a comprehensive cochlear implant evaluation with one of our audiologists. We will test your ability to hear in quiet and noisy situations, with and without your current hearing aid(s). Our audiologist will also be able to review the available devices with you and help counsel you about the fitting and rehabilitation process. 

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

Cochlear implant surgery is performed under general anesthesia and typically takes between one to two hours per ear. It is usually an outpatient procedure, meaning you may go home the same day of surgery. During the procedure, 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. You will wake up with a gauze dressing over your ear which should remain in place for 24 to 48 hours after surgery to help reduce swelling. Once removed, it is best to keep the incision dry until instructed otherwise by your surgeon. 

Pain after surgery is usually minimal, and you should feel relief with acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol) or ibuprofen (i.e. Advil). Some surgeons may prescribe a course of antibiotics to help prevent infection after surgery. The first post-operative visit is usually one to two weeks after the procedure to assess the healing of the wound(s). Patients may often return to work/school in a few days after surgery. Strenuous activity or exercise should be avoided until cleared by your surgeon. 

Though you have a cochlear implant, the device is not activated immediately after surgery. We want your ear(s) to have enough time to heal and the swelling to go down before we activate the implant. Approximately three to four weeks after surgery, you will meet with your audiologist to activate and program the device. Moving foward, you should have regular visits with your audiologist to help program and monitor the device as you progress. 

It is important for you remember that learning to listen with a cochlear implant takes time. It is a totally new way of hearing, but the more you practice with the device on, the easier it will become. Additionally, we have speech language pathologists with special training to are here to help you during the rehabilitative period. 

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