Cochlear Implant Surgery
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Q: What does cochlear surgery involve?

A: Cochlear implant surgery is typically performed as an outpatient procedure. The surgery is performed under general anesthesia and takes approximately 1 to 3 hours. The procedure is considered a routine surgery with low risk.

The surgeon will make a 4-6 cm incision behind the ear and then open the mastoid bone leading to the middle ear space. The surgeon then makes an opening in or near the round window of the cochlea, the hearing portion of the inner ear. The implant electrode array is then inserted into the cochlea. The surgeon then places the receiver/stimulator, the electronic portion of the device attached to the electrode array, under the skin behind the ear and secures it in place. The incision is then closed and a head dressing is applied to protect the incision.

After the surgery, the patient will be observed for about two hours before being discharged. Instructions will be given on how to care for the incision, how to change the dressing and when you should return for a follow-up appointment.

Q: What are the risks/side-effects of surgery?

A: Cochlear implantation surgery risks are the same or lower than other common ear surgeries. Rarely the following can occur:

  • Bleeding and/or swelling at the incision site
  • Infection in the area of the implant
  • Ringing (tinnitus) in the implanted ear
  • Dizziness or vertigo (typically resolves within a few days after surgery)
  • Change in taste/dry mouth (typically resolves within a few weeks or months after surgery)
  • Numbness around the incision site
  • Injury to the facial nerve (extraordinarily rare)

Q: Will there be pain after surgery?

A: Pain tolerance is different for everyone, but in general the pain is mild-to-moderate and can be controlled with oral pain medications, if needed, for a few days. 

Q: How long will I be out of work? How long will my child miss school?

A: Typically about one week.

Q: Will I be able to exercise or participate in sports?

A: It is recommended that sports and other physical exercise be suspended for 1-2 weeks following surgery. Swimming restrictions are slightly longer, about 4-6 weeks.

Q: When will I be able to use my cochlear implant?

A: The external devices (microphone and speech processor) can be used after the incision site has healed, typically about 2-4 weeks after surgery. At that time the speech processor will be programmed and the implant activated.
The mission of the American Cochlear Implant (ACI) Alliance is to advance access to the gift of hearing provided by cochlear implantation through research, advocacy and awareness.