Cochlear Implants

The Department of Audiology at UI Health has been at the leading edge of use of all hearing-related implants for decades, caring for hundreds of patients and ensuring overwhelming positive outcomes for these individuals and their families. There are two types of implants — cochlear implants and auditory osseointegrated (or bone-anchored) implants (AOI). Each implant is designed to improve hearing when hearing aids are not enough or when they are not considered medically appropriate, such as for those patients for whom hearing aids or other implants do not provide sufficient hearing, or who cannot wear other types of implants.

What is a Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device designed to help those with moderate to profound hearing loss when hearing aids are not enough. The cochlear implant has two parts:

  • A surgically implanted internal portion
  • An external portion worn on the ear

The external portion — or sound processor — has a microphone that picks up sound and delivers it to the implant, which directly stimulates the hearing nerve. A cochlear implant provides an opportunity for individuals to hear and participate in the world around them. Unlike some other programs, UI Health Audiology provides a continuum of care for cochlear implant patients, supporting them beyond surgery and implantation with an array of services such as aural rehabilitation, assistance/advocacy for patients in schools/workplaces, and helping ensure long-term adaptation and success.

What Does a Cochlear Implant Look Like?

cochlear implants photos

How Does a Cochlear Implant Work?

  • The external sound processor picks up sound.
  • The processor codes it into electrical pulses.
  • Those pulses are sent to the transmitter coil that has been implanted in the patient’s head.
  • The coil sends the signal through the skin via FM waves to the surgically implanted receiver/stimulator.
  • The signal is then sent to the electrodes and eventually the hearing nerve, which is then received by the patient.

Who is a Candidate for a Cochlear Implant?

Our experience with hundreds of patients has demonstrated the life-altering benefits of proper hearing-loss diagnosis and cochlear implantation, treatment, and maintenance.  Adults and children (including toddlers as young as 1 year old) who have moderate to severe hearing loss may be considered candidates for cochlear implantation, even if they have not used a hearing aid. There are many individual factors our team takes into account when determining if a patient can benefit from cochlear implantation, with an eye toward the patient and family’s unique situation and needs:

  • How long the patient has experienced hearing loss
  • The severity and nature of hearing loss
  • Anatomy of the cochlea (the actual hearing organ) and other parts of the hearing infrastructure, including the auditory nerve
  • Family support
  • History of hearing aid use
  • Individual and family commitment to aural rehabilitation services
  • Realistic expectations
  • General health condition/other medical and health factors

All patients must undergo a thorough audiological and medical evaluation, complete a hearing aid trial, and complete applicable speech recognition testing.

What Makes the UI Health Audiology Cochlear Implant Program Unique?

Having worked with hundreds of cases over several decades of working with cochlear implant patients and families, UI Health has established a record few facilities can match. What helps us stand out are a number of factors that speak to the breadth and depth of our experience and clinical knowledge:

  • We offer a comprehensive team approach that serves, supports, and monitors the patient as needed, often for several years or longer. Our team consists of:
    • Neurotologists/otologists
    • Audiologists
    • Aural rehabilitation/speech-language therapists
    • Psychologists
    • Developmental therapy-hearing professionals
    • Education/outreach specialists
  • Our providers cover the full spectrum of care, from early intervention to specialized care, including for children/toddlers, adults, and seniors.
  • Our program offers extensive patient follow-up, including coordination and delivery of hearing rehabilitation and speech therapy services for adult and pediatric patients.
  • We work closely with all major cochlear implant manufacturers.

These factors contribute to our patients’ longstanding adoption and success with cochlear implants - throughout their lives, often from early childhood into adulthood.

Why choose UI Health Audiology’s Cochlear Implant Program?

  • It is our mission is to help guide patients and their families through each step of the lifelong journey, from the time that hearing loss is identified to the therapy and ongoing care that follows. We view our patients and their families as extended members of our multidisciplinary team — working together to help those with hearing loss.
  • We provide all the services and resources patients need to realize their full potential, from high-technology treatments to high-touch personal care and attention.
  • We participate in ongoing research and use evidence-based practice, proven over many years of experience with the diversity of challenging cases managed in a nationally regarded academic medical center program.
  • We have staff members and clinicians who are fluent in Spanish. We also offer interpretation services for all other languages.
  • We work closely with and provide training to local schools, Early Intervention providers, the Illinois Division of Specialized Care for Children, and other organizations as needed.  These services and activities support our younger patients’ educational needs, including providing special education and mainstreaming services. We are proud of our younger patients’ outstanding record of adapting well in school.
  • We frequently connect potential cochlear implant candidates and their families with alumni patients and families to provide additional avenues of support.

What are the Benefits of Cochlear Implantation?

  • For children, research has found that the earlier they receive the cochlear implant(s), the greater their potential for learning and understanding spoken language — and adapting smoothly to learning in school. At UI Health, we believe that access to language is critical for communicating and learning. We work closely with patients and their families to develop effective communication strategies that meet their specific situation, goals, and needs.
  • For adults who have lost their hearing, a cochlear implant will bring back the world of sound they once knew, allowing them to more actively participate in professional, social, and personal lives.

What Else is There to Know About Cochlear implants?

  • Cochlear implants are not new. They have been around for decades.
  • The required ear surgery is a routine, outpatient procedure that takes approximately 2–3 hours.
  • Cochlear implants are safe, effective, FDA-approved devices that help when hearing aids cannot.
  • UI Health provides ongoing updates/upgrades to patients’ devices as needed.
  • A cochlear implant is not a hearing aid. A hearing aid makes sound louder, but a cochlear implant works differently. It directly stimulates the hearing nerve and goes around the damaged parts of the ear.