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Contact the Cochlear Implant Program

Learn About Cochlear Implants

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is an electronic device that provides a sensation of hearing to individuals who have severe to profound hearing loss. It does not provide or restore "normal" hearing. However, the device, which resembles a behind-the-ear hearing aid, can allow children access to sounds and spoken language. It consists of two main parts:

  • an external device, called the speech processor, worn somewhat like a hearing aid
  • an internal device, surgically implanted under the skin and into the inner ear

The external part of the implant is the speech processor which is typically worn behind the ear. The speech processor houses a microphone that picks up sound and a computer that codes the sound into electrical signals. These signals are sent up a cable to a transmitting coil, which is circular and about one inch in diameter, held onto the side of the head with a magnet.

The transmitting coil then sends the coded signal through the skin to a receiving coil contained in the internally implanted part of the system placed just below the skin (the receiver/stimulator). The signal is then sent down a thin wire lead to an array of electrodes implanted in the inner ear. The coded signal is transmitted through the electrodes to stimulate the hearing nerve, taking over the function of damaged or missing hair cells that are unable to transmit hearing information themselves.

Cochlear implants from different manufacturers differ in several aspects, including but not limited to the number of electrodes, channels, programming, sound processing strategy and appearance of the externally worn device.

Does a cochlear implant provide normal hearing?

A cochlear implant does not provide normal hearing. However, it will provide your child with a limited sense of hearing in the implanted ear. Most children with good language abilities, consistent listening therapy, and full-time use of the device can learn to use this sound to understand spoken language.

Who can benefit from a cochlear implant?

Children who were born without hearing and children who lose their hearing can benefit from a cochlear implant. Children who once had enough hearing to perceive the sounds of speech have an easier time learning to use the new sound through a cochlear implant. Children who never heard sounds before can often learn to understand speech using the implant if they receive a cochlear implant under 3 years of age (earliest is best), had access to language and communication during the time prior to implantation, have good consistent listening therapy with a professional trained in working with children who use cochlear implants, and have good cognitive (learning) abilities.

How is the cost of a cochlear implant paid for?

Most health insurance plans cover the pre-implant candidacy evaluation, the cochlear implant device, hospitalization and surgery, and follow-up visits at the hospital. The family is responsible for theft/loss insurance after the initial warranty period expires. The family may also be responsible for repairs after this period, depending on the child's insurance coverage.

Your city or town’s early intervention program or school district is responsible for providing ongoing speech and language therapy. Education audiology services may be provided by the school and can be contracted through our SOS (Sound Outreach to Schools) program. The family plays a strong role in advocating and arranging for speech and language therapy, which should be coordinated with the educational program. It’s important the therapy be provided by a clinician who possesses specific expertise and experience in cochlear implant habilitation.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944

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