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Cochlear Implants

A cochlear implant is an electronic device that provides partial hearing to patients with severe-to-profound bilateral hearing loss. The implant is surgically implanted in the inner ear and activated by a device worn outside the ear. Unlike hearing aids, the implant does not make sound louder or clearer. Instead, cochlear implants bypass damaged parts of the inner ear and send electrical sound signals directly to the auditory nerve.

The implant consists of two basic components: an external device and an internal device. The external device consists of a speech processor, a transmitting coil, a directional microphone, and connecting cords. The internal device consists of a receiver and stimulator, which is placed just beneath the skin, and a multi-electrode wire array, which is inserted into the inner ear. The transmitting coil of the external device is secured over the receiver and stimulator of the internal device, with a magnet.

The directional microphone picks up sounds and sends them to the speech processor, where sound is filtered, analyzed, and digitized into coded electrical signals. The transmitting coil then sends the coded signals as FM radio signals to the implant under the skin. The signal goes from the implant to the electrode array in the inner ear, which stimulates the auditory nerve fibers in the cochlea. The nerve sends the signal to the brain, which interprets the signal as a specific sound.

In order to be a candidate for a cochlear implant, a patient must receive little or no benefit from a hearing aid. Patients who have never been able to hear, or had the ability to hear and lost it, may be considered for a cochlear implant. However, it’s important to note that the criteria used to determine candidacy vary by age.

These criteria are general guidelines. Each patient is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the implant team to determine if a cochlear implant is in the patient’s and family’s best interests. Check with your health insurance provider, or local TRICARE or VA office to determine eligibility for cochlear implants.

For adults 18 years of age or older, there must be severe-to-profound, bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, and appropriately fitted hearing aids offer only limited benefits.

Children two to 17 years old must experience severe-to-profound, bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and demonstrate a lack of progress in development of auditory skills with a hearing aid. There cannot be any other medical conditions that would interfere with the implant procedure.

Children younger than two years old must experience profound, bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Like older children, they must demonstrate a lack of progress in development of auditory skills with a hearing aid, and they cannot have any other medical conditions that would interfere with the procedure.

Cochlear Implant Candidates


Type of Hearing Loss


Adults: 18 Years & Older

Severe-to-profound, bilateral sensorineural

Hearing aids offer limited benefits

Children: 2 to 17 Years

Severe-to-profound, bilateral sensorineural

Hearing aids offer no progress in auditory skill development

Children: < 2 Years

Profound, bilateral sensorineural

Hearing aids offer no progress in auditory skill development

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The Hearing Center of Excellence fosters and promotes the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, rehabilitation and research of hearing loss and auditory injury. It supports the development, exchange and adoption of best practices, research, measures of effectiveness and clinical care guidelines to reduce the prevalence and cost of hearing loss and tinnitus among Warriors and Veterans. Read more

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