Unlike a traditional hearing aid, which amplifies sound, a cochlear implant bypasses the portion of the inner ear that is damaged and stimulates the auditory nerve directly with electric pulses. The pulses travel on to the brain, which interprets them as sound.
A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted prosthetic device that can improve your hearing. These devices are best suited for people with significant hearing loss in one or both ears who find it difficult to communicate, even with hearing aids. Almost all cochlear implant recipients enjoy significant long-term improvements in both their hearing and their ability to communicate, with minimal -- if any -- complications.
How Does a Cochlear Implant Work?
What to Expect
Cochlear Implant Evaluation
To determine whether you are a candidate for surgery, our audiologists follow a thorough evaluation plan. Your care team will be there to guide you every step of the way.
Preparing for Surgery
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all cochlear implant recipients receive anti-pneumococcal vaccinations before surgery to protect against potential infection (for example, meningitis). Our doctors will explain the timing and types of vaccines that are advised, and you will need to obtain these from your primary care physician.
Cochlear implantation is performed as outpatient surgery under general anesthesia. The procedure usually lasts about two hours. Only the internal component will be placed during surgery. You may go home the same day, and recovery time is usually one to two weeks.
Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.
After surgery, there is a required two- to four-week healing period before the device can be turned on. Following a successful post-operative check-up, you’ll return to your audiologist to receive the external component and activate the implant.
Fine-Tuning the Device
You will need time to learn how to hear in this new way. Over time and with the dedicated assistance of your care team, you should begin to see progress. You’ll be asked to return to see your audiologist at three, six, and twelve months after your implant activation. During these visits, your doctor will adjust your cochlear implant settings to maximize your hearing.
As part of the follow-up process, you will also meet with our speech-language pathologists to develop listening and communication skills to support you on this journey of hearing. Aural rehabilitation is a critical component in reaching your full hearing potential.
Why Choose Duke
Experts in Cochlear Implant Surgery
Our surgeons are neurotologists, meaning they are board-certified in neurotology, which is the study and treatment of neurological ear disorders. Duke neurotologists performed some of the first cochlear implant surgeries in the United States, and our research has contributed to major advances that have resulted in superior care and outcomes.
No Upper Age Limit
Our neurotologists have performed this surgery on adults in their 90s. At Duke, there is no upper age limit for cochlear implants.
From the initial fitting and activation of your cochlear implant to the ongoing management of the device’s performance, our audiologists provide optimal, personalized care. Cochlear implants have excellent long-term success, and the technology continues to improve. Devices can be updated without additional surgery.
Expert Team Approach
Our patients and their families are at the center of our team. Our professional team members have had extensive training in cochlear implantation and continue to advance their knowledge through ongoing training and research.
Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.