Cochlear Implant Surgery

Cochlear Implant Surgery

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If you have hearing loss that cannot be helped with hearing aids, you may be a candidate for a cochlear implant. This surgically implanted prosthetic device provides sound for people with moderate to profound hearing loss who find it difficult to communicate, even with hearing aids. As leaders in cochlear implant surgery, our team has the expertise and technology to provide you with the most advanced cochlear implant care available.

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Who Is a Candidate for a Cochlear Implant?

You may be a candidate if you are currently using hearing aids but still struggle to hear. People who benefit from a cochlear implant typically experience difficulty hearing and understanding:

  • when there's background noise
  • when in a small group, even with hearing aids
  • on the telephone
  • while watching television (for example, if you must rely on closed captioning)

The inability to hear and understand requires increased effort, and fatigue with communication often causes people with hearing loss to withdraw socially. If hearing loss is problematic enough to interfere with daily activities, an evaluation can help determine if a cochlear implant can improve your hearing and daily communication experience.

How Does a Cochlear Implant Work?
Unlike a traditional hearing aid, which “amplifies” sounds and increases the volume of speech, a cochlear implant bypasses the portion of the inner ear that is not functioning and stimulates the auditory nerve directly with electric pulses. The pulses are heard but not felt. Cochlear implants also improve the ability to distinguish and understand spoken words.

More People Qualify Thanks to New Technology, Expanded Criteria
Rapid improvements in cochlear implant technology and expanded eligibility criteria have greatly increased the range of people who may be candidates. In fact, severely hearing-impaired adults who were not candidates for implants several years ago and could only use hearing aids may now qualify. The procedure can be performed on one or both ears.

Three Types of Advanced Cochlear Implants
We offer three types of advanced implants to help you hear the world around you and understand speech:

  • Advanced Bionics
  • Cochlear Americas
  • MED-EL

Our team of neurotologists (specialists in complex disorders of the ear), audiologists, speech-language pathologists, nurses, social workers, and others work with you to determine whether you are a candidate for one of these devices and which type would best meet your needs.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

The Cochlear Implant Process

To find out if you are a good candidate for cochlear implants, our specialists use several tests including:


Helps determine if cochlear implantation is the right choice for you and provides realistic expectations of the results you can expect to achieve.

Hearing Tests

Comprehensive testing of your ability to hear and understand with and without hearing aids.

CT and MRI Scans

These imaging scans visualize middle- and inner-ear structures, including the cochlea, to check for abnormalities that might interfere with implantation. Findings from these scans may also indicate whether one or both ears should be implanted.

Meningitis Vaccination

Before surgery, you will be instructed to receive vaccines to protect against potential infection (meningitis). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all cochlear-implant recipients receive age-appropriate anti-pneumococcal vaccinations prior to surgery. Our doctors will explain the timing and type of vaccines that are advised, and you will need to obtain these from your primary care physician.

Cochlear Implant Surgery

Cochlear implantation is performed as outpatient surgery under general anesthesia. The whole procedure can be accomplished in just a couple of hours. You may go home the same day, and recovery time is usually one to two weeks. After implantation surgery, there is a three- to four-week healing period before the device is turned on. 

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Fine-Tuning the Device

It's important to note that your hearing loss will not be resolved immediately after the cochlear implant is activated. A series of appointments with our specialists over several months is crucial in order for us to program and fine-tune the device to give you the best possible performance.

Your cochlear implant audiologist will show you how to use your implant and make sure your hearing is optimized. After the initial adjustments, almost all  cochlear implant recipients enjoy significant long-term improvements in both their hearing and their ability to communicate, with minimal -- if any -- complications.

As part of the rehabilitation process, you will also consult with our highly experienced speech-language pathologists to develop listening and communication strategies/skills to support you on this journey of hearing. Aural rehabilitation is a critical component in reaching your full hearing potential.  

Leaders in Cochlear Implant Surgery

No Upper Age Limit
Our specialists have performed cochlear implant surgery on adults into their 80s. There is no upper age limit for cochlear implants.

Long-Term Support for Your Cochlear Implant
From initial fitting and activation of your cochlear implant to ongoing management of the device’s performance, our specialists provide optimal, personalized care. Cochlear implants have excellent long-term success, and the technology continues to improve. Updates to the devices can be done without additional surgery.

Experts in Cochlear Implant Surgery
Duke surgeons 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.

Expert Team Approach
Duke uses a team approach to evaluate patients for cochlear implant candidacy and throughout the process. Our patient 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. Our cochlear implant program serves as a model in the profession. 

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals

In addition to being one of the best in the country, Duke University Hospital is proud to be nationally ranked in 11 adult and nine pediatric specialties.
Reviewed: 01/14/2019