Cochlear implant

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that stimulates the nerves of the inner ear, or cochlear. Hearing loss can be the result of hair cells in the inner ear being damaged. The cochlear implant is an electronic medical device designed to do the work of the damaged parts of the inner ear, enabling sound to be transferred to the hearing nerves. Unlike a hearing aid which amplifies sound, an implant will actually provide sound signals to the brain, enabling the patient to hear. 

The cochlear implant consists of a sound processor worn behind the ear that captures sound and turns it into digital code. This is then transmitted through a coil to the implant which then converts the digitally coded sound into electrical impulses and sends them into the inner ear. Electrodes in the implant stimulate the cochlear's hearing nerve, which then sends the impulses to the brain where they are interpreted as sound. 

Implants best benefit those with:

  • severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss but who have a functioning auditory nerve
  • people who have lived at least a short amount of time without hearing
  • people with good communication, language and speech skills, or, in the case of infants and young children, have a support network willing to engage in speech and language therapy

After a cochlear implant is installed, sound will no longer travel via the ear canal and middle ear — it will be picked up by microphone and sent through the implant — so people with mild or moderate sensorineural hearing loss are not generally considered as candidates for implantation. 

Find our more from our fact sheets: Can your child hear? Ear problems in children and inheriting deafness.

How do we help children who need a cochlear implant?

Both The Children's Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children's Hospital collaborate with a number of other service providers to provide a Cochlear Implant Program. The Program provides:

  • Screening
  • Pre-operative assessment
  • Surgical implantation
  • Post-operative assessment
  • Rehabilitation for children and adults with permanent bilateral sensorineural hearing loss

The Program operates through collaborative partnerships between the two hospitals and the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and The Shepherd Centre.