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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Understanding Cochlear Implants

What are the advantages of a cochlear implant?

For people with serious hearing problems, cochlear implants can be life-changing. But the results aren't the same for everyone. Some people benefit more than others. Some of the pros:

  • You may be able to hear speech at a nearly normal level.
  • You may be able to understand speech without lip reading.
  • It’s easier to talk on the phone and hear the TV.
  • You may be able to hear music better than before.
  • You can pick up on different types of sounds, including soft, medium, and loud ones.
  • You can better control your own voice so that it’s easier for others to understand you.

What are the disadvantages and risks?

Cochlear implant surgery is very safe, but any operation comes with risks. Problems can include bleeding, infection, and side effects from the medicine that sends you to sleep during the surgery. Other possible problems include:

  • Nerve injury that changes your sense of taste
  • Nerve damage that causes weakness or paralysis in your face
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Loss of the hearing you have left
  • Ringing in your ears, called tinnitus
  • Leaks of the fluid around the brain
  • The device doesn’t work or gets infected, which may mean you’ll have to remove and replace the implant
  • Meningitis, an infection of the membranes around the brain. It’s a rare but serious complication. Children and people with abnormally formed inner ears seem to be at higher risk. The FDA and CDC recommend vaccines for anyone who gets a cochlear implant to lower their risk for the disease.

After cochlear implant surgery, some things to think about include:

  • For people who have some hearing left, sound may seem "mechanical" or "synthetic," although most people no longer notice this after several months.
  • If you need an MRI, you may first need a simple procedure to briefly take out the magnet in the cochlear implant. But more medical facilities can do these imaging tests without removing the magnet. There’s also a type of cochlear implant that does not require taking out the magnet in order to have an MRI.
  • Some parts of the device can get damaged if they get wet. You must take off the speech processor before you bathe, shower, or swim. You also can cover that part with a waterproof case or choose a waterproof cochlear implant processor.
  • Very rarely, the implant may stop working, and you’d need surgery to fix the problem.

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