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Cochlear Implant Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction to Cochlear Implantation

The Johns Hopkins Listening Center provides a comprehensive, team-oriented approach to cochlear implantation and rehabilitation. Our patients work with a team of cochlear implant experts including surgeons, audiologists, and auditory rehabilitation therapists.

In this video, Dr. Howard Francis, Director of the Johns Hopkins Listening Center, answers the most commonly asked questions about cochlear implants.

Common Questions from Prospective Cochlear Implant Candidates

Can I take a shower or go swimming after I get a cochlear implant?

Yes, the cochlear implant is placed underneath the skin. However, the external processor needs to be removed just like with a hearing aid.

How much hair will be shaved off to do the surgery?

Typically, the surgeons only shave about 2-3 inches of hair off around the ear. Most of the area will be covered by the longer hair on top of your head so it isn’t all that noticeable.

What does an implant sound like?

This is a tough question to answer as the answer can vary for each patient. Some of the most common descriptions we hear from patients are “beeps,” “mechanical,” “cartoonish,” “alien-like,” “someone talking under water,” “someone talking with marbles in their mouths,” “tinny,” “echo-like” and for some folks they may feel pulses before they even hear the sounds. The important thing to realize is that the sounds will get better over time and often an odd sound quality will change as your brain better understand what it is hearing. There is no way to predict how an individual will respond with a cochlear implant. It is helpful to talk to as many current cochlear implant users’ as possible to better understand how it works.

How frequently do I need to come for appointments after I get an implant?

The cochlear implant is a lifelong commitment. Following surgery, the cochlear implant requires frequent appointments for programming or mapping. On average, the cochlear implant will require programming about every 3-6 months in the first year, and about every 6 months thereafter for optimal listening. For those patients who have had their implant 2-3 years, most of those patients can continue on an annual basis.

I can’t understand in large groups or noisy situations, will the implant fix that?

Simple answer is no, the implant user will likely still have a lot of frustration and difficulty when listening in large groups or noisy situations. However, a cochlear implant user may find that over time their ability to communicate in those situations gets easier as they have greater access to information and their brain can ignore some of the noises they don’t want to hear.

Can I sleep with an implant on?

No, the implant likely will come off during sleep and could get damaged. It is recommended that the cochlear implant user remove the device prior to going to bed. If you live alone, please consider additional assistive listening devices for alerting purposes.

Can I use assistive listening devices such as an FM system or T-coil neckloop with a cochlear implant?

Yes, as long as you have the appropriate patch cord to communicate with the device you are trying to use.

Can I fly in an airplane?

Yes, you’ll need to carry your cochlear implant identification card with you for security as you will set off the security detectors. See Travel Tips for more information. Provided there are no surgical complications, most patients can resume airline travel within a week or two of surgery. However, it may be best to discuss this topic further with your implant surgeon.

Find helpful tips for living with a cochlear implant or tips for caregivers to a cochlear implant recipient.
Visit our resources page for links to more information about cochlear implants.

Activating the Cochlear Implant

Steve Bowditch, an audiologist at the Johns Hopkins Listening Center, answers the most frequently asked questions about the cochlear implant activation process.

Rehab After Cochlear Implantation

Deborah Bervinchak, an auditory rehabilitation therapist at the Johns Hopkins Listening Center, answers the most commonly asked question about the rehabilitation process after receiving a cochlear implant.

Common Questions from Patients with a Cochlear Implant

Can I get an MRI?

The simple answer is no. Some of the devices do have limited compatibility with MRIs, but you should always consult your surgeon to discuss if this option is available to you. In most cases, a high resolution CT scan will be sufficient.

Can I get an X-ray?

Yes, X-rays are fine. Just remove the external equipment.

My behind the ear speech processor doesn’t feel secure or falls off frequently, how can I better secure it?

Depending on the device, there are some options for you to better secure the device: 

  • Hair tape: This can be placed on the processor on the side that is closest to the head and it will stick to the skin helping to hold it in place. Works great but can get a little gooey.
  • Ear molds: While most folks would prefer not to wear an ear mold, this is a nice option to anchor the device in the ear for active patients who like sports. The ear mold can be a simple skeleton mold with open vents to reduce the “plugged up” feeling.
  • Huggies: These are stretch tubing that encircle the ear and attach to the processor by using a stretch band. For some devices, these may be called Mic locks.
  • Critter clips: This is an option that doesn’t help keep the device on, but catches it if it falls off before it hits the floor. Basically, it is a claw clip attached to a string. The string is secured around the cable portion of the processor and the clip to your shirt.

My ear hurts from wearing the speech processor, why and what can I do about it?

It isn’t uncommon to hear that the ear is sore especially in the beginning. This is due to the fact that a speech processor is often heavier than a hearing aid. To ease the discomfort, we recommend getting some MOLE SKIN. This is located in the drug store in the foot section. Mole skin is used most commonly to prevent blisters on your feet, but works great on the ear too. You simply need to trim it to the size you need, stick it to the processor and put it on. Typically, the ear will “toughen up” so that the mole skin won’t be needed all the time, but in the beginning it is very helpful.

Where can I get replacement batteries or parts for my cochlear implant?

Most parts/batteries are manufacturer specific so please contact your cochlear implant manufacturer for assistance.

Is there a recommended cell phone for use with implants?

No, there is not one recommended cell phone for implant users. Most users will need to go and try various phones at a store before buying one they feel works best for them. There are several factors that can interfere with compatibility.

If using a T-coil, please try to get a phone that has a M3/T3 or M4/T4 rating as set by ANSI. The below PDF is courtesy of Cochlear Americas and was published in 2006. It describes compatibility as it relates to Cochlear devices.

Learn about Telecoil Enabled Accessories

Please contact your cochlear implant manufacturer for additional information and assistance in this area. The following link is an article from 2006 that discussed t-coil compatible phones. Of note, as technology improves and changes, these recommendations may also change. Please use these information sources as guides only.

Find helpful tips for living with a cochlear implant or tips for caregivers to a cochlear implant recipient.
Visit our resources page for links to more information about cochlear implants.

Problems with Broken Equipment

What do I do if my speech processor isn't working?

Please review the troubleshooting guides provided in your user's manual, company website or this website. The cochlear implant companies have recipient support teams to assist with troubleshooting equipment problems. A troubleshooting appointment can also be made with an audiologist.

Lost Speech Processor

What do I do if I, or my child, lost the speech processor?

For patients who lose their equipment, they need to first contact their manufacturer to determine if they happen to be under warranty that includes loss/damage coverage. The implant manufacturer then will let you know what needs to occur to receive replacement equipment.