What are cochlear implants?

Cochlear implants (CI) are hearing aids that come into play when the abilities of regular hearing aids reach their limits.

They allow patients suffering from hearing loss and advanced or genetic deafness to (almost) completely regain their hearing.


What exactly is the difference to a regular hearing aid?

Contrary to hearing aids which only amplify sound cochlear implants bypass the defective element in the cochlear (medical term "cochlear", hence the name) which allows for the patient to regain their hearing. Moreover, it enables patients to hear in real time, i.e. without delay. The implantable part of the CI is inserted behind the ear by means of a medical procedure performed during an operation. The external part, the so-called speech processor, is worn on the skin behind the ear while the transmitter coil magnetically sticks to the implant under the patient’s skin.

What does a CI consist of?

A CI consists of 3 parts:
  • the speech processor
  • the transmitter coil
  • the implant.

Among others, it is made of premium materials such as titanium, silicone and platinum. The implant itself sits under the skin and can only be felt – only the external processor is visible. The latter is slightly larger than a power hearing aid.
Photo of a white cochlear implant

What happens when a CI is implanted?

During an operation under general anesthesia, the implant is inserted directly behind the patient’s ear. This is a standard procedure. Usually, patients only require a brief recovery period and can leave the hospital 2 to 3 days after the operation. The implanting procedure only requires a 4 to 5 cm incision in the skin behind the ear.

Who performs the operation and where is it performed?

The operation is performed by experienced Ear, Nose and Throat surgeons. Each and every one of these surgeons receives special manufacturer training on the implant used and discusses the operation with the patient in person and detail.

Graphic of an implanted cochlear implant
Boy with a cochlear implant (CI)

Is a CI suitable for me?

Cochlear implants can be a great option for people suffering from hearing loss who can no longer be helped with a hearing aid (which only amplifies sound). If you are in such a situation you should consult a specialist to discuss whether you are a candidate for a CI. Cochlear implants can restore hearing even in advanced and genetic cases of deafness. CIs are also suitable for all ages (implantations on children are performed approximately from the age of 6 months).

What can I expect from the new quality of hearing with a CI and how quickly will my hearing be restored?

Usually, CIs significantly improve one’s hearing. Hearing with a CI differs from natural hearing, however. For the patient, this means that there is a certain acclimatisation period in which they „relearn“, how to hear, most often with the help of a speech therapist. 
However, the human brain quickly adapts to the new information coming in. Many patients are able to understand speech only a few days after the first processor adaptation.

What costs can I expect when opting for a CI?

In New Zealand, CIs may be funded by the Ministry of Health through the Northern Cochlear Implant Programme, or the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme, depending on where you live. If you choose to privately-fund your CI, costs will vary but will be based on the cost of the implant and processor, medical and surgical costs, rehabilitation costs, and costs for batteries, repairs and maintenance.

How long will my CI last?

Usually, the implant under the skin never has to be replaced (which almost completely eliminates the possibility of a reimplantation). CI repairs and processor replacements do not require an operation.