Cochlear Implant Program

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health offers a comprehensive cochlear implant program to help address your severe hearing loss and improve your quality of life. A cochlear implant is an electrical device that directly stimulates the hearing nerve to restore hearing. Whether you're looking for a hearing solution for yourself or your child, cochlear implants can help patients of all ages. 

The cochlear implant program at Virginia Mason Medical Center was the first of its kind in the Greater Seattle area and serves patients from across the Northwest region. Our program was one of the first to offer a cochlear implant that allows patients to get an MRI without having to surgically remove the implant magnet first. The HiRes™ Ultra 3 device can rotate to avoid the magnetic field of an MRI machine.

A program designed for you

Our goals with the cochlear implant program are to educate each patient and family before surgery, provide the best possible surgical experience, and offer lifelong care and support after surgery. We know our patients each have individual goals and needs—we aim to work with you toward those goals and meet your needs wherever possible. 

Outcomes differ across patients, particularly of different ages. After surgery, pediatric cochlear implant recipients can often develop spoken language, perform at grade-appropriate language levels, and function within mainstream education environments. 

Adult cochlear implant recipients are often able to reconnect with loved ones they once struggled to communicate with, better perform in the workforce, avoid social isolation, enjoy music, and talk on the telephone. 

Cochlear implant candidates

Our cochlear implant patients are either born deaf or have lost hearing over time and no longer benefit from traditional hearing aids or other amplification devices. Patients typically have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears. (Under certain circumstances, exceptions are made for people with hearing loss in one ear.)

Before an implant is scheduled, candidates are usually asked to wear “best-fit” hearing aids for a trial period to see if there is any possible benefit to wearing them.

Each patient is evaluated by a team of specialists to examine if they are right for a cochlear implant. These specialists include an audiologist, a neurotologist, and other specialists such as a neurologist, cardiologist or internist, where appropriate. With children, a speech language pathologist or an auditory verbal therapist is often part of the team.

For patients who qualify, research shows there are significant benefits to having cochlear implants done for both ears instead of just one. These options are discussed with each patient.

Cochlear implant surgery

Cochlear implant surgery is performed under general anesthesia and typically lasts less than 90 minutes. Patients usually go home the same day, though are sometimes kept overnight for observation. 

Cochlear-implant-incision
Cochlear-implant-placement

The surgery involves:

  • Making a small incision behind the ear
  • Drilling the bone behind the ear (mastoid bone to gain access to the middle ear and cochlea)
  • Placing an electrode into the cochlea—bypassing the damaged hearing nerves
  • Securing the receiver-stimulator (the “hearing computer”) to the skull, beneath the skin
  • Taking an X-ray to confirm correct placement of the device

Preparing for your surgery

Symptoms after surgery

Following surgery, you may experience mild pain at the incision site or temporary dizziness. These symptoms usually subside within a week. Other common symptoms you may experience after cochlear implant surgery include: 

  • Numbness of the ear lobe
  • Temporary changes in taste
  • Ringing in the ear or worsening of ringing present before surgery
  • Loss of the remaining hearing in the surgical ear

These symptoms are usually temporary.

Hearing after implant surgery

Cochlear implants are typically activated about one week post-surgery. Immediate successful hearing is rare. Patients typically take months to learn to use the cochlear implant and for sounds to feel normal.

Patients will have sessions with an audiologist for the first several months to get more comfortable with the sound from the implant. This counseling and training are ongoing, and you may benefit from formal auditory-verbal therapy following surgery. 

Additional resources

You can learn more about our program in our booklet on cochlear implants

Our cochlear implant program offers the most current technology available from all three FDA-approved manufacturers: Advanced Bionics, MedEl Corporation and Cochlear

Find a specialist near you

If you have questions about hearing loss or cochlear implants, one of our specialists in audiology or otology can help you find answers.