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What is a Cochlear Transplant?

By Jennifer Long
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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A cochlear transplant, more commonly known as a cochlear implant, is a surgical procedure used for people with severe or complete hearing loss. It involves surgically attaching a small device to the parts inside the ear that make hearing possible. This device will work with the cochlea in the ear.

The cochlea is the section of the inner ear that processes sounds. It resembles a snail’s shell and has three separate fluid-filled chambers. Two chambers contain perilymph fluid and membranes, while the cochlear duct contains endolymph fluid. Most cases of hearing loss occur when the membranes are ruptured or damaged, and the fluids mix.

A cochlear transplant contains three pieces. The electronic transplant device is inserted under the skin close to the ear and has electrodes that are attached to the cochlea inside the ear. A microphone is worn and sits on the outside behind the ear. The speech processor is the third part, and can be worn on the body or in a combined unit with the microphone. This ear transplant does not amplify sounds like a hearing aid, but instead it works with how sounds are heard and relayed.

Cochlear transplant criteria is small. Candidates for a this procedure should have severe or complete hearing loss in both ears, and do not benefit from using hearing aids. Children must also have severe or total loss in both ears as well as minimal progress with auditory development and skills.

Preparing for a cochlear transplant involves a few things. Once doctors have determined if a cochlear transplant is ideal, all vaccinations must be up to date. One important vaccine is given to prevent bacterial meningitis. Following vaccinations, doctors will discuss the surgery in detail and what can be expected. Transportation from the hospital after the procedure will be needed. Most transplants are outpatient surgeries, and patients can go home the same day.

After the procedure, the healing process takes place. Doctors will provide important information about caring for the area while it is healing. Incisions generally heal in two to four weeks. Once healed, an audiologist will program the transplant device and fit the microphone and speech processor.

Cochlear transplant complications are minimal. It is a surgery, and has many of the common surgical risks, such as infection and anesthesia side effects. There is also a small risk of problems with the implant device. If the device or electrodes move or it is not working, a second surgery may be required.

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