Cochlear Implant Surgery: Frequently Asked Questions

Michelle Leach, Thu, 12 Nov 2020

Before having cochlear implant surgery, you may have questions about what to expect for the surgery, recovery, and initial activation of the cochlear implant. Hundreds of thousands of people have undergone the procedure all around the world, and it is natural to experience a wide range of emotions, including the anxiety that may accompany any medical procedure and the fear of the unknown. Surgery is a necessary, but brief, part of the process, and the more you know about cochlear implant surgery and recovery, the more comfortable you will be with the process. Here are some frequently asked questions about cochlear implant surgery and recovery.

Before having cochlear implant surgery, you may have questions about what to expect for the surgery, recovery, and initial activation of the cochlear implant. Hundreds of thousands of people have undergone the procedure all around the world, and it is natural to experience a wide range of emotions, including the anxiety that may accompany any medical procedure and the fear of the unknown. Surgery is a necessary, but brief, part of the process, and the more you know about cochlear implant surgery and recovery, the more comfortable you will be with the process. Here are some frequently asked questions about cochlear implant surgery and recovery. 


What is cochlear implant surgery? Is it brain surgery?

No. Cochlear implant surgery is not brain surgery. It’s surgery in the inner ear, or the cochlea.  A cochlear implant system has two parts, the internal device and the sound processor. The internal device, the cochlear implant itself, contains the electrodes that the surgeon places in the cochlea during surgery. The sound processor is worn externally, and it will be activated a few weeks after your surgery.


HiRes™ Ultra 3D cochlear implant
Internal Device

Naída CI sound processor
External Device


Will I wake up from the surgery being able to hear?

No. The internal device, the cochlear implant itself, will be implanted during surgery, and then you will go home and be allowed to heal. You will begin hearing with your cochlear implant following a visit to your audiologist (typically two to four weeks after surgery) when the sound processor is “turned on” or activated. 


How long is the cochlear implant surgery? Do I have to stay overnight in the hospital?

Cochlear implantation is relatively simple and minimally invasive. In most cases, implantation can be done on an outpatient basis. This means you get to go home the same day (depending on country and healthcare regulations). The procedure itself typically takes two to four hours, with additional time in the preparation and recovery areas, because the implantation is done under general anesthesia.


How long is cochlear implant surgery recovery? 

After the surgery, you should be provided with post-implantation guidelines, including bathing and bandage treatment instructions, medication procedures, and possible activity restrictions. Adults often return to work and typical daily activities within a few days after implantation. 



Do I need someone to be with me at the hospital and to take me home?  

Yes. It’s a good idea to have someone with you on the day of surgery to help with any communication needs when you are not able to use your hearing aid, and when you are recovering from the procedure. You may want to bring a pencil and paper or a dry erase board with you to assist with communication before and after the surgery. Most adults are able to go home the same day of the procedure, so someone should be with you to help you understand the recovery instructions, accompany you home, and fill any necessary prescriptions.


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

As with any surgery, you should keep the surgical site clean and dry for some time immediately afterwards. But once you have healed, you can swim and shower with your implant. The surgically implanted internal device is placed underneath the skin, making it waterproof. The external sound processor is similar to a hearing aid in that it should be removed prior to taking a shower or swimming, unless you have chosen a waterproof option. Advanced Bionics offers waterproof options for your sound processor, allowing you to hearing both when in the shower and when swimming.


Am I too old for cochlear implant surgery?

No. There is no upper age limit for receiving a cochlear implant. As long as you are medically healthy and able to undergo the surgery, you may benefit from the procedure. Your doctor is the best person to tell you whether you are a good candidate for a cochlear implant. 


What happens after the surgery?

When your surgery is done, you are ready to begin the exciting part of the journey to hearing by turning on your cochlear implant system for the first time at your audiologist’s office. This is also when you will receive your sound processor. At first, hearing with your cochlear implant may sound or feel like vibrations, clatter, or “noise.” Some people can recognize speech right away, but it may sound distorted or artificial. Others may begin hearing and describe sounds being very natural, just like they remember. 


It is important to keep in mind that every person is unique in their journey to better hearing with a cochlear implant. While your hearing care professionals will always be the most informed in terms of what’s best for you, it often helps to speak with someone who has gone through the process themselves. The Hearing Journey is the largest online community for families and individuals to connect and talk about cochlear implants and hearing loss. Join the community  for free, and connect with a mentor to learn more about the surgery and what it is like to hear with an implant. 

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Written by:

Michelle Leach
COCHLEAR IMPLANT CONSUMER SPECIALIST

Michelle Leach is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Auditory Verbal Therapist on staff for eight years with Advanced Bionics as a Cochlear Implant Consumer Specialist. Prior to her time with Advanced Bionics, she was a member of a comprehensive cochlear implant team where she provided evaluations and auditory-based therapy to both children and adults who utilized a variety of communication methodologies and hearing technology, including recipients of cochlear implant technology with additional special needs. As a member of the Advanced Bionics CICS team, she has provided education and support for cochlear implant candidates, recipients, and professionals regarding cochlear implant technology, and has presented nationally on a variety of topics.

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