What is a cochlear implant surgery?
Cochlear implant surgery is a surgical procedure that involves placing (implanting) a small electronic device into the ear to help the person hear well. The implant is placed when someone is not able to hear and understand spoken words even after using hearing aids. The cochlear implant sends electrical signals to the nerve involved in hearing (cochlear nerve). The implant has two basic components: internal and external components. During the surgery, only the internal part is placed under the skin behind the ear. The external part is placed after the person completely recovers from the surgery. It consists of a microphone, sound processor and transmitter, which send signals to the internal unit of the implant.
Hearing is essential for the development of children. Thus, the sooner that cochlear implant surgery is done in a child with moderate to severe hearing loss, the better their language development and learning will be. The scope for hearing improvement after cochlear implant surgery is also reduced in adults as hearing loss worsens. Thus, timely surgery is important. The person will not be able to hear right after surgery. This is because it will take a few weeks for the implant to be fully functional. There is also considerable training and rehabilitation required after the surgery for better results.
How long does it take to recover from cochlear implant surgery?
It generally takes about three to six weeks for the surgical site to completely heal after cochlear implant surgery. This will be followed by the activation of the cochlear implant, which involves the attachment of the sound processor and external transmitter. The doctor will guide the patient about modifying their activities for some days after the surgery. They may need to take off from work for some days after the procedure. They must avoid strenuous activity including lifting moderate to heavy weights post surgery.
A patient may be discharged the same day or asked to stay in the hospital the night after surgery. The doctor will examine the patient the next morning and may allow them to go home if their general condition is satisfactory. The patient will need someone to drive them home. There may be some pain at the site of surgery and headache for some days after the procedure. There may be some swelling around the operated site, which may subside in three to four weeks. The patient may also experience symptoms such as a popping sensation in their ear and dizziness after surgery. The patient must avoid any jerky movements to avoid worsening dizziness. This generally subsides in a few days. The patient should contact their doctor if they experience severe pain or dizziness even after a few days post surgery. Even after the implant is activated, the patient will need some time for training and rehabilitation for better hearing with the implant.
What are the complications of cochlear implant surgery?
Cochlear implant surgery generally gives good results. It is usually a safe procedure and most patients are satisfied with the outcomes Some of the complications that may occur include
- Failure of the cochlear implant (it needs a repeat surgery to replace the implant)
- Loss of residual hearing (some people may complain that they have lost all the hearing that was left before the surgery)
- Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord that is avoided by vaccination before surgery)
- Facial paralysis
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears)
- Taste disturbances
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