Can a Cochlear Implant Restore Hearing?


If you have severe hearing loss and your hearing aids aren’t helping the way they once did, you may benefit from a cochlear implant. Cochlear implants do not cure hearing loss, but they provide an opportunity for the severely hard of hearing or deaf to identify the sensation of sound by directly stimulating the hearing nerve.

Nathan Wiebracht, MD, of ENT & Allergy Specialists who perform surgery at St. Elizabeth Healthcare says, “Patients that get implants tell me they didn’t realize how much sound they had been missing. Their ability to communicate and participate in conversation is dramatically improved with a cochlear implant. National studies show that cochlear implants have a 95% satisfaction rate.”

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is not a hearing aid. A hearing aid will make sounds louder to help you hear better. A cochlear implant uses digital signals to help your brain notice sounds and interpret them.  

A cochlear implant has an internal and an external component. The external piece is a microphone that receives sound waves and turns them into digital signals. The internal piece is a small electronic medical device that is surgically placed in the spiral-shaped bone in your inner ear. The implant uses the digital signals to stimulate your cochlear nerve.

Training by specialized audiologists is necessary to get the maximum benefit from a cochlear implant.

With a cochlear implant, you should:

  • Hear sound without visual cues, like footsteps
  • Understand speech without lip reading
  • Talk and listen on the phone
  • Hear music
  • Watch TV without captions

Dr. Wiebracht adds, “There is also solid evidence that hearing loss in the elderly can accelerate dementia and cognitive decline. So improving your hearing isn’t just about conversation.”

Who would benefit from a cochlear implant?

Cochlear implants may not be for everyone but an ideal candidate would:

  • Have severe hearing loss in both ears.
  • No longer find benefit from hearing aids.
  • Have difficulty having conversations or talking on the phone.
  • Not have medical problems that put them at risk during surgery.
  • Be committed to the rehabilitation and training necessary to get the benefits from the implants.

If you are a candidate for an implant, the first step is a hearing test with an audiologist. Along with performing a basic hearing test, they will provide you with counseling on what a cochlear implant can and can’t do. If you decide to move forward, a CT or MRI is ordered to see if you have the correct anatomy for an implant.

“Surgery usually takes under two hours, but it isn’t like flipping a switch,” says Dr. Wiebracht. “We give you time to heal after surgery before activating the implant.”

During surgery, the surgeon will preserve as much natural hearing as possible.

How to make an appointment

“I recommend that if you are considering surgery, you talk to others that have had the surgery,” says Dr. Wiebracht. “We have a network of people that are willing to discuss their experience with people considering surgery.”

If you want to learn more about cochlear implants or be referred to Dr. Nathan Wiebracht at ENT & Allergy Specialists, please call (859) 781-4900 for more information.