Cochlear implants are available for free through a national programme. They can help adults and children who have severe-to-profound hearing loss.
Severe-to-profound hearing loss means you are only able to hear very loud speech or loud sounds. People with severe hearing loss cannot hear speech at a conversational level. For people with profound hearing loss, sometimes loud sounds are only felt like a vibration instead of heard sounds.
Cochlear implants: what they are
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that does the job of the thousands of tiny hair cells in the inner ear.
It responds to sound by turning it into an electrical response. This response stimulates the hearing nerve, which then sends a signal about the sound to the brain.
Who cochlear implants can help
Cochlear implants can help adults and children with a severe to profound hearing loss. These people may get no benefit from hearing aids. This is because hearing aids work by making sounds louder.
If the hair cells in the inner ear do not work, even loud sounds cannot be turned into electrical signals and sent to the brain. In this case cochlear implants may help.
Getting an implant
If you think a cochlear implant could help you or your child, speak to your GP, public health nurse, audiologist or ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant.
One of them will need to arrange an appointment for you at the national programme for cochlear implants. The national programme offers assessment and treatment at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
The waiting time for this first appointment can be up to:
- 3 months for children
- 9 months to 1 year for adults
At your first clinical appointment with the national programme, you or your child will see an ENT doctor.
The ENT doctor will:
- examine your ears
- take a medical history
- ask the audiologist to do a hearing test with and without hearing aids
If the doctor thinks you or your child should have a cochlear implant, they will arrange an MRI scan, and sometimes also a CT scan. This is to check whether it will be possible to insert electrodes into your or your child's inner ear.
During the assessment process, you or your child may also be asked to:
- see a speech and language therapist
- see a clinical psychologist
- meet other people who have had a cochlear implant
After all the assessments with the team, you or your child will meet the ENT doctors again. This is to check you're still able to have the surgery.
You'll then be:
- asked to sign a consent form
- given a date for the surgery
The time between the first clinical appointment and the operation can be up to:
- 9 months for children
- 2 to 2-and-a-half years
Cochlear implants surgery
The operation can take about 2 to 4 hours to insert implants into both ears.
You or your child will stay in hospital for at least 24 hours after the surgery.
After the surgery
About 2 to 4 weeks after the surgery, you'll go back to hospital to have the external part of the implant fitted and switched on. These are the speech processors.
The audiologist will programme the processor so that you can hear sounds.
As you or your child get used to the implant, you'll need to go back into hospital several times so that the audiologist can adjust the settings.
You or your child will also have regular appointments with a speech and language therapist.