Cochlear implants can help people who have severe to profound hearing loss.
This is when a person:
- cannot hear speech at a conversational level
- can only hear very loud speech or sounds
Even loud sounds may sometimes feel like a vibration.
Eligible patients can get cochlear implants for free through a national programme.
The programme is run by the National Hearing Implant & Viani Research Centre - nhivrc.ie.
What are cochlear implants
A cochlear implant is an electronic device. It does the same job as 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 sends a signal about the sound to the brain.
Who can they help
Cochlear implants can help who people may not 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.
They can arrange an appointment for you at the national programme for cochlear implants. The programme offers assessment and treatment at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
The waiting time for the first appointment can be up to:
- 3 months for children
- 9 months to 1 year for adults
You or your child will see an ENT doctor at your first clinical appointment with the national programme.
The ENT doctor will:
- examine your ears
- take a medical history
- ask the audiologist to do a hearing test with and without hearing aids
The ENT doctor will arrange an MRI scan if they think you or your child should have a cochlear implant.
Sometimes they will also do a CT scan. This is to check if it is possible to insert electrodes into the inner ear.
During the assessment, 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 can still have the surgery.
- ask you to sign a consent form
- give you a date for the surgery
The time between the first clinical appointment and the operation can be up to:
- 9 months for children
- 2 years to 2 years 6 months for adults
Cochlear implants surgery
The operation can take around 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.
Around 2 to 4 weeks after the surgery, you or your child will go back to hospital. This is 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 to hospital several times. This is so the audiologist can adjust the settings.
There will also be regular appointments with a speech and language therapist.