Cochlear implants: is hearing fully restored?

Written by: Professor Simon Lloyd
Published: | Updated: 17/04/2019
Edited by: Laura Burgess

Cochlear implants are a really exciting invention in ear nose and throat surgery in the last 30 years. They enable patients that have profound hearing loss to go from not being able to hear anything to communicating normally and being able to work. Children that have profound hearing loss can go to normal schools and develop normal language. Leading otolaryngologist and ENT surgeon Professor Simon Lloyd explains what it sounds like when you have a cochlear implant fitted…

What does a cochlear implant sound like?

The sound that you get from a cochlear implant is slightly different to natural sound. In the beginning, it sounds quite electronic and some people describe it a little bit like 'Mickey Mouse', but over the first three months of use, the implant starts to sound much more natural. In children that are implanted at a very young age, the hearing sounds almost like normal hearing for day-to-day sounds like speech and environmental noise.

The implant has a slight limitation with music because the electronics within the processor of the implant isn't capable of processing the complexity of the music. Often people say that the quality of music isn't very good through a cochlear implant.

Read more: how do cochlear implants work?

What’s the difference between a hearing aid and a cochlear implant?

A hearing aid essentially amplifies the patient's own hearing, whereas a cochlear implant electrically stimulates the hearing pathways of the brain, which is the main difference between the two.

What’s the best age to have the implant fitted?

There are two main groups of patients that get cochlear implants: children that are born with profound deafness and adults that have developed speech and had normal hearing but then developed deafness later on in life.

With children who are born with profound deafness, it's really important that they're implanted before the age of four or five because if they don’t receive auditory stimulation the brain isn't able to use the sounds that it receives. Adults can be implanted at any age, essentially even 10 or 20 years after the development of the profound deafness.

Is hearing restored back to normal?

Hearing isn't quite restored back to normal with a cochlear implant. There are several different elements to hearing with understanding speech as probably the most important one. If you were able to score hearing from 0 to 100, somebody that's profoundly deaf would score 0 and somebody with normal hearing would score 100. A cochlear implant user would score about 70% or 80% in a quiet environment. Where they might struggle a little bit more is in a noisy environment and the average score probably in noise is around 60% to 70%.



If you are interested in cochlear implants for you or a loved one, do not hesitate to book an appointment with a specialist. 

By Professor Simon Lloyd
Otolaryngology / ENT

Professor Lloyd is a leading consultant Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon based in Manchester. From his private clinics at the Alexandra Hospital, Cheadle and at Wilmslow Hospital, Wilmslow, Professor Lloyd treats both adults and children with all types of ear, nose and throat conditions with a special interest in diseases of the ear and skull base. Some of his specialities include ear drum perforations, hearing rehabilitation including stapedectomy, hearing bone reconstruction, treatment of tinnitus and problems with balance. He is particularly renowned for cochlear implantation and treatment of skull base disease, especially acoustic neuromas.

After initially graduating in medicine from the Royal Free Hospital in London in 1996, Professor Lloyd became a fully accredited Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon in 2006, after which he completed specialist training in skull base surgery and international fellowships in the United States and Denmark. In addition to his private practice, Professor Lloyd is also lead surgeon at the Manchester Auditory Implant Centre and is a key member of the Manchester Skull Base Team. These are the largest units of their kind in the UK.

A prolific writer, Professor Lloyd has 2 books and 12 book chapters to his name and he has published over 60 peer-reviewed papers. He recently received a prize from the Royal Society of Medicine for the best researcher in ear surgery over the past 5 years. He is currently the leading ENT professor at the University of Manchester and his advanced ear surgery course and skull base surgery course has attracted students the world over. He has a number of affiliations with renowned medical societies, including the Royal College of Surgeons (England) and the European Academy of Otology and Neurotology. At present Professor Lloyd is a council member to the British Society of Otology and the British Skull Base Society and a trustee to the British Acoustic Neuroma Association, a charity supporting patients with acoustic neuromas. Professor Lloyd is recognised as one of the most experienced ear surgeons in the UK and is also a renowned expert in the area of noise-induced hearing loss.

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