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Cochlear Implants at Columbia

Cochlear implants are one of the most amazing medical advances of the past century. By bypassing the diseased inner ear and directly stimulating the hearing (cochlear) nerve, nearly all forms of severe to complete hearing loss can be treated.

The Columbia Cochlear Implant Center combines the experience of the world’s leading experts in hearing loss with access to the latest technological breakthroughs. We invite you to learn more about our program and what to expect before and after surgery. You can also contact us at earimplants@columbia.edu or 212-305-3169.

Our Team

When you are seen at Columbia, you will have the shared expertise of our multidisciplinary team. This includes subspecialty trained surgeons in otology/neurotology and pediatric otolaryngology, audiologists, hearing scientists, genetics specialists, neuroradiologists, and a dedicated cochlear implant coordinator.

Children and Adults

Our center is experienced at implanting people of all ages, from infants to the elderly.

For the evaluation of newborn or childhood-onset hearing loss, specialized hearing tests are performed through our pediatric audiology division. With the combined experience of fellowship-trained pediatric otolaryngologists and neurotologists, our center is able to place cochlear implants even in the case of unusual anatomy (such as congenital cochlear malformations). All pediatric surgeries are performed at our dedicated pediatric hospital, Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York. Because the operating room staff and hospital nurses work exclusively with children, we can provide the most skilled and child-friendly surgical experience possible.

Our center also has expertise in cochlear implantation in the elderly, and actively collaborates with the Columbia Aging Center. Recent research has shown a connection between hearing loss in the elderly and depression, dementia, and even earlier death. As long as the patient is healthy enough, there is no upper limit to the age of implantation.

When to Get a Cochlear Implant

This is an important topic, and we can discuss it in detail at your appointment. In general, hearing must be within the level of “severe-to-profound,” and the ability to understand words must be poor. When hearing aids are no longer helpful, it may be time for a cochlear implant. More recently, we have begun to perform cochlear implantation for people who have lost their hearing in only one ear (single sided deafness). For those who have severe-to-profound hearing loss in both ears, either one cochlear implant or two (one on each side) can be placed.

What Devices Are Available

We offer devices from all cochlear implant companies that have FDA-approved products available in the United States. The types of devices are ever-expanding, and we are proud to use cochlear implants featuring the latest technologies and advances. We also offer new “Hybrid” (or electroacoustic) devices that combine a cochlear implant with a hearing aid. When you meet with the audiologist, he/she will review the devices and help you come to a choice that best fits you or your child. After surgery has been performed, it is also possible to regularly update the external portion of the device (the speech processor) as new models become available. Lastly, our audiologists will take the time to explain the wide variety of accessory technologies. Many of these technologies allow connections with mobile devices and assistive listening technology. Unlike hearing aids, most insurance companies do cover the cost of cochlear implantation.

Cochlear Implant Surgery

What to Expect Before Surgery?

The first step in cochlear implant evaluation is to check for the amount of hearing loss. You will need a routine hearing test (an audiogram) as well as specialized hearing tests with your hearing aids on. We will also usually perform either a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance image (MRI) scan to look at the anatomy of your inner ear and hearing nerves. We will also arrange vaccinations to prevent a form of meningitis. As with any surgery, you will have a checkup of your general health.

What the Surgery Involves?

Surgery is performed under general anesthesia. An incision is made behind the ear, which will eventually heal in a natural crease or be hidden by the hair. Sometimes a small strip of hair is shaved. The bone behind the ear is drilled in order to reach the cochlea, which is the part of the inner ear responsible for hearing. The main body of the cochlear implant is then placed against the bone of the skull, and an electrode (a thin wire) is placed inside the cochlea. The wound is then closed with stitches. The cochlear implant is completely covered by your skin and muscles. Nothing comes through the skin. (Later, an external speech processor will be placed over your ear. This external device will wirelessly communicate with the cochlear implant that was placed during surgery.)

What to Expect After Surgery?

After surgery, a bandage will be placed over the area for several days. You may go home the same day, or stay a night in the hospital. This depends on your age, your health, and the surgeon. Healing occurs over several weeks. Once this is complete, the the cochlear implant will not usually be noticeable (except temporarily in infants), unless you feel it with your fingertips.

When Will the Device Be Turned On and What Will It Sound Like?

The device will be activated (turned on for the first time) about two weeks after surgery. The first time you hear with with a cochlear implant, the sounds are often unusual or “electronic” sounding. With time and practice, the sound will become more natural. Learning occurs over months to years. The more you leave the device on and listen with it, the better your ultimate hearing ability will be. Most people have a significant improvement in understanding speech, and can often talk on the telephone.

Research

The Cochlear Implant Music Engineering Group (CIMEG) was formed in 2014 and is made up of a cadre of passionate individuals including cochlear implant surgeons, cochlear implant audiologists, music engineers, composers, and imaging specialists. Despite cochlear implant listeners’ excellent performance on speech discrimination, the enjoyment and perception of music remains poor. The goal of our research is to enhance music enjoyment among cochlear implantees by investigating the features of music that affect its perception and enjoyment. These features include different aspects of music such as reverberation, rhythm, instrument, and overtones, among others. Our novel approach involves re-engineering music to reduce the complexity of music, which has the potential to make listening more enjoyable for a listener with a cochlear implant. We are also interested in developing a tool to better evaluate speech enjoyment in cochlear implant users. If you’re interested in participating or learning more about our projects, please email us at musicenjoyment@columbia.edu

Ongoing projects include:

> Music enjoyment: A study of Timbre, Reverb, Acoustic and Rhythmic Complexity, Harmonics

> Speech enjoyment: The Development and Validation of a New Instrument to Measure Speech Enjoyment

Our center is always working to improve treatments for hearing loss. If you are interested in participating in research, please contact us and ask about clinical trials.

Contact Us!

Severe hearing loss does not need to be a natural part of aging! If you or a loved one are having difficulty with hearing aids, or want to learn more about cochlear implants, meet with one of our specialists.

For more information, download our center’s brochure.

Contact us today at earimplants@columbia.edu or 212-305-3169.