What Does a Cochlear Implant Sound Like?

Hearing aid technology has come very far in the last few years, with hard of hearing people now having so much choice when it comes to their treatment.

A growing treatment and one of the newest available is the cochlear implant. Currently, around 118,000 adults and 65,000 children in America have been given the implant in an attempt to improve their hearing. 

Despite these high numbers, many people are still unaware of exactly how these implants work, the surgery process involved, and how well people hear once they have recovered.

Choosing to get a cochlear implant is not a decision that should be taken lightly, as all surgery comes with risks, and unfortunately, there is a chance it won’t have any impact on your hearing.

That is why this form of hearing loss treatment is reserved for those who have gone completely deaf, or for people who are severely hard-of-hearing. 

If you are considering getting the implant then there are many things you have to consider to make sure that this is the right decision for you.

That’s why we’ve made this article to answer any and all questions you have about this treatment method. Read on to learn about how cochlear implants work, what to expect from the surgery, and how well you will be able to hear once you have recovered. 

What is a Cochlear Implant and how does it Work? 

A cochlear implant is a small electrical device that can provide a sense of sound to someone who is extremely hard of hearing.

These are very different from hearing aids as while these amplify sounds, implants bypass damaged portions of the ear to directly stimulate the auditory nerve.

Signals made by the implant travel through the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes these signals as sound. 

Many people don’t realize that hearing through a cochlear implant is very different from normal hearing, and a person often has to learn or relearn how to hear.

However if successful a person should be able to hear the sounds of other people talking and the sounds of their surrounding environment. 

A cochlear implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear, and a second part that is surgically placed under the skin.

While this is a relatively easy procedure, the decision to have surgery should be taken lightly as this will always come with inherent risks. 

The implant in general is made of 4 parts:

  1. A microphone – this picks up sound from the environment
  2. A speech processor – this selects and arranges sounds picked up from the microphone
  3. A transmitter and receiver/stimulator – receives the signals from the speech processor and converts them into electrical pulses 
  4. An electrode array – this is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses from the simulator and sends them to the auditory nerve

How Soon Will I Be Able to Hear, and what will it Sound Like? 

After your surgery, you will have a recovery period of a few weeks before your implant is activated. The activation day can be a very nerve wrecking time for patients as many do not know what to expect.

To make this less stressful you will most likely receive counseling from audiologists. They will walk you through what to expect, as well as teach you how to manage your new device. 

Almost everyone who has had the implant will describe the sound differently from others, as it’s all down to how your brain processes the auditory information.

It also depends on whether you have ever been able to hear, or if you were born deaf, as those who remember what hearing was like are more easily able to pick up on what sounds mean. 

Common descriptions of the first sounds include a buzzing or ringing sound in your head or lots of echoes.

People’s voices can sound “cartoony” as some people have described them, with patients saying that at first voices did not sound normal. 

Many people are shocked about how loud everything is.

People with no hearing issues are used to making a lot of environmental noise background noise, but people who have never heard before struggle to do this, and so the sound of a busy street or other environments can be really overwhelming.

This is why a lot of counseling can be involved before, during, and after the implant has been fitted, as people can struggle to adjust to this new way of living. 

When you first get the implant there is a chance that you may not hear anything. This is not a sign that it isn’t working, rather it’s a sign that the setting on the implant needs to be adjusted, which will be done by the audiologist.

Also, the goal of activation is to introduce noise at a comfortable level, so starting off quieter is the safest option. 

Once you have gotten used to the implant, you should hear sounds in your environment clear, though it may not sound completely natural in the way that hearing people hear sounds.

If you have always been deaf then you won’t notice this difference, but for people who remember what hearing is like, it can be difficult to make this adjustment.

Does the Implant Always Work? 

Unfortunately, there is a very small chance that the implant will not improve your hearing. Currently, around 7% of patients have found the treatment unsuccessful. While this is a low number it is still a risk you should consider before undergoing the surgery. 

Will My Insurance Cover The Surgery?

This depends on your insurance provider as some do and some don’t. If your insurance company is one that won’t cover your expenses, then you could unfortunately be spending thousands of dollars on this procedure.