How Likely Is Cochlear Implant Failure?

Reasons Your Implant May Need to Be Removed

Audiologist looking in a patient's ear. Getty Images

Fortunately, it does not happen that often but cochlear implant (CI) failure can occur. For a variety of reasons, a newly implanted cochlear implant may need to be surgically removed and, depending on the circumstances, you may be eligible to get a new implant.

Why Do Cochlear Implants Need to Be Removed?

There are several reasons why a cochlear implant may need to be removed. However, as technology and procedures improve, this is becoming less common than it was when the implants were first introduced.

During cochlear implant surgery, a flap of skin and tissue is lifted where the device will be inserted. For some patients, the skin can become infected after surgery. In addition, the body may simply reject the implant or the receiver can extrude from the skin.

Other cases involve head trauma after surgery and sometimes it is an issue with the electrode array of the implant. This can be caused by damage, if the electrodes were not put in correctly, or if they migrate out of place.

The most common cause for removal is a failure with the device itself. A 10-year retrospective analysis of 57 patients showed that the CI malfunctioned in just 4 cases (7 percent). Other studies have found similar results.

If implant failure has the highest rate at less than 10 percent of all surgeries, you can assume that your chances for a successful cochlear implant are pretty high.

How Frequent Is Reimplantation?

Studies give us an idea of how frequently reimplantation takes place.

In one study of 534 implant recipients between 1997 and 2015, 18 (3.4 percent) had to undergo reimplantation. In another study of 720 patients in South Korea between 1990 and 2007, 30 (4.2 percent) had to have revision surgery. Of these, 12 were reimplanted.

All cochlear implant device failures must be reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA has a searchable online database, MAUDE. You can use this to check on the particular implant that you have or are planning to get.

Training Your Brain to Hear

Even after a successful cochlear implant surgery, you will still need to teach your brain to interpret the sounds you hear. The American Academy of Audiology says that "implant users require training to maximize the benefits that they receive from their devices." This is particularly true for children and adults who were born deaf or lost their hearing early in life.

It is likely that your doctor will recommend both immediate and long-term follow-ups to monitor your progress as well as that of your device. Quite often, you will have a team working with you during rehabilitation. It's a good idea to keep up on all of this because it can make a significant improvement in what you get out of your implant.

Sources:

Chiesa Esomba C, et al. Complications After Cochlear Implantation in Adult Patients. 10-Year Retrospective Analysis of a Tertiary Academic Centre. Auris Nasus Larynx. 2017;44(1):40-45.

Kim CS, et al. Clinical Outcomes of Cochlear Reimplantation Due to Device Failure. Clinical and Experimental Otorhinolaryngology. 2008;1(1):10-14.

Osberger MJ, et al. Cochlear Implants in Children. American Academy of Audiology. 2017.

Patanaik U, et al. Cochlear Re-Implantation: Lessons Learnt and the Way Ahead. Acta Oto-laryngologica. 2016;136 (6):564-7.

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