It is normal for both the recipient and family members to have feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, insecurity, and nervousness on the day of surgery. It may be helpful for candidates to talk to other cochlear implant recipients about their experiences to get an idea of what to expect and ask the surgeon all questions they may have to be fully prepared.
Cochlear implant surgery typically lasts about 2-3 hours, with additional time necessary for the administration of anesthesia and safety monitoring devices and time in the recovery room to awaken. Once the patient is anesthetized, a small amount of hair is shaved above and behind the ear to be implanted. A small incision is then made behind the ear. The surgeon may use either a traditional incision or a "minimal access" incision. The traditional incision is about 6 inches long and requires a healing period of about 3-4 weeks. The minimal access incision is about 2 inches long and requires a healing period of only about one week because it does not cut through the temporalis muscle. The type of incision depends on the surgeon's preferred technique, device type being implanted and the individual patient's outcomes.
A small depression is created in the bone behind the ear for placement of the internal receiver/stimulator portion of the implant. A tiny opening is made into the cochlea, and the electrode array is inserted. The area around the electrode array is sealed and the incision is sutured. Swelling is minimized by the application of a pressure bandage.
It is also important to understand that everyone reacts differently to anesthesia. Immediately following surgery some patients might experience nausea, vomiting or slight dizziness. Others may be able to eat and use the restroom by themselves several hours after surgery. Pain is usually minimal after full awakening, and most patients only need Tylenol for comfort 24 hours after the operation. It is typically recommended that cochlear implant recipients refrain from overexertion through physical activity (i.e. manual labor of any kind, sports) for 4-6 weeks after surgery.
To help achieve a smooth transition to the operating room, the child will receive a sedative before leaving their hospital room. Most children are sleeping by the time they go to the operating room. General anesthesia is very safe, even for very young healthy children. Our anesthesiologists have extensive experience anesthetizing infants and small children as well as adults.
Visit the Knowledge Center to listen to our podcast on Pediatric Anesthesia.