A cochlear implant (CI) is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. The cochlear implant is often referred to as a bionic ear.

Type of hearing impairment

People with mild or moderate sensorineural hearing loss are generally not candidates for cochlear implantation. After the implant is put into place, sound no longer travels via the ear canal and middle ear but will be picked up by a microphone and sent through the device's speech processor to the implant's electrodes inside the cochlea. Thus, most candidates have been diagnosed with profound sensorineural hearing loss.

The presence of auditory nerve fibers is essential to the functioning of the device: if these are damaged to such an extent that they cannot receive electrical stimuli, the implant will not work.

A cochlear implant will not cure deafness or hearing impairment, but is a prosthetic substitute for hearing. Some recipients find them very effective, others somewhat effective and some feel worse overall with the implant than without. For people already functional in spoken language who lose their hearing, cochlear implants can be a great help in restoring functional comprehension of speech, especially if they have only lost their hearing for a short time.