Cochlear Implant Program

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Lurie Children’s Cochlear Implant Program is one of the largest and most experienced pediatric programs in the world. Our surgeons have performed more than 2,000 cochlear implant procedures since the program began in 1991. The specialized hearing evaluation and follow up care after cochlear implantation are available at multiple convenient suburban locations and the main hospital in Chicago.

A cochlear implant enables children to hear spoken language and environmental sounds through stimulation of auditory nerve fibers from within the inner ear. The cochlear implant is recognized as a standard treatment by the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.

Our cochlear implant program treats infants, children and young adults with significant sensorineural (inner ear or nerve) hearing loss in one or both ears. Our team has expertise in evaluating infants and toddlers, including those with uncommon causes of hearing loss such as auditory neuropathy and bacterial meningitis. We are experienced in evaluating children with additional conditions that may have made management challenging for other professionals.

We recommend newly identified infants and children be referred to our implant program soon after the diagnosis of significant sensorineural hearing loss in one or both ears. This enables timely counseling and evaluation. The shorter the period of time a child has been deprived of hearing spoken language, the more likely progress will be rapid. Research done at Lurie Children’s has demonstrated the advantages of implanting infants born with hearing loss in both ears before they reach one year of age. For children of any age deafened by bacterial meningitis, urgent referral is recommended. In this situation, bone may rapidly form inside the inner ear which may interfere with placement of the cochlear implant. We have significant experience evaluating and implanting children deafened by bacterial meningitis.

Cochlear implantation is now a treatment for significant sensorineural hearing loss in only one ear. The opposite ear may have normal hearing, or a mild to moderate degree of loss for which amplification (using a hearing aid) is effective. The use of an implant in one ear, in combination with hearing from the opposite ear, provides advantages such as better hearing in background noise and ability to determine the location of sound. Implantation is especially important for children who are a candidate in one ear and whose opposite ear is also at risk for hearing loss to occur or worsen in the future. Examples include children with a history of congenital CMV infection and those with malformation of the inner ear including wide vestibular aqueducts, a finding often associated with Pendred Syndrome. 

Our goal is to help each child to develop their full communication potential. Improved hearing is critical to optimal language development. Enriched language is essential for the cognitive development of all children.

Why Choose Lurie Children's?

Our experienced multidisciplinary team provides comprehensive care enabling us to:

  • Determine whether your child is a candidate for this technology
  • Inform you of the likely range of benefits of an implant(s) for your child
  • Provide expert surgical and anesthetic care
  • Provide customized computer programming of your child’s implant
  • Provide evaluations and therapy to maximize listening and spoken language
  • Counsel and advocate for community-based services your child needs including Illinois early intervention and school programs

We support the right of families to choose the educational approach for their child. We serve implanted children using an auditory-oral approach, total communication (sign & spoken language), and those requiring Alternative and Augmentative Communication. We have experience serving children in the mainstream, deaf and hard of hearing and special education programs.

What to Expect

Our evaluation begins with understanding your child’s hearing. Our cochlear implant audiologists determine whether optimal amplification with hearing aids would be more effective. A trial period with hearing aids and listening and spoken language therapy may be recommended.

Depending upon your child’s history, you may be asked to provide records and permission for us to contact other professionals involved in your child’s care.

A medical evaluation by one of our otolaryngologists specializing in cochlear implantation is also necessary. This is usually done after our audiologists understand your child’s hearing loss. Imaging (usually magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]) to understand the anatomy of the inner ears, brain and nerves of hearing will be necessary. Whenever possible, we prefer imaging be done at Lurie Children’s to ensure we have the optimal information necessary. A listening and language (aural habilitation) evaluation will also be requested.

Depending on your child’s individual needs, we may recommend a cochlear implant in one or both ears. Prior to surgery, you will meet again with your child’s cochlear implant physician.

During surgery tiny electrodes are threaded into the inner ear. Most children return home the same day and return to school the following week. A post-operative visit with the surgeon is done one to two weeks later. Your child will return to see their cochlear implant audiologist after two to four weeks for implant activation. At this visit the child is fitted with the external components of the implant system and programming begins. More visits are needed to fine-tune the device and evaluate hearing.

See a list of frequently asked question for parents: English | Spanish

Cochlear Implantation Benefits

Hearing benefit ranges from improved detection of sounds to understanding speech without lip reading. Improvement depends on many factors including how soon the child was implanted, whether the device is used consistently every day, the quality of programming and listening and spoken language therapy, and whether there are other conditions impacting language development.

How quickly a child learns sign language also may be positively impacted by a cochlear implant. Lurie Children’s has experience serving children whose parents have hearing loss and communicate using sign language. We also serve many children who attend total communication programs where both sign and spoken language are used.

Many parents of infants and young children with hearing loss in both ears wish to know if their child will develop age-appropriate spoken language and be able to attend mainstream school with hearing peers. Children who achieve these goals typically:

  • Receive the implant after a shorter period of deafness
  • Are enrolled in programs after implantation that provide intensive auditory and speech training
  • Have families firmly committed to consistence device use and to working with their child to encourage listening and spoken language

Children with Single Sided Deafness (Special Considerations)

Children with hearing loss in only one ear are expected to understand and develop spoken language unless other non-hearing problems that interfere with language development are present. The benefits of an implant for children with hearing loss in one ear include better hearing in background noise and improved spatial hearing (knowing where sound is coming from). If a child has adequate hearing in one ear but is not able to understand speech and not able to talk, surgery to improve hearing in the opposite ear is not expected to address the cause of the child’s language problem.

For children with major hearing loss in only one ear, which is sometime called “single sided deafness”, an appointment with one of our physicians specializing in cochlear implantation is usually the best way to begin the evaluation. In addition to understanding your child’s medical and hearing health history, the physician will discuss the need for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is necessary to determine whether the nerve of hearing is present, as nerve abnormalities are more common in children born with major hearing loss in only one ear. If the nerve is abnormal your child will not likely be a candidate for an implant.

Our Specialists

Our program began in 1991 and is now the largest pediatric implant program in the United States and one of the largest in the world. The founder and medical director is Dr. Nancy Young, whose training includes a fellowship in neurotology (advanced ear surgery). Dr. Stephen Hoff, a pediatric otolaryngologist who specializes in hearing loss, is an experienced implant surgeon and cochlear implant team member.

In order to meet the special needs of children with cochlear implants and their families, we have a large multidisciplinary team. Our team includes pediatric audiologists specialized in cochlear implantation who evaluate candidates of all ages, including infants. They have the skills to do custom programming essential to speech understanding.

Our aural habilitation specialists provide listening and spoken language evaluations and therapy for implant candidates and recipients. They are certified as Listening and Spoken Language Specialists (LSLS) by the AG Bell Academy, a certification with rigorous standards that few therapists achieve. Listening and spoken language therapy is brain training to maximize benefit and improve outcome.

Our social workers and educator of the hearing-impaired support families and children served by our cochlear implant team. They are experts in issues that families and children with hearing loss and cochlear implant technology face. They assist families in securing necessary early intervention and school-based services.

Our team makes referrals to other specialists as needed, depending upon your child’s individual needs.

Once you have decided to have your child receive a cochlear implant, our administrative support staff provides expert assistance in obtaining insurance approval for cochlear implantation.

Make an Appointment

For further information about cochlear implantation, please contact Emily Speight, cochlear implant program assistant, at 312.227.3730 or by e-mail at Emily can assist you with scheduling of your initial appointments.

Cochlear Implant Research At Lurie Children’s

Our team is actively engaged in research to further understanding of cochlear implantation. Increasing knowledge is important to improve care and to improve the outcome, and thus the lives, of children with cochlear implants.

For over a decade we have been studying whether language may be predicted after cochlear implantation based upon brain structure and function obtained from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) evaluation completed at Lurie Children’s before surgery. The goal of this research is to develop custom therapies to maximize language after implantation. This work uses machine learning and is supported by NIH/NIDCD (Principal Investigator Nancy M. Young, MD, FACS, FAAP). To read our 2018 publication click here

Our implant program is the lead site for a multi-center FDA clinical trial to expand pediatric indications for the MED-EL Synchrony Cochlear Implant System to infants as young as 7 months and children with less severe hearing loss.

We are also participating in a clinical trial to provide cochlear implant technology to children with single-sided deafness and asymmetric hearing loss. Children eligible for this study receive the MED-EL Synchrony Cochlear Implant.

Families will be informed if their child may be eligible to participate in a study. Participation is voluntary and not required to receive care from our team.

Our Publications

Recently published retrospective studies by our cochlear implant team include:

We have published cochlear implant outcomes studies about children with:

Resources & Support

To learn more about cochlear implants, visit these physician-recommended websites. 
Descarga esta información en español: Programa de implantes cocleares de Lurie Children’s (PDF)


Your support is vital in helping us continue to make a difference in the lives of patients and families. Lurie Children's relies on philanthropic funding to enhance its programs, services and research for children. Our social workers and educator positions devoted to children with hearing loss rely on the generosity of donors. To learn more, please e-mail the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Foundation at or call 312.227.7500

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