What is a Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant is an implantable device with an external sound processor that is designed to assist people with severe to profound hearing loss perceive sounds in the world around them.  Unlike hearing aids which make sounds louder, a cochlear implant converts sound energy into electrical pulses and delivers the signal to an electrode array that is inserted directly into the cochlea (organ of hearing). These electrical pulses bypass the damaged hair cells in the cochlea and directly stimulate the nerve associated with hearing.  The implanted device is coupled via a small coil magnet with the external sound processor, which houses a microphone to capture the sound.  The sound processor is worn on the ear and looks similar to a behind-the-ear hearing aid without the ear mold; it is powered by batteries and is programmed specifically for each patient.

How a Cochlear Implant works

  • The microphone of the external sound processor collects sound.
  • The sound is encoded and converted into electrical pulses.
  • The pulses are sent across the skin to the internal stimulator/receiver via the coil.
  • The stimulator/receiver sends the pulses to the electrode array in the cochlea.
  • Multiple electrodes fire in a specific pattern to stimulate the auditory nerve.
  • The auditory nerve receives the pulses and sends them to the brain.
  • The brain recognizes these signals as sound.


There are three cochlear implant device manufacturers currently approved by the FDA: Cochlear Corporation, Med-El, and Advanced Bionics.  The UVA Cochlear Implant Program has extensive experience working with all three manufacturers.  Information about each cochlear implant manufacturer and their current devices can be found at their websites.

Advanced Bionics

Cochlear Americas