Cochlear Implants: An Illustrious History Marred With Complications

Cochlear Implants: An Illustrious History Marred With Complications 2

The only sensation that a medical instrument can accurately reproduce is hearing. A device known as a cochlear implant is used to achieve this by electrically stimulating the auditory (hearing) nerve. This device has had a major impact on people suffering from deafness but has had its own extensive history of severe complications at the same time.

That said, this game-changing technology has quickly advanced from its simple origins of supplying basic sound to aiding people in living richer and more fulfilling lives through the relationships that come with discussion, music, and laughing.

In this article, we will first briefly look at the history of cochlear implants as a revolutionary hearing aid for restoring hearing loss for its beneficiaries. Further, we will see how this illustrious history has also been marred with various complications reported in some beneficiaries over the years.

A Brief Illustrious History of Hearing Implants (Focus on Cochlear Implants)


Alessandro Volta was the first to explain how electric impulses may be used to create an auditory sense in the early 1800s. However, it wasn\’t until 1957 when André Djourno and Charles Eyriès deliberately triggered the auditory nerve to give patients who had undergone significant ear surgery in France a sense of hearing. 

For sound production, they used manually spun electrodes positioned near the hearing nerve stump. Patients were able to distinguish between on and off as well as faint and loud sounds because of the device\’s electric signal, which could consistently provide the feeling of sound. Patients could not interpret words or distinguish between different pitches, though. Sadly, the devices had issues, and the researchers decided to give up on the endeavor.

Towards Cochlear Implants

A surgeon from the United States named William House learned about the French trial in 1961. Engineer Jack Urban assisted House in creating and testing the first cochlear implant device.

One electrode was inserted within the cochlea, and a wearable sound processor was also part of it. Although this technology had a number of drawbacks, receivers were nevertheless able to hear sound and show improvement in speech understanding through visual signals.

These outcomes motivated several surgeons, engineers, and academics to investigate the possibility of regaining hearing by carefully controlling electrical stimulation within the cochlea.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, implant technology advanced dramatically. The 1970s saw an increase in the number of implants, ongoing research, and the creation of a multichannel device. The FDA approved the cochlear implant for adult implantation in 1984, removing its status as an experimental device.

Complications That Have Stained The History of Cochlear Implants

Implanting a cochlear device carries some risks, as reported across patients over the years. These risks/complications have significantly marred the otherwise illustrious history of this revolutionary healthcare invention. Some of the significant complications are 

Swelling of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)

Following cochlear implant surgery, meningitis can develop. Before implantation, adults and kids both are typically given vaccinations to lower their risk of contracting meningitis. Less than 1 in 1,000 recipients of cochlear implants are susceptible to this extremely unusual problem.

A decline in remaining hearing

The placement of the device may cause some people to lose any remaining, unclear natural hearing in the implanted ear.

Device malfunction

A defective internal device may occasionally require surgery to be repaired or replaced. Over several years, this happens in fewer than 5% of persons.

Some other reported complications

Possible inability to receive various medical tests and treatments

MRI imaging

MRI is a standard diagnostic tool for spotting medical issues early on. Being near an MRI scanner poses a risk since it could detach the implant or demagnetize its internal magnet. However, for certain MRI study types conducted under controlled circumstances, the FDA has approved several implants.

Other such tests and treatments include 

  • Electrical surgery
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Ionized radiation therapy
  • Neurostimulation
Reduced capacity to hear loud and faint noises without affecting the implant\’s sensitivity 

The brain continuously modifies the sensitivity of normal hearing, but cochlear implants\’ design necessitates a person manually changing the device\’s sensitivity level as the sound environment shifts.

Static electricity is something to be wary of

A cochlear implant could be damaged by static electricity either permanently or momentarily. Before coming into contact with objects that produce static electricity, such as children\’s plastic toys and games, television screens, computer displays, or synthetic fibers, it may be a good idea to take the processor and headset off. 


Cochlear implants have given a happy life to many patients over the years despite their checkered history marred with various complications and disadvantages. Further advancements in this technology will hopefully eliminate the present complications. 

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