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12/30/2017 Cochlear Implant Surgery Treatment & Management: Medical Therapy, Surgical Therapy, Preoperative Details

Cochlear Implant Surgery Treatment &

Updated: Oct 13, 2017
Author: Cliff A Megerian, MD, FACS; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA more...


Medical Therapy
In the context of this article, any medically available treatments for sudden or progressive
sensorineural hearing loss are assumed to have been exhausted. In addition, standard modes of
amplification are assumed to have been deemed by the patient and clinician to provide unsatisfactory
levels of hearing and speech discrimination.

Surgical Therapy
The implant evaluation and workup can seem time consuming and cumbersome to some patients.
Accurately assessing candidacy from an audiologic, medical, and emotional standpoint is necessary.
In addition, with the various cochlear implant options available, the patient often spends much time
and thought on choosing the most appropriate implant.

Preoperative Details
In addition to the otoneurologic examination, pediatric and adult patients are cleared through their
primary medical physician for suitability for general anesthesia.

Determine the side of the cochlear implant. Cochlear implant manufacturers no longer make side-
specific implants (eg, early generation Clarion); however, a frank preoperative discussion between the
surgeon and recipient should include a suggestion and agreement of the ear to be implanted.

Implanting the better-hearing ear, in many cases of bilateral severe-to-profound deafness, allows for a
greater population of surviving spiral ganglion cells to receive electrical stimulation and, hence,
potentially results in a better outcome. However, some patients, especially those who have
progressive bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and are experiencing asymmetric deafness bilaterally,
are still reluctant to implant their best-hearing (although poor-hearing) ear out of fear of cochlear
implant failure and loss of sound awareness input before stimulation of the device. Therefore, these
patients want to maintain that ear although it does not allow useful speech discrimination. In such
patients, the poorer-hearing ear may be implanted.

For the hearing preservation approach, perioperative steroids are started the day before the implant
procedure and continued for a week post implantation. Some surgeons do use another course of
steroids at the time of implant activation.

Immunization using the standard pneumococcal regimen is mandatory before implantation to reduce
the likelihood of meningitis. [14] 1/9
12/30/2017 Cochlear Implant Surgery Treatment & Management: Medical Therapy, Surgical Therapy, Preoperative Details

On the day of surgery, the operative ear is marked in the preoperative holding area. A patient who still
uses a hearing aid is allowed to take the hearing aid into the operating room, and it is removed after
anesthesia is induced. The hearing aid is returned to the patient postoperatively. In certain
circumstances, a sign language interpreter accompanies the patient into the holding area and
operating room to assist with anesthesia induction. Nurses can facilitate patient comfort by
communicating on a small writing board. Upon entering the operating room, the operating surgeon
and the nursing team again confirm the correct side of surgery. Intravenous prophylactic antibiotics
are routinely given and the facial nerve monitor is applied.

Intraoperative Details
Step 1 - Flap marking and incision design
Postauricular incision is seen in the image below.

Postauricular incision for cochlear implant.

View Media Gallery

Once the patient is properly anesthetized, the postauricular crease is infiltrated with 1% lidocaine with
1/100,000 epinephrine. At the authors' center, minimal to no hair is shaved. In order to establish where
the cochlear implant receiver will lie, an imaginary line is drawn through the lateral canthus of the eye
through the external canal and posteriorly into the retromastoid region. Then, the surgeon visualizes a
nearly perpendicular line that travels along the postauricular area tangential to the line at which the
helix touches the retroauricular region. The posterior-superior quadrant marked out by the angle
created by these intersecting lines is the region in which the implant receiver well should be drilled.
Because all 3 commercially available FDA-approved multichannel cochlear implant devices have a
behind-the-ear (BTE) processor, room for a BTE device should be taken into account; hence, a mock-
up of a BTE may be helpful.

The incision that is now standard in the authors' center, as well as in many others, is a line along the
postauricular crease, with little or no extension superior to the hair-bearing area. After making an
incision and carrying it down to the level of the temporalis fascia superiorly and to the level of the
mastoid periosteum, develop anterior and posterior supraperiosteal flaps. Anteriorly raise an anteriorly
based periosteal flap, including temporalis fascia, until the spine of Henle is identified. Using a mock-
up of the implant receiver, mark the position along the mastoid region for the cochlear implant and
leave room for a BTE processor. Mark this spot with methylene blue before the incision or with a
marking pen directly on bone after the periosteal flap is raised. 2/9
12/30/2017 Cochlear Implant Surgery Treatment & Management: Medical Therapy, Surgical Therapy, Preoperative Details

Attention then is turned to the mastoidectomy.

Step 2 - Mastoidectomy and posterior tympanotomy

Mastoidectomy is seen in the image below.

Mastoidectomy has been performed, as well as facial recess approach. Attention is now turned to marking the
site for implant-well drilling.
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Using a large (6-mm) cutting burr, suction irrigation, and a high-powered microscope, perform a
mastoidectomy with care taken to avoid the standard saucerization and skeletonization of the
sinodural angle, tegmen mastoideum, and sigmoid sinus. Leaving bone over these areas is important
to allow retention of the implant array leads. Thin the bony posterior canal and open the antrum and
identify the horizontal semicircular canal. Using a 3-mm cutting burr, thin the canal wall further and
identify the incus. With a 2-mm diamond burr, skeletonize the facial nerve in its descending portion,
identify the chorda tympani, and begin the posterior tympanotomy.

Open the facial recess widely with the 2-mm diamond burr and copious suction irrigation, with care
taken to leave bone over the facial nerve. As the recess is opened, identify the stapedial tendon and
stapes suprastructure. Then, identify the round window niche inferiorly. If visualizing the round window
is difficult, remove bone anteriorly and medially to the facial nerve with the diamond burr and rotate
(airplane) the patient's bed toward the surgeon to allow for visualization of the round window. In some
circumstances of poor round-window visualization, an extended facial recess approach, which
requires sacrifice of the chorda tympani at its inferior-most region, may be helpful. Again, take care to
avoid any injury to the tympanic membrane, which is just lateral to the chorda tympani. Thoroughly
irrigate the wound, and identify and confirm clear visualization and accessibility of the round window
membrane. Then, turn attention to the site of the receiver well.

Step 3 - Cochlear implant receiver well drill out with tie-down holes

The image below depicts the creation of tie-down holes with drilling of the well. 3/9
12/30/2017 Cochlear Implant Surgery Treatment & Management: Medical Therapy, Surgical Therapy, Preoperative Details

Tie-down holes have been created and 2-0 nonabsorbable sutures have been placed through 1-mm holes drilled
into the ledge of bony well.
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Once the mastoidectomy has been completed, place a surgical mock-up of the implant and identify
the position for the drilling of the well, usually posterior and superior to the mastoidectomy site. In
children, the skull typically is not thick enough to reliably achieve a depth that allows full cochlear
implant placement; therefore, a dural island may be created. Using a marking pen, outline the mock-
up and drill out the well to skeletonize the bone down to the level of the dura.

Using a diamond burr, remove the bone around the perimeter of the well to expose dura and allow
mobility of the dural island of bone. Once the surgical mock-up of the receiver can be fully recessed
into the bony well, create dural tie-down holes. Using a brain retractor to protect dura and a small
cutting burr, create 4 tie-down holes. Place nonabsorbing 2-0 sutures through the tie-down holes, and
hold the sutures aside with mosquito clamps. [15] Thoroughly irrigate the wound. Manage bleeding with
cautery. Then, turn attention toward the facial recess.

Step 4 - Cochleostomy
The image below depicts cochleostomy. 4/9
12/30/2017 Cochlear Implant Surgery Treatment & Management: Medical Therapy, Surgical Therapy, Preoperative Details

Cochleostomy is performed (upper left hand corner) prior to placing implant into receiver well (main photo).
View Media Gallery

The recommendations for cochleostomy size given by a number of different cochlear implant
manufactures vary. Regardless of the type of implant, the author uses a small cochleostomy, which is
performed 1 mm inferior and posterior to the stapes suprastructure on the cochlear promontory. This
is performed with a 1-mm diamond burr. Once the basilar turn is visualized, any bone from ossification
can be drilled out and further removed with stapes picks. Take care to use irrigation and suction to
avoid thermal injury to the facial nerve. The rotating shaft of the drill is always kept away from the
facial nerve. Facial nerve monitoring is routinely used and is helpful in circumstances in which
variations of normal facial nerve anatomy are present. In addition, from a patient and surgeon's
comfort perspective and for medicolegal reasons, using the facial nerve monitor in routine cases is

Step 5 - Implant tie down and electrode insertion

The insertion of electrodes is seen in the image below.

Once electrodes are placed into cochleostomy and extracochlear electrode lead is placed under temporalis
muscle, closure of periosteal tissue can begin.
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Once the cochleostomy has been achieved satisfactorily, the wound is irrigated again. Bring the
cochlear implant into the field only after ensuring that no further cauterization with electrocautery is
necessary. Then, secure the cochlear implant within the well and tie it down. If the Clarion device is
used, an inserter tool then can facilitate the insertion of the implant. Use a temporalis fascia graft to
pack the cochleostomy site. Using the Nucleus 24 Freedom device, the cochlear implant array is held
with toothless forceps and introduced partially into the scala tympani. At this point, the off-stylet
introduction technique is performed, and the stylet is removed.

If resistance is met, consider reinspecting the basilar turn of the cochlea for ossification and/or open
the cochleostomy further prior to removal of the stylet. If the Clarion device is used, carefully reload
the insertion tool and, in both cases, avoid forcing a cochlear implant when resistance is met. Be
careful not to injure or inadvertently bend the electrode array at this time. Partial insertion is
sometimes necessary. Then, secure the cochlear implant within the well, and tuck the silastic receiver
portion of the device under a temporalis or pericranial flap. Secure the electrode lead within the
mastoidectomy defect. 5/9
12/30/2017 Cochlear Implant Surgery Treatment & Management: Medical Therapy, Surgical Therapy, Preoperative Details

Gel foam may be used to secure the lead within the drilled-out trough in between the well and the
mastoidectomy site and may be used to help secure lead 1 of the Nucleus 24 device, which is tucked
under the temporalis fascia. With most commercially available multichannel cochlear implant devices,
make plans for impedance testing and neural-response telemetry (NRT) before closure.

Step 6 - Telemetry, closure, and radiograph

A water-tight periosteal closure is seen in the image below.

A water-tight periosteal closure is performed, and skin closure begins with a subcutaneous absorbable suture
View Media Gallery

Place the skin flap back over the cochlear implant device. Using an intraoperative sterile telemetry
device, perform impedance testing for implant integrity. For MED-EL, Clarion, and Nucleus systems,
impedance testing and NRT is routinely performed. After confirming the integrity of the electrodes,
initiate closure. Typically, the periosteal flap is closed over the mastoidectomy site and the cochlear
implant with absorbable sutures. Return and close the skin flap with subcutaneous interrupted sutures
and a running subcutaneous-subcuticular absorbable suture. Place Steri-Strips with a tincture of
benzoin; also place a mastoid dressing. Anteroposterior plain films can be obtained at this point to
document intracochlear placement of the electrode array.

Awaken and extubate the patient; then, return the patient to the recovery room. Prior to discharging
the patient from same-day surgery, the audiology team meets with the family, provides cochlear
implant documents, and makes plans for initial stimulation and mapping, which takes place 3-5 weeks

Postoperative Details
Patients are typically returned to the recovery room with orders for antinausea medication. Most
patients have minimal nausea and vertigo because routine intraoperative administration of
dexamethasone (Decadron) has a prophylactic effect on postoperative nausea. Most patients have
minimal dizziness or gait issues and are able to be discharged an hour and a half following surgery.

Follow-up 6/9
12/30/2017 Cochlear Implant Surgery Treatment & Management: Medical Therapy, Surgical Therapy, Preoperative Details

Send patients home with their mastoid dressing intact and 7 days of an oral antibiotic and pain
medication. Provide follow-up care in 2-3 days to remove the mastoid dressing. Many patients now
simply remove their mastoid dressing at home on postoperative day 2 and are instructed to inspect
the wound for bleeding or hematoma. Schedule a second visit at 2 weeks postoperative, and schedule
plans for device stimulation 3-5 weeks following the initial surgery.

The risks of cochlear implantation mimic those of mastoidectomy. These include postoperative
infection, facial paralysis, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leakage, and meningitis. Manage these risks via
standard techniques. In 2002, the risk of meningitis was approximately 1 in 1000 cases and likely
related to either the size of the cochleostomy or the design of the Clarion device with implant
positioner. Clarion withdrew the positioner, and analyses of non—positioner-related cases of
meningitis revealed that the risk of meningitis in these patients was similar to that of a nonimplanted
deaf patient. To minimize the risk of meningitis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
has recommended all patients have up-to-date immunizations to Streptococcus and Haemophilus.

The risk of meningitis in a patient who has received an implant with a positioner persists for at least 2
years postimplantation, so a high index of suspicion is indicated for these patients, as well as
verification of proper immunization. [14] Patients should be aware that any residual hearing in the
operated ear is lost after implantation. Complications specific to cochlear implantation include flap
dehiscence, seroma formation, implant migration, facial nerve stimulation, perilymphatic or CSF
gusher, and device failure. The FDA maintains a Web site (MAUDE) dedicated to tracking individual
implant complications. As this database develops, the consumer can more easily gain access to
useful real-time information that pertains to individual manufacturer or device quality. [16]

Flap complications can be avoided by using an incision that does not compromise the blood supply to
the postauricular region, such as the one outlined in the Intraoperative details section. Seroma
formation may be avoided by use of a mastoid compressive dressing for at least 2 days. If a seroma
develops, it can be evacuated using an 18-gauge or larger needle using sterile technique. A mastoid
dressing should be reapplied for 2 days. Initially raising a supraperiosteal flap and then raising a
subperiosteal and pericranial flap based in opposite directions results in complete coverage of the
internal receiver with fascia, which creates a secure closure that minimizes postoperative

Promptly treat minor infections with oral and topical antibiotics. Intravenous antibiotics and, if
necessary, flap revision can save an otherwise extruding device secondary to major infection. [17]
Implant migration can be avoided by securing the device deep within the bony well with secure tie-
down sutures. Electrode migration is minimized by packing the cochleostomy with tissue such as
temporalis fascia or muscle. Facial stimulation usually can be managed by deactivating certain
offending electrodes.

A CSF/perilymph gusher via the round window is common in patients with cochlear anomalies such as
enlarged vestibular aqueduct syndrome, common cavity, and wide internal auditory canal syndrome.
These complications are best managed by packing the round window with fascia after implant
insertion. Dizziness after cochlear implantation surgery is typically short lived and usually resolves
with observation. When device failure is believed to have occurred, perform telemetry and consider
consultation with the manufacturer before explantation and reimplantation.

Outcome and Prognosis 7/9
12/30/2017 Cochlear Implant Surgery Treatment & Management: Medical Therapy, Surgical Therapy, Preoperative Details

The overall prognosis for hearing improvement and improved quality of life in the properly selected
patient is excellent. Patient selection is addressed in Indications.

Future and Controversies

Cochlear ossification results from inflammation of the inner ear, often following deafness secondary to
meningitis. Most instances of ossification do not preclude cochlear implantation because total
ossification is rare. In one series, bony growth was confined to the basal-most portion of the cochlea
and was easily traversed with minimal drilling. Electrode insertion was complete in 14 of 15 patients in
the series.

Most cases of ossification in the authors' center are found to be limited to the basilar turn and are
easily drilled open, allowing for full insertion of a standard device. However, in 5 cases of severe
widespread meningitis-related ossification, the split-array technique was performed with the Nucleus
split array device, with satisfactory results.

Gantz et al have described more aggressive approaches to total ossification; these approaches use a
circumferential cochlear trough for implant insertion. [18] Cochlear malformations, such as common
cavity deformity and Mondini malformations with incomplete partitions, are also amenable to full or
near-full implantation. In cases involving common cavity, the author prefers to use the nucleus straight
array device so that the electrodes can stimulate the perimeter of the common cavity where the nerve
endings reside.

The future of cochlear implantation is exciting and is now upon us. Bilateral cochlear implantation has
demonstrated significant benefits for patients in a number of areas, which include hearing in noise,
speech perception outcomes, and sound directionality. [19] Audiologists, otolaryngologists, and
pediatricians have known for years that the standard of care for children is binaural hearing (2 hearing
aids) habilitation for hearing aid–serviceable hearing disorders. Now, the norm is rapidly becoming
parents and clinicians who offer binaural cochlear implantation to maximize hearing and speech
outcomes in both children and adults. The concept of implanting patients with residual hearing in the
low frequencies has led to the development of short implants, which contact the basal or high
frequency portion of the cochlea while leaving the low frequency (apex) undisturbed. [20] This hybrid
implantation technique for hearing preservation has recently been reviewed. [3]

In the future, patients can expect faster and better coding strategies, which result in better speech
perception. In addition, the improvement in chip design and battery design will likely pave the way for
totally implantable cochlear implants as microphones become integrated to middle- or external-ear
structures. Nanotechnology is rapidly providing hope for smaller, more robust, electrode array designs
with a virtually endless number of electrode contact sites. These advances will likely continue to lead
to a lowering of candidacy thresholds and improved performance and will result in expanding the
criteria for future implantation.

Surgical Care
Patients are typically followed up in two weeks to assess the incision and are cleared for implant

Not routinely required. In case of specific etiologies (e.g., Pendred syndrome) specific services can be
consulted (e.g., endocrinology). 8/9
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Advise against strenuous activity until the first post-operative appointment. 9/9