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Cochlear implants: frequently asked questions

Photo: Answers to some of your key questions about cochlear implants

Here are some of the questions frequently asked by parents with children who will get a cochlear implant soon or who have recently had one implanted.

If you aren’t at this stage yet, perhaps an audiologist has suggested your child gets a cochlear implant and you still have questions, then have a look at our page Deciding to have a cochlear implant.

Can my child wear cochlear implants in the bath or for swimming?

Cochlear’s Freedom, and Nucleus 5, and Advanced Bionic’s Harmony speech processors are all described as water resistant and can be worn in the rain, for sports where sweat may be an issue, or on the beach. However they should never be immersed in water so aren’t suitable for swimming or bathing in.

Cochlear have designed the Cochlear Nucleus Aqua accessory, a sealed plastic bag that completely protects the speech processor, cable and transmitter coil, making them waterproof in up to four metres of water for up to two hours (IP68 rating).

The only waterproof speech processor is the Neptune made by Advanced Bionics. The Neptune has an IP68 rating and can be submerged in up to three metres of water and used safely in the pool and bath.

Although it’s designed for use while children play in the sand and splashing in the sea, the manufacturers don’t recommend it be immersed in salt water due to the corrosive effects of the salt.

Children who have compatible internal parts may be able to upgrade to the Neptune when their next routine upgrade is due.

If you feel your child would benefit from a water resistant or waterproof speech processor, talk to your audiologist for more information on the options available.

How do I get replacement batteries?

Cochlear implant speech processors require batteries and they will need to be changed regularly, between once a day and once a week.

They're provided free from the NHS and are usually small button batteries which are disposable (can’t be recharged).

Your implant team will usually provide a quantity of batteries but if you run out you should be able to get a small supply:

  • from a local health centre/GP surgery near your home
  • through a Teacher of the Deaf so that they can be collected at your child’s school
  • by post.

In an emergency it’s possible to buy batteries for hearing aids that would be suitable as a short-term option for a cochlear implant from most high street chemists.

Some audiology and implant services will ask you to return old batteries when requesting new ones.

Keep your used batteries in the original packaging to keep them safe and so you can be sure no old batteries have gone missing. Batteries from speech processors are extremely dangerous if swallowed.

If you think your child may have swallowed a battery or inserted it in their ear or nose, take them to your nearest A&E department. Take along a packet of batteries so that doctors are aware of what they are dealing with.

How do I care for my deaf child’s speech processors and transmitter coil?

Your child’s implant team will show you how to do daily checks on the external parts of the implant – the speech processor and the transmitter coil. The team will also give you a set of replacement leads and coils that you can change at home yourself.

For more details of daily checks for cochlear implants speech processors and transmitter coils see page 28 of Cochlear Implants: A guide for families.

Can my child wear their speech processors to do sports?

Children with cochlear implants are able to take part in most activities, although sometimes it’s a good idea to remove the speech processor during the activity to prevent it being damaged, for example, when taking part in football, netball and swimming.

In order to avoid damaging the internal part of the implant, children with cochlear implants are advised to wear head protection for some activities and to avoid contact sports where a knock to the head is likely such as judo, kickboxing and rugby.

For specific advice speak to your cochlear implant team and/or the implant manufacturer.

Deaf children can and do take part in a variety of sporting activities. UK Deaf Sport has been set up to promote deaf sports and has details of deaf sports matches and results.

The British Deaf Association also has details of different sporting events. Your Local Deaf Children's Society may also have information on sporting events or clubs in your area.

What other technology and equipment works with cochlear implants?

Cochlear implants can be connected to a variety of other technology and equipment using direct audio input, the telecoil (or T programme) or Bluetooth.

All NHS cochlear implants are compatible for use with radio aids.

Setting a speech processor to the T programme could help your child hear music, the TV or someone speaking in a public place (through a loop system) much more clearly and with no background noise.

Cochlear implants often have accessories and cables available that mean they can be connected to other equipment such as mobile phones, MP3 players, games consoles, TVs and computers. Bluetooth accessories may need to be 'paired' with the implants so that they only work with those speech processors.

For more information on radio aids and other equipment that can be used with cochlear implants see Products and technology

My child has lost/damaged their speech processors, will I have to pay for them?

The NHS provides speech processors on a permanent loan basis and they always remain the property of the NHS rather than the wearer.

Parents are expected to take every reasonable care of their child’s speech processors, and implant teams will provide retention accessories and advice on their use to make sure that speech processors can be worn securely and without fear of them falling off and being lost.

Your implant team will provide guidance on action to be taken should loss or damage occur to one of your child’s speech processors.

The NHS is legally allowed to charge for the loss or damage of equipment (except Scotland).

The NHS can’t insist that parents insure their child’s speech processors, as they remain the property of the NHS rather than the wearer. However, some parents choose to insure against the risk of being charged for any loss.

Most household insurance will cover this (let the insurance company know and have the speech processors listed as a named item on the policy). To make sure cover is adequate, speak to your implant team about the costs of your child’s speech processor – this is likely to be in the region of £6000 each.

When travelling abroad, you may wish to purchase travel insurance to cover the speech processor and external parts of the implant.

Read our policy on insurance and replacement of hearing equipment: Charging and insurance to cover the cost of replacing or repairing of all hearing and listening equipment provided by NHS and Local Authorities.

Can my child wear their speech processor at night?

There’s no reason why a child can’t wear speech processors at night although they may not be very comfortable to rest on. If your child doesn’t like the quiet when the processors are taken off you could perhaps remove them soon after they fall asleep.

It might also help to have a safe place for the processors (e.g. a special box close to the child’s bed where they can put them away and retrieve them safely when wanted). It can be helpful for young children to make processors part of their dressing and undressing routine in the morning and evening.