Surgery Day

Before Surgery

If you have any additional health issues, you may be asked to attend the Pre-Admission Clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital prior to your surgery.  This may involve a separate trip to Vancouver.  There is currently a waitlist for cochlear implant surgery.  We are usually able to give two months' notice of the surgery date.  If you are not able to take the surgery date we offer, we will give you the next available surgery date that works for you.


All adult cochlear implant surgeries are performed at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.  The surgery takes approximately 2 hours.  The surgery is performed under general anesthetic. When you are asleep, an incision is made behind the ear.  A small amount of hair may be shaved behind the ear in the area where the incision is made.  The surgeon will drill through the mastoid bone, a honeycomb of air cells behind your ear (a mastoidectomy).  This allows access to the area behind your eardrum through which the implant electrode is inserted into the cochlea, the organ of hearing.  The incision is closed using dissolvable sutures underneath the skin so there are no sutures to remove later.  A head dressing is placed over the incision, which can be removed at home the day after surgery.  

After Surgery

After the surgery, you will be monitored in the recovery area until you are fully awake.  Usually, you are able to leave the hospital the same day of the surgery (daycare procedure).  If you are feeling unwell, you may be required to stay one night in the hospital the day of the surgery.  If you live outside of the lower mainland, you should plan to stay in a hotel in Vancouver the night before and the night of the surgery.  It is okay to fly or drive home over mountain passes the day after the surgery.  Otherwise, it would be preferable to avoid flying for about 6 weeks after surgery.  You will not be able to use a hearing aid in the operated ear for four weeks after surgery (if the residual hearing is preserved).  

Risks/Side Effects of Surgery

The risk of a serious complication occurring during general anesthetics is approximately 1 in 200,000 patients.

  • You may experience some numbness at the top of the ear that usually recovers over several months.  It is rare for this numbness to be permanent.
  • The surgeon needs to drill beside a nerve that goes to the muscles of the face.  If that nerve is damaged, you will have either a temporary or a permanent weakness (paralysis) of one side of your face. The risk of paralysis of your face is around 1 in 1000 patients (0.1%).  
  • There is a second nerve that supplies taste to one-half of our tongue.  A temporary change in the sense of taste or a metallic taste is seen in 10% of patients.  Some people complain about a permanent change in their taste, but this is extremely rare.
  • When the implant is inserted into the cochlea (inner ear), you will probably lose any natural hearing in that ear.
  • Dizziness is common for 2 or 3 days.  Occasionally people can have dizziness for several weeks, but this is rare.  If this occurs you should call your surgeon.
  • There is a risk of an infection after the surgery.  The risk of an infection is less than 1%.  However, if an infection occurs, there is a possibility that the implant will need to be removed.
  • If an infection occurs, there is also a risk of meningitis, an infection of the brain. The risk of meningitis immediately after surgery is 1 in 5000.  The risk of meningitis later once all is healed is about the same as the general population.  We will supply you with information regarding the recommended vaccinations and ask you to speak to your family doctor about these vaccinations to decrease the risk of meningitis.