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Cochlear Implants

Can people with cochlear implants scuba dive?

Otolaryngologists who perform cochlear implants have varying opinions on returning to diving after the procedure. Some do not allow it, while others feel that in selected patients it may be safe. The following is from Dr Thomas Balkany, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Miami:

I can only give you general guidelines but not make any specific recommendations because I have not examined you and am not your doctor. Please feel free to discuss these recommendations with your otologist and be sure to follow his/her recommendations.

Diving is a sport with some inherent risk and people with deafness or ear surgery may be at increased risk with scuba diving.

The CI manufacturers Cochlear Americas and Advanced Bionics both recommend a maximum depth of 4 ata (30m, 99fsw). A study by Douglas Backous et al in 2002 showed no device problems down to 6 ata (50m, 165fsw). Kompis et al in 2003 reported 40 actual dives in a patient with bilateral CIs to a maximum of 43m. I urge my patients to stay well above 4 ata.

Regarding return to diving after implantation, a recipient should wait a minimum of 3 months after implantation, be able to autoinflate (equalize) the operated ear, be completely healed, free of symptoms such as vertigo, imbalance and pain and have complete resolution of the post-operative hemotympanum (blood behind the ear drum). On examination with a microscope, the fistula test should be negative and the TM should not contact the electrode on maximum medial excursion. (Your doctor will gently puff air into you're your ear canal to see if it makes you dizzy or if the eardrum touches the CI electrode.) Your neurological examination should be normal.

Thomas J. Balkany, MD, FACS, FAAP

Hotchkiss Professor and Chairman

Department of Otolaryngology

Professor of Neurological Surgery and Pediatrics

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