Cochlear Implants and MRIs

A week ago, two hearing friends sent me a photo that was going around on the Internet. The photo below was taken by Natalie Bell, a mother of a child with a cochlear implant, along with an article explaining why she made that seat belt.

The text on the seat belt reads: “I am deaf – I have a cochlear implant – no MRI.”

For those who don’t know, people with cochlear implants should not do Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). MRI is a medical procedure in radiology that forms images of the physiological processes of the body by using strong magnetic fields.

Why can’t cochlear implant users have MRIs?

Cochlear implant users have a magnet placed under the scalp just behind the ear. The magnet helps hold the headpiece (commonly known as the coil) to transmit sound to the device itself.

When two magnets are close to each other, sometimes wacky things can happen – like them repelling. The magnetic fields in MRIs will be disrupted by the magnet inside the recipient’s head and the resulting image will come out unclear.


Image Source

Also, the magnet inside the recipient’s head has the risk of shifting and causing pain or injury to the recipient. The thought of the magnet moving in my head freaks me out, and I’d prefer to avoid that at all costs.

Before seeing the picture that Natalie posted with the innovative seat belt, I didn’t realize just how vulnerable I would be if I was ever in any accident of some kind and unable to speak for myself.

I kept imagining waking up, finding out that someone did an MRI on me, and realizing that the magnet inside my head shifted and I would have to go through another surgery to get it fixed.

I’m sure there are people out there that can relate to this, whether they have an allergy to general anaesthesia, or have a child with autism that might react negatively to strangers trying to help them (there’s a seat belt for that too!).

What if I needed an MRI?

Sometimes, having an MRI is unavoidable. As someone with an implant by Cochlear, I am lucky to have a brand of implant that can permit an MRI up to a certain Tesla level (the higher the Tesla level, the clearer the resolution) with the magnet in place, and to a higher Tesla level without the magnet in place.

Cochlear implants are done in a way that the magnet can be easily removed in the rare case that someone with one needs to do an MRI.

However, some implant brands might not permit the magnet to be removed during MRIs or have complicated magnet removal procedures that might risk further injury to the recipient. Those with these types of implants might be required to seek out other treatment options.

While there are some risks to doing an MRI with an implant, technology is advancing at a rate so fast, that I bet soon, the risk of doing an MRI with an implant will be slim to none.

To my readers with implants, have you had any experiences with MRIs?

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