Effects of CI Electrode Insertion on Tinnitus


Thomas J. Balkany, MD




Over the past three decades, several papers have demonstrated positive as well as negative effects of cochlear implantation (CI) on tinnitus (1-6).

Theoretical mechanisms of CI effects on tinnitus include electrical stimulation and electrode insertion trauma (EIT). Electrical effects may reduce tinnitus by masking (creating an auditory percept that makes tinnitus inaudible), electrical suppression (directly altering the generation or neural transmission of the tinnitus signal) or by other mechanisms. EIT may cause increasing tinnitus due to neural or metabolic organelle damage that may cause abnormal signal generation. The following discussion addresses a series of patients in whom traumatic, scala transgressing insertion exacerbated tinnitus in comparison to another cohort in whom non-scala transgressing electrodes did not.

·Pre-operative tinnitus in CI candidates has been estimated at 65 – 100%. (1, 2)

·The rate of tinnitus improvement following CI ranges from 50 – 90%. (4,5)

·Tinnitus may be generated or made worse by CI in 0 – 28% of recipients. (5, 6)

New Information

In an important paper by Ingo Todt and colleagues at Unfallkrankenhaus (UFK) in Berlin (7), post-op flat panel CT was used to determine whether or not CI electrodes ruptured inter-scalar partitions and traversed between S. tympani and S. vestibuli. Tinnitus was analyzed by standard metrics: a validated analog loudness scale and a questionnaire. Below is a summary of one of the significant outcomes. In short:

Tinnitus Worse after CI

Electrode traversed scala (n = 19): 16%

Electrode did not traverse (n = 36): 0


Take Home

Good surgical technique may reduce post-CI tinnitus. In this study, only when electrodes penetrated from one scala to another (equivalent to Eshraghi-Balkany Grade IV/IV trauma (8)), was tinnitus generated or made worse.

Surgical techniques that prevent or reduce inter-scalar transgression may be expected to reduce post-implant tinnitus. These are the same techniques that are used to preserve residual hearing: adaptive cochleostomy (adapting the cochleostomy to the patient’s cochlear anatomy and the configuration of the electrode to be implanted) and meticulous attention to the electrode insertion trajectory (to avoid deflection of the electrode tip into S. vestibuli.)


·When CI electrodes ruptured intrascalar partitions and traversed between the scala, tinnitus had a 16% chance of being generated or becoming worse.

·When electrodes did not traverse scala, tinnitus was not made worse.

(Please see the original paper for a breakdown of all groups and all data. There is interesting information about which electrodes tend to traverse scala and tinnitus suppression differences between peri-modiolar and anti-modiolar electrodes.)

1. Balkany TJ, Bantli H, Vernon J, Douek E. Direct electrical stimulation of the inner ear for the relief of tinnitus. Am J Otol. (now Otol and Neurotol) 1987;207-212.

2. McKerrow WS, Schreiner CE, Snyder RL, Merzenich MM, Toner JG. Tinnitus suppression by cochlear implants. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 1991;100:552–8.

3. Tyler RS, Rubinstein PJ, Pan T, Chang S-A, Gogel SA, Gehringer A, et al. Electrical stimulation of the cochlea to reduce tinnitus. Semin Hear 2008;29:326–32.

4. Mo B, Harris S, Lindbaek M. Tinnitus in cochlear implant patients–a comparison with other hearing-impaired patients. Int J Audiol 2002;41:527–34.

5. Ito J. Tinnitus suppression in cochlear implant patients. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1997;117:701–3.

6. Kompis M, Pelizzone M, Dillier N, Allum J, DeMin N, Senn P. Tinnitus before and 6 months after cochlear implantation. Audiol Neurootol 2012;17:161–8.

7. Ingo Todt, Grit Rademacherb, Sven Mutzeb, Ravi Ramalingam, Selene Wolter, Philipp Mittmann, Jan Wagner & Arne Ernst. Relationship between intracochlear electrode position and tinnitus in cochlear implantees. Acta Oto-Laryngologica 2015;8.

8. Eshraghi AA1, Yang NW, Balkany TJ. Comparative study of cochlear damage with three perimodiolar electrode designs. Laryngoscope. 2003 Mar;113(3):415-9.