OBJECTIVES: Given the close interconnection between the auditory and vestibular end organs, the increasingly broad application of (bilateral) cochlear implantation (CI) in children raises concern about its impact on the vestibular function. Unfortunately, literature on this matter is inconclusive and subject to several limitations. Therefore, this study aimed to elucidate the impact of pediatric CI on the vestibular function in a large sample of children, representative for the current CI population.
DESIGN: Fifty hearing-impaired children followed in the Ghent University Hospital were included in this prospective study. Twenty-seven patients underwent unilateral CI, and 23 were bilaterally implanted (9 sequentially, 14 simultaneously), adding up to 73 implanted ears. Children's median age at first implantation was 29 (range 8 to 194) months. Vestibular assessment was scheduled on average 2.8 months (SD: 3.6) before and 4.6 (SD: 4.0) months after implantation and consisted of video Head Impulse Testing of the lateral semicircular canals, rotatory testing (0.16, 0.04, and 0.01 Hz) and cervical vestibular evoked myogenic potential (cVEMP) testing with bone conduction stimulation. Caloric testing was added in children older than 3 years of age.
RESULTS: Overall, group analysis in our sample of 73 CI-ears did not reveal any significant impact on the vestibular function, except for a significantly shortened ipsilateral N1 latency of the cVEMP responses (p = 0.027) after CI. Complete ipsilateral loss of function after implantation was seen in 5% (3/54) of all CI-ears on the video head impulse testing, in 0% (0/10) on the caloric test and in 2% (1/52) on the cVEMP, notably all patients deafened by a congenital cytomegalovirus infection.
CONCLUSIONS: The impact of CI on the vestibular function in our dataset was limited. Therefore, the many advantages of simultaneous bilateral implantation may outweigh the risk for vestibular damage postoperatively. However, the impact on the vestibular function may be dependent on various factors (e.g., etiology of the hearing loss), and the clinical outcome is still difficult to predict. Vestibular assessment remains thus an important aspect in the pediatric CI population; first because the vestibular function should be considered in the decision-making process on (simultaneous or sequential bilateral) CI and second because it is essential to reveal a possible additional sensory deficit, allowing an opportunity for rehabilitation to improve the overall outcome of these children.