Objectives: Electrical stimulation from a cochlear implant can spread beyond the auditory nerve. The aims of this study were to accurately measure facial nerve stimulation in pediatric implant users and to determine the characteristics and incidence of this unwanted activity. Part A consisted of a prospective study of a randomized sample of 44 pediatric implant users. Part B consisted of a retrospective analysis of 121 children with previously recorded electrically evoked auditory brainstem responses (EABR).
Study Design and Methods: Responses were evoked by 3 electrodes along the implant array in three groups of children: 1) postmeningitic, 2) abnormal cochlea, and 3) neither. Intraoperative measures were obtained under anesthesia; all other recordings were completed in awake children.
Results: Intraoperative recordings revealed large nonauditory responses in a number of channels, including the midline EABR. Under paralysis, these responses disappeared, and clear EABRs were recorded. Similarly, prospective postoperative electromyographic (EMG) responses from the facial nerve were found in more than 59% (26 of 44) of experienced implant users (Nucleus 24): 31% of postmeningitic children (4 of 13), 80% of those with abnormal cochlea (8 of 10), and 66% of those with neither (14 of 21). Retrospective analysis of previously recorded postoperative EABRs demonstrated facial nerve stimulation in 35% (42 of 121). In most cases, facial nerve stimulation occurred when levels were perceptually loud but comfortable.
Conclusions: 1) Facial nerve potentials can be recorded using EMG in a large proportion of cochlear implant users at high levels of stimulation. 2) The EABR can be obscured in the presence of facial nerve stimulation and care should be taken to distinguish it from the EMG response, particularly when auditory brainstem activity is in question. 3) Use of surface EMG provides an additional objective measure to ensure the safe and comfortable use of cochlear implants.