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The Difference Between a Cochlear Implant and a Hearing Aid

Doctor with Hearing Aid

When you are just getting used to hearing loss or have just received a diagnosis, it’s easy to be confused about the different kinds of hearing devices out there that are designed to help you. For instance, you may have initially thought that hearing aids and cochlear implants are the same thing. Depending on the diagnosis, your hearing instrument specialist may recommend one over the other. However, you might not be certain why. Here, we’re going to look at some of the differences between the two types of devices and why one might suit you better.

About hearing aids

Hearing aids are the most commonly used solution for hearing loss and can help with hearing loss that ranges from mild to profound. They are small, electronic devices fitted and worn and removed freely. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including those that are worn behind the ear, with tubes leading to speakers that rest in the canal, to those worn in the outer ear bowl or canal, creating using custom molds made of your ear by your hearing instrument specialist.

Hearing aids amplify the noises you’re exposed to in the outside world and can be configured to match a range of needs and environments. They also come with a range of additional features, such as directional microphones, selective noise reduction, Bluetooth connectivity, and more. Since hearing aids are so diverse, finding the best one for you means working with your hearing instrument specialist to browse the selection on offer.

About cochlear implants

Like hearing aids, cochlear implants are small electronic devices designed to fight hearing loss. Neither device can restore your hearing, but they do improve your sense of sounds while wearing them. However, cochlear implants are not worn in or on the ear. Instead, as the word ‘implant’ suggests, they are surgically inserted beneath the skin and are meant to work as a permanent solution.

These implants have a mixture of internal and external parts. The internal components, such as the receiver-stimulator, are implanted in the ear. Meanwhile, the external device contained a microphone, transmitter and processor that are worn behind the ear, much like a BTE style hearing aid. This device digitizes the sounds hearing through the device and stimulates the auditory nerve directly.

Differences between hearing aids and cochlear implants

Besides the fact that surgery is required for cochlear implants, other things set implants and hearing aids apart. Cochlear implants tend to be a much more selective solution for very particular needs; as such, there are 16,000 people wearing hearing aids for every one person wearing a cochlear implant.

Cochlear implants also work a little differently from hearing aids. They are slightly more complex, technologically. Rather than using microphones and speakers to amplify the sound you hear, they channel sound, bypassing the damaged cochlea and sending it straight to the auditory nerve.

There are also differences in the experience of actually using the device. Hearing aids amplify the sounds that you hear directly. They can sound a little muffled and computer-aided compared to natural hearing as the noise is both enhanced and filtered to the right frequencies to make it more audible. Meanwhile, cochlear implant users have said that the sounds they hear, especially speech, can sound a lot more digital in nature.

Which is right for you?

Cochlear implants are a much rarer choice than hearing aids. They are often used as an option for those who hearing aids won’t help, such as those with deafness due to cochlea damage. They are usually recommended for very young children, as young as a year old, who have been born deaf or with profound hearing loss. Unless you are deaf or you have especially profound hearing loss, a hearing aid is much more likely to be the right solution for you.

Hearing aids tend to fit a broader range of hearing loss needs. However, finding the right device is best done with the help of a hearing instrument specialist. They can help you get to the bottom of your hearing loss with a hearing exam. After that, they will have a full understanding of your range of hearing and can help you navigate the market to find the devices best suited to your needs.

Learn more about the range of devices available

To learn more about hearing aids, cochlear implants and other approaches to improving your hearing, get in touch with your hearing instrument specialist. You can reach The Hearing House at 715-384-4700, and we’ll be glad to answer all of your questions.