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Hearing loss is a prevalent experience in the United States that can greatly impact an individual’s quality of life. In fact, it’s one of the leading chronic health conditions in the country.
Two of the most common solutions to address varying degrees of hearing impairment are cochlear implants and hearing aids. While both aim to improve hearing, they can be quite different in the profile of who each method is best suited for. Choosing between them depends on factors such as the severity of hearing loss, anatomical considerations, and individual preferences.
While an audiologist is the most reliable voice in determining which type of hearing loss intervention is most beneficial in individual cases, here are some comparisons between cochlear implants and hearing aids.
How Hearing Loss Works
To understand how each hearing loss treatment method works, it’s best to first understand hearing loss itself. There are a number of causes of the condition. Congenital hearing loss, that which occurs from birth, can be caused by genetic factors or issues in utero.
Throughout a lifetime, illnesses or accidents can damage the structure of the ear or brain and result in sudden hearing loss.
However, exposure to excessive noise and aging are the two most common causes for hearing loss. These elements harm the inner ear hair cells that collect noise and turn it into sound information. This information is then sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. In the brain’s processing center, meaning emerges from this information.
How Cochlear Implants Work
A cochlear implant is a complex medical device designed to address severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss, where the inner ear’s cells are damaged, affecting the transmission of sound signals to the auditory nerve and brain. Cochlear implants bypass these damaged cells by directly stimulating the auditory nerve, allowing individuals to perceive sound signals and understand speech.
Cochlear implants consist of two main components: an external part and an internal implant. The external part includes a microphone, a speech processor, and a transmitter. The internal implant is surgically placed under the skin and comprises an electrode array that is inserted into the cochlea, the spiral-shaped structure of the inner ear. The external component captures sound, processes it into digital signals, and transmits them to the internal implant, which then stimulates the auditory nerve.
Previously a complicated and serious surgery, medical advancements have made this a much less invasive process. These days, many cochlear implant surgeries are performed as out-patient processes.
This type of intervention is most suited to people with severe or profound hearing loss, specifically those whose condition can’t be helped by hearing aids. Their hearing loss should also be caused by diminished access to functioning inner ear cells, and with the auditory nerve undamaged. Cochlear implants are often used for people born with hearing loss, experiencing progressive hearing loss, or acquired hearing loss due to certain medical conditions.
How Hearing Aids Work
Hearing aids are amplification devices that work for the vast majority of people with hearing loss. There are models geared toward mild, moderate and severe hearing loss. The various styles of hearing aid themselves differ between which type an audiologist might recommend based upon your individual pattern of hearing loss, lifestyle, and listening needs.
They work simply and elegantly by capturing sound through a microphone, processing and amplifying the sound, and then delivering it to the ear through a speaker.
Hearing aids are best suited for individuals whose inner ear cells are damaged but still capable of transmitting sound signals to the auditory nerve. This means that while some frequencies are beyond hearing, a good amount of residual hearing remains.
Choosing Between Cochlear Implants And Hearing Aids
The decision to opt for a cochlear implant or a hearing aid depends on several factors.
- Degree of Hearing Loss: Cochlear implants are typically reserved for severe to profound hearing loss, while hearing aids are suitable for a broader degree of hearing loss.
- Communication Needs: Cochlear implants can provide more comprehensive access to sound and speech for individuals with profound hearing loss. Hearing aids may work just as well for those with less severe hearing impairment.
- Type of Hearing Loss: Candidates for cochlear implants should have a functional auditory nerve, while hearing aids work best when the auditory nerve is intact.
- Medical Eligibility: Cochlear implantation requires surgery, making medical eligibility a consideration. Hearing aids do not involve surgical intervention.
- User Preferences: While both hearing aids or a cochlear implant may work for an individual, some people prefer one route over the other.
Meet With Our Team
Our team of highly trained hearing health professionals can help you determine which intervention is best for your individual type of hearing loss and unique lifestyle.