Hearing Aids vs Cochlear Implants

A frequently asked question audiologists and hearing healthcare professionals get is, “Are hearing aids and cochlear implants the same thing?”  No, no they are not.  They are quite different from one another and they have different requirements for candidacy even though they both strive to improve the hearing of the wearer.

The purpose of hearing aids is to amplify sound.  They take everyday speech and sounds and amplify it through the outer and middle ear to the inner ear.  The amplification should be strong enough to activate the sensory receptor cells/hair cells and the hearing nerve.  Hearing aids can be taken in and out and do not require any sort of extensive surgery.  Hearing aids work on mild, moderate, moderately-severe, and even severe to profound hearing loss.  However, patients in the severe to profound category of loss might have difficulty understanding speech due to the severity of their losses, and they may be viable candidates for a cochlear implant.

Cochlear implants actually transform speech and other sounds into electrical energy that stimulates the auditory nerve; it has both a piece that has been surgically implanted into the cochlea as well as a processor that attaches to the head behind the ear with a magnet.  The cochlear implant bypasses the sensory receptor/hair cells and directly stimulates the nerve.  The cochlear implant is reserved for person who already have severe to profound hearing loss bilaterally and who have gone through extensive testing procedures to ensure candidacy, because if a CI electrode array is implant in the cochlea, it can damage any existing hair cells and worsen a hearing loss.

 

The electrodes and array that is implanted and threaded through the cochlea. The array is made of silicone; the electrodes are made of platinum or other conductive metals. This piece is inside the cochlea and skull and communicates with the processor, pictured above.

(picture just for the sake of comparison).

Not everyone is necessarily a candidate for a hearing aid or a cochlear implant.   Much depends on the age of the wearer, the age the wearer was when he lost his hearing, degree and type of hearing loss, medical issues that can contraindicate surgery, speech/language/communication skills, the motivation and commitment of family members, realistic expectations, and more.

If you feel your hearing loss is so severe a hearing aid has not helped you, please contact your Primary Care Physician for an appointment to see if you could possibly be a candidate for a cochlear implant.  Hearing Revolution does not carry or sell cochlear implant devices or services, but we are always willing to help answer questions at Kristin@hearingrevolution.com.

 

Until next time…

 

Dr. Kristin