Hearing Aids vs. Cochlear Implants

Aug, 12, 2020

Both hearing aids and cochlear implants have the amazing ability to transform the lives of those who wear them. The benefits of these incredible pieces of technology go far beyond simply delivering crisper, cleaner, louder sounds. They can also play a huge role in improving mental health by removing isolation arising from hearing issues and instilling confidence in those who wear hearing aids to live life to the fullest.

But, as with many medical solutions and personal preferences, different options suit different circumstances. While there are certainly some similarities between hearing aids and cochlear implants, they might actually be more different than you think. Read on for a brief introduction to each of these life-changing devices and a hearing aids and cochlear implants comparison.

What is a hearing aid?

A hearing aid is a device that changes sounds to help those with hearing loss with hearing loss hear better. Hearing aids amplify sound, making it louder or sharper so that individuals can better understand it, while simultaneously lessening the impact of background noise to help crystallise more important sound. 

Hearing aids have evolved overtime from analog to digital, with additional features to help improve how those with hearing aids hear sound. Analog hearing aids worked by sound travelling in through a microphone, where electrical signals are transformed. Then it passes through an amplifier, which enhances the signals before sending them through a speaker and into the ear. Now, digital hearing aids see sound transformed into streams of code that are then amplified and sent into the ear, whilst reducing background noise.

There are several different types of hearing aids, including ones that sit behind the ear and manually placed inside the ear canal. Hearing aids can be suitable for those with minor to moderate hearing loss levels These hearing loss levels may have been impacted by illness, injury or ageing. Hearing aids are more common than cochlear implants.

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a device with multiple components that can aid those with severe hearing loss where hearing aids would not be strong enough. Outside and behind the ear sits a piece that consists of a transmitter and a sound processor. Another piece is located inside the ear, which features a receiver surgically placed just on the other side of the skin where the transmitter sits. The sound processor gathers sound from outside the ear and transforms it into electrical signals. These pass through the transmitter to the receiver and then to an implant deeper within the inner ear. These are then sent to the brain and registered as sound.

Cochlear implants can be a suitable option for people of all ages who are completely deaf or have extreme hearing issues. They can be particularly beneficial to those born without hearing ability, as early implant use can facilitate children learning how to speak. This device can also sometimes be a good fit for those whom hearing aids are no longer a feasible option, depending on the individual’s level of hearing loss.

How are hearing aids and cochlear implants similar?

There are many similarities between hearing aids and cochlear implants. The most important one is that they can both make a world of difference in helping those with hearing loss better enjoy life through an improved audial experience. 

Another similarity between hearing aids and cochlear implants is that there has been incredible progress made in the creation and use of both types of devices. These days, hearing aids with smart technology can conveniently sync up with apps on mobile devices and other technology around your home.

Meanwhile, advances in cochlear implant technology allow the device to work in conjunction with a user's current hearing, as restricted as it may be. In the past, cochlear implants would totally override any hearing ability a user had. Now, this extremely limited hearing can potentially be used as a foundation, even if quite a shaky one, to help build a better listening experience.

How are hearing aids and cochlear implants different?

Depending on an individual's hearing health and level of hearing loss, both of these devices can be fantastic options. But how are cochlear implants different from hearing aids?

One way is in how they help users hear. Hearing aids help magnify or otherwise augment the sounds a person hears. But cochlear implants don't alter sound. Instead they alter the way the wearer receives sound, creating an entirely new process. This is done by bypassing damaged parts of the ear to deliver sound to the brain. 

Another difference is those who undergo cochlear implant surgery have to learn or re-learn how to hear, which can require a lot of patience and practice over the course of months. While living with hearing aids can take some time to get used to, they don't have the intensive learning curve of cochlear implants. Many users become used to wearing and using hearing aids within a couple of weeks.

Finally, those who wear hearing aids can remove them whenever they feel like. Since some components of cochlear implants are surgically placed beneath the skin, you can't just totally remove them. You can take off the outer piece though. With hearing aids, you can remove the entire device whenever you'd like.

Hearing aids vs cochlear implants: Which is right for you?

Hearing aids are the first approach to addressing a hearing impairment or hearing loss, depending on the level of hearing loss an individual may be experiencing. If this is not suitable, then a cochlear implant may be best suited. The best course of action is to consult a hearing professional who can help diagnose your specific issue and then suggest potential treatment plans and equipment that can help you live life as freely and comfortably as possible. 

If you are concerned about hearing loss, the first step is to book a hearing assessment with a National Hearing Care audiologist. If required, the qualified audiologist can make a referral for a cochlear implant if hearing aids are deemed unsuitable.

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