Hearing aid patients have often asked if they’re a candidate for cochlear implants. Some even assumed that an implantable device equals a much better hearing sensitivity and hearing benefit. However, some hearing aid users and non-hearing aid users do not understand what it would take to be a cochlear implant candidate and the risks that come with it. This article will discuss the difference between hearing aids versus cochlear implant as well as cochlear implant candidacy.
How Hearing aids and cochlear implants are different
Some people have assumed that hearing aids and cochlear implants are essentially the same hearing devices. This is not the case. Yes, both hearing aids and cochlear implants are meant to do this one same thing: allow the individual to better utilize their sense of hearing, and to aid and improve hearing sensitivity.
Hearing aids are worn externally on or in the ear. In contrast, a cochlear implant has two parts in which the internal portion is surgically placed inside the organ of hearing called the cochlea, and the external piece is worn on the head and behind the ear.
Hearing aids primarily amplify speech sounds and the surrounding environment
A hearing aid is a small, external wearable electronic device placed on the ear or ear canal. Hearing aids amplify the sounds of the surrounding environment. These devices may also help with overall speech clarity when communicating with another person.
Nowadays, hearing aids are digital. Digital hearing aids can be programmed and fine-tuned to the individual’s specific hearing loss. Hearing aids can be programmed for the individual to utilize the volume or environmental program features.
A cochlear implant transmits electrical sounds to the cochlea
A cochlear implant is a hearing device that has internal and external parts. The implant gives an individual with severe to profound deafness some perception of hearing when using the device.
A cochlear implant has two different parts of the device, an internal portion implanted into the cochlea, and the external device that resembles the behind-the-ear hearing aid. The exterior portion is worn behind the ear with a magnetic device pressed on the head near the ear.
A cochlear implant has several different components that work together
The cochlear implant’s external component has three parts, the microphone, the speech processor, and the transmitter.
The microphone picks up the sounds from the speech or the surrounding environment. It sends the information to the speech processor, which then filters the acoustic signal and organizes the signals into separate frequency channels. It then converts the channels or bands into a digital format. The digital signal is then sent to the transmitting coil, held by the magnet piece (located on the backside of the head near the ear). The transmitting coil then sends the information to the internal coil by way of the magnetic disk.
The device’s internal portion is surgically placed under the individual’s skin, right behind the ear. The internal device consists of a receiver or stimulator, which then reorganizes the frequency bands or channels and converts that digital signal and then transmits sounds electrically to the narrow wire called the electrode array. The electrode array, which is inched into the cochlea, stimulates the auditory nerve and then sends the signal to the brain.
There are pros to cochlear implants
The pros of wearing a cochlear implant is that it could allow the individual with severe to profound deafness to experience hearing at a normal or near-normal hearing level. Cochlear implants such as a hybrid cochlear implant can also be implanted for those with normal hearing sensitivity in the low frequencies, but have severe to profound deafness in the middle to high frequencies.
Cochlear implants may be beneficial to those who have had normal hearing sensitivity and could not benefit from hearing aids and have poor word recognition ability. Cochlear implants may also benefit young children born deaf, and if parents choose to have their child fitted with a cochlear implant.
There are cons to cochlear implants
The cons of getting a cochlear implant are: once fitted with the device, a process of programming the device is needed. Intensive aural (re) habilitation or listening therapy is needed in order to learn how to hear and listen to sounds using the cochlear implant device.
Individuals with cochlear implants may or may not have an MRI done due to the magnetic device from the cochlear implant’s internal component. There are limits to when an individual could get an MRI.
Cochlear implants can also be costly. Some health insurance will cover most of the cost for the surgery and for the device itself. Check your healthcare provider for cochlear implant coverage.
There are pros to wearing a hearing aid
Hearing aids are beneficial for those with mild to severe (and sometimes profound) sensorineural hearing loss with fair to excellent word recognition ability. Hearing aids may allow some individuals with hearing loss to experience clearer speech in quiet and in noisy situations.
Hearing aids are now virtually discrete, digital, and easy to use. There are so many features with the hearing aids, including rechargeable hearing aids (no more changing batteries) and connecting your hearing aids via Bluetooth to your smartphone or tablet.
Hearing aids are also very comfortable to wear, and a little bit more affordable than cochlear implants.
There are cons to wearing a hearing aid
Unfortunately, hearing aids cannot be worn during the following activities: swimming, bathing, or taking a shower, using the sauna, or while sleeping.
Although most hearing aids are moisture and sweat-resistant, the devices can still be damaged due to prolonged excessive moisture.
Some hearing aids may not allow individuals to hear normally or at a near-normal hearing level. Keep in mind that hearing aids cannot restore hearing loss to normal hearing.
Cochlear implant Speech processor can last up to 5 years
The internal portion of the cochlear implant is permanent; however, the speech processor can last up to about five years with a combination of maintenance and regular doctor and audiology check-up.
Nowadays, the cochlear implant’s technology can be updated to be compatible with the future sound processor’s technology. A cochlear implant can also be fine-tuned to the individual’s specific hearing needs.
Hearing aids have a lifespan of 3 to 7 years
The hearing aids’ lifespan is three to seven years, and longer, depending on the care and maintenance of the hearing aids. It all comes down to how well the device is built, how much wear and tear the device goes through when in use for several hours a day, and how well the hearing aid device has been maintained and cleaned.
It is highly recommended to have the hearing instrument maintained and cleaned regularly by the audiologist or hearing aid technician in order for the devices to last as long as possible.
Not all Hard of Hearing individuals qualify for a cochlear implant
How do you know if you’re a potential candidate for a cochlear implant? There are a number of things to take into consideration.
First, you must have a sensorineural hearing loss (or inner ear hearing loss). Second, your hearing sensitivity (sensorineural hearing loss) has to be significant to a point where hearing aids are not beneficial. Third, the ability to understand speech is essentially poor. Fourth, you need to have a strong support system to help you go through this process.
If you meet these criteria, you may be a candidate for a cochlear implant. It is highly suggested to see your ENT physician or audiologist for further information regarding candidacy for a cochlear implant and be medically cleared for a cochlear implant.
Cochlear implants are not just for individuals with severe to profound deafness
There are cochlear implants made available for those with partial hearing loss. In other words, individuals with normal or near-normal hearing sensitivity in the low frequencies and severe to profound deafness in the middle to high frequencies may benefit from a hybrid cochlear implant.
Individuals can also wear a cochlear implant on one side and a hearing aid on the other side for maximum hearing benefit.
It is recommended to try hearing aids first before considering a cochlear implant
It is highly recommended to try hearing aids first in order to determine if you benefit from hearing aids or not. This may consider whether you’re a candidate for a cochlear implant.
Suppose you’re not a hearing aid user and are considering a cochlear implant. In that case, it is recommended to see your physician or clinical audiologist to discuss your cochlear implant candidacy and options.
In general, if you’re an individual who struggles to hear and understand speech, and hearing aids are just not working for you, you may be a candidate for a cochlear implant.
It is crucial to understand how hearing aids and cochlear implants work and the difference between the two devices. This may help determine whether you’re a candidate for hearing aids or a cochlear implant.
There are pros and cons to cochlear implants and hearing aids. Consider discussing these options with your ENT physician or your audiologist to determine which devices would be right for you.