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Hearing Aids vs. Cochlear Implants: What’s the Difference?

Many people with hearing loss struggle with clarity of speech, especial in noisy situations. With many videos of successful cochlear implant activations posted on social media, patients struggling with hearing aids will often wonder if a cochlear implant is the correct solution for them. That answer is based on a number of factors including a patient’s current audiological status, physical health, mental health, and personal support system, just to name a few.

Both hearing aids and cochlear implants are electronic devices worn in or around the ear to help individuals with hearing difficulties hear better. Hearing aids work by amplifying sounds and sending the sound signal through the ear and into the brain. Cochlear implants are a bit more complex in that they bypass the outer, middle, and inner ear to send an electrical signal that directly stimulates the auditory nerve.

Cochlear implants are often only considered when regular hearing aid no longer benefits a patient’s ability to understand speech. While the hearing aid may make the signal loud enough, due to damage in the cochlea, the brain, unfortunately, may not have the ability to decode an auditory signal once it arrives. This is when a cochlear implant may be beneficial as it will bypass the portion of the auditory system that is causing distortion and generates electrical signals that stimulate the auditory nerve directly which the brain eventually learns to recognize as sounds.

Cochlear implants do require surgery and consist of a processor which will sit on or behind the ear and a receiver which is implanted underneath the skin and is attached to an electrode array which is inserted into the cochlea. Approximately one month after the implantation surgery, an audiologist will activate, or turn on the implant device and work to program it to where it is comfortable to the patient. Significant therapy is also often needed to help the brain relearn how to hear through electrical signals instead of auditory ones. Patients often report that voices are more robotic sounding, but that they are able to better understand conversations, as well as hear environmental sounds and have better sound awareness for safety.

While the majority of patients do well with hearing aids alone, some may need more help than a traditional hearing aid can offer. If you feel you are truly struggling with your hearing aids, the audiologists at Gardner Audiology can assist with hearing evaluations, hearing aid reprogramming, and discuss all of your options. Schedule an appointment by calling 1-800-277-1182.

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Valerie Schiavo B.S., Gardner Audiology