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The Difference Between Cochlear Implants and Hearing Aids

Woman showing cochlear implant

You probably know what a hearing aid does, but have you ever heard of a cochlear implant?

While hearing aids are used to treat varying degrees of hearing loss by amplifying sound, a cochlear implant is used when hearing aids are insufficient. They transform sounds into electrical energy that stimulates your auditory nerve. These devices are implanted surgically and are used to treat profound hearing loss due to absent or reduced cochlear hair cell function.

Both of these medical devices are used to treat sensorineural hearing loss, which is the most common type of hearing loss, but hearing aids are much more common.
In fact, in 2012 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimated that 12 million Americans wear hearing aids and roughly 58,000 adults and 38,000 children use cochlear implants. To put those statistics into perspective, for every one person wearing a cochlear implant, there are 125 people wearing hearing aids.

So how does the cochlear implant work?

It is made up of two parts: the internal receiver/stimulator and the microphone and magnetic transmitting coil. The internal receiver is surgically implanted in your ear, while the microphone and coil fit externally behind the ear and on the side of the head. The microphone picks up sound, translates it into coded signals and sends it through the transmitting coil to the implant located under the skin. Electrical energy is then sent to the electrodes in the cochlea, which stimulates the auditory nerve and travels to the brain for interpretation.

Is a cochlear implant right for you?

Most cochlear implant recipients try hearing aids out first. If you’ve tried hearing aids and they haven’t benefitted you due to profound sensorineural hearing loss or congenital deafness, then cochlear implant surgery may be something to consider. To determine whether or not it’s the right move, you will need to have audiologic testing, a medical exam and possible x-rays/MRI.

Fortunately, the majority of individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss will benefit from traditional hearing aids. Although hearing aids don’t process sound like cochlear implants, they are less expensive and can be manually adjusted, repaired, replaced and removed easily.

For more information on cochlear implants or hearing aids and information on how we can help you, call Evolution Hearing at our Charlottesville, VA office at 434-260-8007 or our Raleigh, NC location at 919-670-3258.