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Hearing Aids vs Cochlear Implants

Difficulty with hearing affects your participation in everyday life. Hearing loss affects over 48 million Americans and is now the third most chronic condition in the United States. There are two common treatment options to improve hearing- hearing aids and cochlear implants.

The two treatments can sometimes be mixed up or confusing. Hearing aids and cochlear implants are meant to suit certain people in certain categories; they do not both only amplify sound.

Similarities between hearing aids and cochlear implants

Both hearing aids and cochlear implants help patients with hearing loss to communicate better and engage with their world. Any age group can use the devices. All users, or their caregivers, must have some degree of motivation to try and learn the new device.

Hearing Aids

A hearing aid is an external product worn in or around the ears. It is typically suited for people with Mild to Profound hearing loss. Hearing aids amplify sounds so that damaged ears can detect them.

Hearing aids contain microphones that receive sounds from the outside world. They convert sounds into vibrations and electrical impulses. They are also made with many more technologically advanced features now.

Cochlear Implants

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that is surgically implanted into the user. It is typically suited for those with Moderate to Profound hearing loss. Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and can take time to learn.

One part of the device is implanted into the bone surrounding the ear (temporal bone). The second part of the implant is an outside device. It contains a microphone/receiver, speech processor, and an antenna.

Cochlear implants bypass the damaged parts of the ear and directly stimulate the user’s auditory nerve. Signals created by the implant are sent to the brain, which recognize the signals as sound.

Further differences of the two devices are highlighted by Duke Health below:

Hearing Aids Cochlear Implants
Type of Hearing Loss Either "conductive," meaning it stems from your outer or middle ear, or "sensorineural," meaning it stems from your inner ear or hearing nerve. "Sensorineural," meaning it stems from your inner ear or hearing nerve.
Speech Excellent to fair/poor. You understand about 50% or more of spoken words. Fair to poor. You understand about 50% or less of spoken words.
Functionality Amplify acoustic sound by specific frequencies, and other high-tech options. Makes you hear via electrical stimulation. Translates acoustic sound into electrical signals. It sends signals directly to the hearing nerve and then to the brain.
Time Can take 0-2 weeks to adapt to use. Can take 6 to 12+ months to adapt to use.
Surgery No Yes. Outpatient surgery under general anesthesia.
Risks Little to none. Low to moderate risk.
Age Limit No upper age limit. No upper age limit.
Cost $3,400 – $6,000 for a pair. Some insurance plans cover the cost. $60,000 – $100,000+ per implant. Most insurance plans cover the majority of the cost.

Who are potential patients

Some people may not qualify for a cochlear implant due to the shape of their cochlea, their tolerance of anesthesia, or their psychological status. These factors will be assessed by your physician; other assessments may include CT scans or MRIs of the brain and the ear.

Those who can hear well enough using hearing aids are not good candidates for implants. The patient would be almost completely deaf in both ears with little improvement from hearing aids. Candidates must also be examined by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor.

Medical-grade technology

Medical-grade hearing aids now offer: speech enhancement, background noise management, directional 360 degrees sound with movement, automatic environment detection, Own Voice processing, binaural processing, and tinnitus therapy. They can also be wireless and rechargeable to help make life much easier for users. can help assess your needs and steer you in the right direction for treatment, whether it be cochlear implants or hearing aids. There could be an option out there that fits your current lifestyle needs!

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Lauri Tucker

Growing up with an aunt who's worn hearing aids for 40 years, and a nephew who's deaf in one ear, Lauri wanted to support and inspire others with hearing loss. She's the senior copywriter at

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