The Cochlear Implant vs the Conventional Hearing Aid

In any comparison of the relative value of a cochlear implant vs that of a conventional hearing aid, it needs to be understood that the two are not actually alternatives. In practice, deciding which of these two devices may be more effective in treating a given individual is not a matter of a surgeon or a patient’s preference, but is entirely the consequence of the subject’s auditory performance. The latter option, although it may have undergone dramatic advances during the decades since it was first developed, is still essentially a simple amplification device, albeit one that now makes use of the sophisticated solid-state technology associated with digital electronics, rather than employing transistors or vacuum tubes.

The modern product has shrunk in size to the point where some models are so small that they may be worn deep within the ear canal and are, to all intents and purposes, invisible. Interference-free, crystal clear sound tailored to compensate for the specific audible frequencies most affected might make the performance of the cochlear implant vs that of a hearing aid appear to be an unfair contest but, unfortunately, the latter is not a feasible solution for everyone with impaired audition.

In the case of sensorineural hearing loss, for instance, amplified sound is being delivered to an organ that has a diminished ability to respond by generating the appropriate nerve impulses. Where malfunction of the middle ear is extensive and the delicate hair cells are severely damaged or even absent, deafness may be profound and thus some substitute for the normal sensory process becomes necessary as selective amplification will be of no value. Under such circumstances, when considering the relative merits of the cochlear implant (CI) vs those of the hearing aid (HA), the former is the only possible choice.

When considering either of these devices, it is important to understand that neither one offers a cure for hearing loss. Once the damage is done, whether to the conductive or sensory components of the ear, it cannot be reversed by any treatment currently available. These devices are simply a means for a subject to better manage the difficulties that deafness may present.

An amplifier is, in practice, the equivalent of shouting in your ear, while a CI is designed to convey sensations of sound to the brain that differ somewhat from those produced via a healthy ear. This, in turn, means that following the surgical insertion of a receiver and electrode array, a period of adjustment will be required while the new implantee learns how to interpret these altered sound sensations accurately. In time, this should allow him or her to converse naturally and to enjoy a normal lifestyle with few limitations.

Another difference revealed in a cochlear implant vs hearing aid comparison, is that the CI delivers sound across the entire audible range, but is less effective at frequencies below 250Hz, while conventional aids can be tuned to amplify the impaired frequencies exclusively. However, the latter have a downside since earpieces are prone to acoustic feedback, while implanted arrays are not. Given the need for surgery and the greater complexity of the device, implants are by far the more expensive option. When considering cochlear implants vs hearing aids, however, professional advice is always the best choice.

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