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Hearing aids are widely used to help those with mild to moderate hearing impairments communicate better, while people with severe hearing loss sometimes opt for a cochlear implant. Learn about the difference between hearing aids and cochlear implants, and which device is best-suited to various levels of hearing impairment. 

What Is a Cochlear Implant? 

A cochlear implant is a small, sophisticated medical device that’s used to help those with severe hearing loss understand speech and other sounds. 

The cochlear implant must be surgically installed in the patient. A portion of the device is placed deep inside the ear canal, and this part connects to a small external microphone, speech processor, transmitter and receiver located just above the ear lobe. 

Cochlear implants work by converting sounds into electrical signals. These signals are channeled directly to the auditory nerve, and following about a year of intensive auditory training, patients are able to understand sounds processed through the implant. 

How Is a Cochlear Implant Different From a Hearing Aid? 

Hearing aids are small, external sound amplification devices designed to be easily installed and removed by the user. By comparison, cochlear implants are surgically installed, and once a cochlear implant is placed, patients can never use a hearing aid in the implanted ear. 

While cochlear implants work by sending electrical signals to the brain via the auditory nerve, hearing aids amplify specific sound frequencies. 

In general, it takes patients up to two weeks to fully adjust to a new hearing aid. Cochlear implant patients need to undergo post-surgical auditory training that lasts up to a year. 

Who Should Use a Hearing Aid vs a Cochlear Implant? 

Hearing aids are best-suited for patients who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss that either stems from damage to the outer or inner ear, which is common among those suffering from age-related hearing loss. 

Cochlear implants are designed for use in patients with moderate to severe hearing loss caused by damage or a congenital issue, also known as congenital sensorineural hearing loss. 

Put another way, hearing aids are often the best option for those whose hearing loss can be largely overcome by amplifying sounds. Cochlear implants are used for those who have difficulty understanding spoken words and other sounds regardless of the volume. 

What Is the Cost Difference Between Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants? 

Although pricing for hearing aids and surgical procedures vary, in general, a pair of high-quality hearing aids cost a fraction of what cochlear implant surgery does. According to Duke Health, a single cochlear implant can cost over $100,000 plus the cost of post-surgical speech and language therapy.