Implants Vs Hearing Aids

Hearing is a complex process that originates in the cochlea; the organ of hearing that is located inside the temporal bone of the skull. The cochlea is a tiny snail shell shaped organ that is comprised of thousands of microscopic sensory cells. These sensory cells work like keys on a piano. Each sensory cell is organized and tuned to match a certain pitch, much like piano keys are. In a normal hearing person, these sensory cells respond to acoustic information in the environment and translate it into a neurological code that the brain can interpret. Understanding of sound happens in the brain; the ears are just the way in. The sensory cells have a very important role in this translation of acoustic information to a neurological code. If any of the sensory cells do not work properly, the information that arrives in the brain will be distorted and incomplete. The listener may have difficulty understanding what is said.

Speech is a complex acoustic signal. When a speech signal makes it to the cochlea, many sensory cells respond. This would be analogous to a sonata playing on a piano. Many keys are being played at once to make rich, full music or, in this case, speech. When sensory cells are damaged and/or missing, incomplete and distorted sound arrives at the brain. Think about how a piece of music would sound when played on an out of tune piano with missing keys. This is comparative to speech coming through a cochlea with damaged and missing sensory cells. When the signal arrives at the brain, the music isn't rich, full, or even recognizable. The listener has to work even harder to understand what he or she is listening to.

Hearing aids only make sound louder. A loud sound arrives at a damaged cochlea. Louder sounds don't overcome the damage of the sensory cells. The damage is permanent.

A cochlear implant is not a hearing aid. Rather, it is a neural prosthesis that helps to provide hearing to people with severe to profound hearing loss by bypassing the damaged sensory cells of the cochlea for individuals that cannot make use of the sound amplified by the hearing aid. The patient's traditional means of hearing, "acoustic hearing," is then replaced with "electric hearing" through the cochlear implant. From this point forward, a new journey in hearing...begins!