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Written by
Updated onMay. 24, 2022

Hearing Aids Vs. Cochlear Implants

Hearing loss is a widespread problem. In fact, more than 48 million Americans struggle with some type of hearing loss. Some may encounter mild hearing issues in one ear due to earwax buildup, while others may deal with profound sensorineural hearing loss. If hearing damage is complete, even the best hearing aids can’t help. That can lead to communication disorders later in life.

Cochlear implant surgery may be the best route for severe inner ear damage. Cochlear implants bypass the ear canal altogether and change sound into electrical signals. Those signals stimulate the auditory nerve so it can interact with the brain. While they come with complications, cochlear implants grant hearing to many people with profound ear and nerve damage.

Hearing Aids Vs. Cochlear Implants

Key Takeaways

  • Hearing aids amplify sounds for people with mild to severe hearing loss.
  • Cochlear implants require surgery and bypass cochlear damage. That way, anyone with profound to complete hearing loss can hear.
  • The best device for you depends on your type and degree of hearing loss, your medical history, and more. With implants, you’ll need to undergo surgery and become a patient of a speech practitioner.

Cochlear implants aren’t better than hearing aids by nature. Rather, cochlear implants will work better for some people, and conventional hearing aids will work better for others.

Why Trust Us

Our team has logged thousands of hours testing hearing aid devices to discover the best hearing aids for 2022. Because of that extensive research and knowledge gained, we can explain the difference between modern hearing aids and cochlear implants.

See below for our methodology on reviewing hearing aids.

4,000 Hours of research
11 Experts consulted
17 Brands considered
18 Models considered
10 Models selected

Our experts research and recommend products that can help give you a better quality of life. Using our high standards and rigorous testing methodology, we’ve spent more than 4,000 hours, collectively, researching the best hearing aids to help you find the device that’s best for you.

Throughout our research process, we:

  • Consulted with audiologists and geriatric care experts
  • Mystery-shopped brands
  • Surveyed hundreds of hearing aid users
  • Tested various models of hearing aids
  • Interviewed experts in the field
  • Read thousands of verified customer reviews

Are Cochlear Implants the Same as Hearing Aids?

Cochlear implants and hearing aids are not the same. Traditional hearing aids are removable devices that make sounds louder. That way, the ear can better detect sound waves, even if it’s damaged. You can buy and start using hearing aids anytime without a prescription. They are best suited for mild to moderate hearing loss, but some hearing aids specialized in helping severe hearing loss.

Deaf boy with cochlear implant playing

Cochlear implants are hearing devices that you cannot remove from your ears. They also don’t amplify sound waves. Instead, these implants use sound to stimulate the auditory nerves inside the ear. Those nerves then send electric signals to the brain, giving the user the sensation of sound.

Implants are for people with serious cochlear nerve damage. This type of damage usually leads to severe or complete hearing loss. Implants can be unilateral–meant for one ear–or bilateral– meant for both ears.

Is a Cochlear Implant Better Than a Hearing Aid?

Cochlear implants aren’t better than hearing aids by nature. Rather, cochlear implants will work better for some people, and conventional hearing aids will work better for others. The choice depends on your level of hearing damage and your budget, among other things.

That being said, if you have severe sensorineural hearing loss, only a cochlear implant can help. It’s also important to know that implants are likely to eradicate any remaining hearing of the natural ear. This means that someone with implants will be completely reliant on them for hearing.

Hearing aids are less expensive and require less commitment. That makes them the better option for anyone with less severe hearing loss. Small hearing aids can also be hidden behind or inside the ear so they aren’t noticeable.

Differences Between Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants

Nano Hearing Aids

Hearing aid technology uses microphones and amplifiers to help the ear detect sound waves. Modern hearing aids use a computer chip and a small, usually long-lasting battery. Rechargeable hearing aids are also available. The best hearing devices include Bluetooth hearing aids, which connect to your smartphone or computer.

The biggest difference between hearing aids and cochlear implants is the price. Since they do not require surgery, hearing aids cost thousands less than an implant.

Hearing aids also come in a wide range of models and styles. These include:

  • In-the-ear (ITE)
  • Behind-the-ear (BTE)
  • Completely-in-the-canal (CIC)
  • In-the-canal (ITC)
  • Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE)
  • Low-profile

The biggest difference between hearing aids and cochlear implants is the price. Since they do not require surgery, hearing aids cost thousands less than an implant.

Cochlear implants consist of external and internal parts. The external part has a microphone and speech processor that are linked by wires to a transmitter. The internal part links to the transmitter under the skin behind the ear, connected by a strong magnet. It converts electrical pulses and sends them to parts of the brain that receive sound.

Cochlear implantation surgery can be costly. Medicare and Medicaid usually cover some of the costs, but not all. Cochlear implantation surgery also comes with risks, including meningitis, device failure, and other severe but rare complications.

In addition, speech pathology may also be needed to learn how to interpret sound signals. That’s why cochlear implants are commonly used for infants with profound hearing loss.

Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants Comparison Chart

PRODUCT TYPE
Hearing Aids
REMOVABLE
SURGERY
HEARING LOSS SEVERITYMild to severe
COVERED BY INSURANCEUsually not
AVERAGE PRICE$800 – $8,000 per pair
Cochlear Implants
REMOVABLE
SURGERY
HEARING LOSS SEVERITYSevere to complete
COVERED BY INSURANCEMedicare or Medicaid usually cover a portion
AVERAGE PRICE$30,000 – $50,000

How Do I Know If I Have Hearing Loss?

Senior man struggling to hear a friend in a discussion isolated on white background

Hearing loss can stem from many sources, including damage to the eardrum, auditory nerves, cochlea, hearing bones or the brain. Anything from genetic factors to loud noises to earwax lodged in the ear canal can cause damage.

If you suspect you have hearing damage beyond normal hearing loss, it would be wise to get a hearing test at an ENT specialist or audiologist. There are also free online hearing tests you can try.

How To Choose Between Cochlear Implants vs. Hearing Aids

After you’ve had a hearing test, you should have a good idea about how much hearing impairment you have. If your hearing loss is severe enough to warrant a cochlear implant, your doctor will be able to recommend that based on your tests.

Studies by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) show that for every 16,000 people using hearing aids, one person has a cochlear implant. Hearing aids will always fit a wider range of needs for more people than implants.

Cochlear Implant vs. Bone-anchored Hearing Aid (BAHS)

Bone-anchored hearing aids (BAHS) include a titanium bone implant with an external sound processor. Like the cochlear implant, BAHS require surgery. But instead of using the auditory nerve to transmit signals to the brain like a cochlear implant, bone-anchored hearing aids use the hearing bone. Specifically, BAHS convert sound into vibrations that bypass the nerves and impact the surrounding hearing bone.

BAHS are primarily used for profound hearing loss in one ear, whereas cochlear implants are suited for one or two ears.

Summary

Both Hearing aids and cochlear implants can improve a person’s wellbeing. Their benefits include improved speech understanding, the ability to hear music, knowing where sound is coming from and improvements to tinnitus.

For a small group of people who would never have the chance to hear otherwise, cochlear implants will offer them the amazing gift of hearing. Hearing aids remain the more accessible option for most people and will help improve the quality of life for people of all ages.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hearing aids do not need surgical implantation like cochlear implants. They also cost less and don’t destroy remaining hearing in the inner ear like cochlear implants.

WRITTEN BY

Zach Riggs has worked as a professional writer since 2016 covering topics in healthcare, tech and personal finance for publications including Forbes, MarketWatch, Gizmodo and more. He currently specializes in coverage on hearing aids and medical alert systems.