Some people with hearing loss respond well to traditional hearing aids to amplify sound, but others are not so fortunate. Those people may need to go a step further and consider an implant to improve the quality of their hearing. There are two main types of surgically implanted devices, BAHA and cochlear implants, which work in different ways and are not a fix for every type of hearing loss. How much do you know about the similarities and differences of these assistive devices? This information about both the cochlear implant and the BAHA device can help you understand how they work and who they can help.
The most common type of hearing implant is the bone anchored hearing aid, or BAHA. These implants are primarily used for patients with mild to moderate hearing loss. Children and adults can both benefit from BAHA if they have reduced hearing on one side only or if they have a problem affecting their external or middle ear, which results in poor conduction. It can also help with mixed hearing loss, as long is it is not severe.
BAHA relies on bone conduction to send signals to the inner ear and auditory nerve, which means that the cochlea and nerve should function properly. A titanium implant is surgically placed inside the skull with an exterior processor that attaches behind the ear. The implant works by transforming sounds that it picks up and sending the signal through the bone, instead of through the ear canal and middle ear, which is what a traditional hearing aid does.
BAHA implants do not restore perfect hearing or make every sound crystal clear. They are intended to help patients with discerning speech and other sounds, making their hearing loss more manageable.
Some patients with more profound hearing loss are unable to successfully use traditional hearing aids nor BAHA implants. These patients may have lost their hearing in both ears, have a poorly functioning inner ear resulting in poor conduction, or even have what is known as nerve deafness, which impacts the auditory nerve. They may also have significant problems with speech discrimination. These patients would not be good candidates for a BAHA, which depends on a functional inner ear and auditory nerve to work.
Cochlear implants have more components and are fairly technical and intricate. These devices have a transmitter, receiver, microphone, and processor, which work to interpret sounds and transmit these sounds as signals to the brain without going through the normal ear anatomy. This implant bypasses the other structures by directly stimulating the auditory nerve, allowing the brain to interpret the signals.
Like the BAHA, the cochlear implant is not a cure for deafness. It can help patients navigate through everyday life by making some sounds, including emergency sirens and speech in person or over the telephone, easier to interpret.
Because cochlear patients have a more pervasive loss of hearing, they require therapy after their surgery to learn how to use the implant more effectively. The therapy is necessary for patients who may have never heard speech or certain sounds before. Young children may be able to learn to speak and understand language and music with extensive therapy, while older patients can work with therapists to remember sounds instead of focusing solely on sign language and lip reading.
It’s a Process
One similarity that both types of implants share is the need for a thorough evaluation and surgery. Patients begin by seeing an audiologist, who can perform tests to determine the type of hearing loss and level of function before making a referral to an ear, nose, and throat specialist who performs the surgery, which is usually done on an outpatient basis.
Another parallel between these hearing implants is that neither of them can “cure” hearing loss. Patients may regain the ability to distinguish speech from background noise and possibly hear everyday sounds such as doorbells, telephones, or to hear the television or music. It’s important to be realistic about what implants can do, and understand that, like with any assistive device, they do have limitations.
If you would like to be evaluated for a cochlear or BAHA implant, you should schedule an appointment with a trusted audiologist to see if you are a good candidate for either type. You should expect both hearing tests, with and without hearing aids, and speech perception tests to be completed as part of your evaluation process. Other factors may be considered before a recommendation for surgery is made.
You should work with an expert in hearing implants who can explain every step of the process and help you understand and adjust to making changes from traditional aids to either type of implant. With adequate support and a realistic understanding of lifestyle changes, you may find that implants can make a big difference in your hearing and quality of life.