How to Pick the Right Implant for Your Ears

Updated on November 27, 2019
Young, smiling woman wearing deaf aid

If you’ve tried using hearing aids to help with your hearing loss, but haven’t had any noticeable improvement, the use of hearing implants may be a good option for you.

There are multiple different types of hearing implants, including auditory brainstem implants, bone-anchored hearing aids, cochlear implants, and middle ear implants.

To get fitted with hearing implants, you’ll need to have an audiologist perform tests to determine what type of hearing loss and level of function that your ears have. However, you can guess which implants you are likely to get by understanding what hearing loss situations each implant is suited for.

Below, we’ll talk about the four main types of hearing implants and what scenarios lead to having them installed.

Auditory Brainstem Implants

Auditory brainstem implants are a good option for people who are unable to use cochlear implants.

Cochlear implants do provide better hearing, but some people cannot use them because of the shape of their ears or the lack of an auditory nerve.

The way an auditory brainstem implant works is through bypassing the auditory nerve and inner ear altogether. It directly stimulates the brainstem to allow you to hear.

An auditory brainstem implant consists of three separate parts. 

There is a physical microphone and sound processor worn behind the ear, which communicates with a decoding chip underneath the skin. Electrodes then connect to the decoding chip to communicate with the brainstem.

This implant won’t necessarily restore hearing, but it is great for helping you to distinguish between different sounds.

Bone Anchored Hearing Aids

Bone anchored hearing aids (BAHA) are fairly similar to auditory brainstem implants in theory but operate slightly differently.

BAHAs function by using bone conduction. This is vastly different from other hearing aids because it transmits sounds through your bones instead of the air.

This style of hearing aids is particularly helpful for people who are unable to use traditional hearing aids. Alternatively, it works well for those with deafness in just one ear or chronic ear problems.

A BAHA consists of a sound processor that is attached directly to a titanium fixture behind your ear. This transfers sounds through your bones to your cochlea, which also bypasses your inner ear.

Bone anchored hearing aids are particularly effective and often provide better hearing than most other forms of hearing aids or implants. Even better, you can fully test the capabilities of one before having the operation.

Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants are very similar to auditory brainstem implants, but the important distinction is that they function by stimulating the inner ear.

This implant design will not restore hearing, but it is particularly effective for those that are extremely hard of hearing or deaf altogether.

The reason for this is that the design of a cochlear impact helps to provide a sensation of sound. This allows for a user to experience and understand sounds happening in the environment. It is also quite useful for distinguishing speech.

Though hearing is not restored, users are typically able to associate the signals received as sound and therefore remember what they are supposed to sound like.

Cochlear implants consist of most of the components found in an auditory brainstem implant (a microphone with a sound processor and electrodes), but a cochlear implant substitutes a decoding chip for a receiver/stimulator underneath the skin.

The stimulator communicates with the processor and transmits these signals through electrodes into the auditory nerve.

Therapy is often required for those that receive cochlear implants and results tend to vary. However, they are quite beneficial when they are effective and can help add quality of life to a fully deaf person.

Middle Ear Implants

Middle ear implants are a mixture of bone-anchored hearing aids and cochlear implants.

It consists of a microphone with a processor, a receiver, and a transducer that stimulates a specific bone in the middle ear. 

This bone is the stapes bone, which is vibrated by the transducer and transmitted into audible sound through the inner ear.

This style of implant is effective for those that don’t benefit from traditional hearing aids or sound amplification. It is best for those with relatively mild hearing loss, but anything too severe may not benefit from a middle ear implant.  

Closing Thoughts

There are four main types of ear implants, but the best choice for you will ultimately be decided through tests done by an audiologist.

All four implants are fairly similar in design, but the method by which they work is what varies between them.

An auditory brainstem implant is a good option if cochlear implants are not a choice due to the shape of their ears or a lack of an auditory nerve.

Bone anchored hearing aids use bone conduction to communicate with the cochlea, making it effective for those that lack hearing in one ear.

Cochlear implants are fairly effective at providing a sense of sound and work well for those that are nearly or completely deaf.

A middle ear implant uses vibration to stimulate the inner ear and transmit it into sound. It works best for those that have fairly mild hearing issues.

Each ear implant varies in effectiveness and the best choice for you will depend on the actual status of your ears and what is impaired. Consult your audiologist to find the most effective solution and hopefully improve your hearing!

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