Understanding Implantable & Wearable Hearing Devices
What's the difference between cochlear implants and bone conduction solutions?
What exactly are these devices?
Most people are familiar with hearing aids, but for those individuals with severe to profound hearing loss or for those with a conductive hearing loss, hearing aids aren’t enough. These patients often benefit from cochlear implants or bone conduction solutions—surgically implanted devices that either bypass damaged portions of the inner ear (cochlear implants) or bypass damaged portions of the middle ear (bone conduction solutions). It’s also important to note that implants do not restore normal hearing. Rather, they provide a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help individuals understand speech.
How do these devices work?
Cochlear implants consist of a microphone that picks up sounds, a speech processor that converts sound into electronic signals, a transmitter and receiver that pass the electronic signals to electrodes, which stimulate the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve can then carry the information to the brain as sound.
Bone conduction solutions consists of a sound processor that captures sounds and turns them into vibrations, an abutment that transfers the vibrations from the sound processor to a titanium implant, which sends the vibrations through the bone, directly to the cochlea, bypassing the outer and middle ear.
Which device is for which kind of hearing loss?
Cochlear implants and bone conduction solutions treat different types of hearing loss. Bone conduction solutions treat conductive hearing loss, mixed hearing loss or single-sided deafness. Cochlear implants are for bilateral severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. In candidates for bone conduction solutions, the hearing issue results from the middle ear and requires a solution to get the sound to the cochlea. These individuals usually have good speech discrimination before implantation. Meanwhile, with cochlear implants, the hearing issue derives from a limited functioning cochlea and requires a solution that can bypass it and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. These individuals usually have poor speech discrimination before implantation.