Should My Child Get Hearing Aids or Cochlear Implants?
When your child is diagnosed with a form of hearing loss, an audiologist will likely recommend hearing aids but in some instances, may recommend cochlear implants. Hearing aids are the most common and effective solution for mild-to-severe hearing loss in children. Some children with severe-to-profound hearing loss and/or those who don’t succeed with hearing aids are sometimes candidates for cochlear implants.
How do hearing aids and cochlear implants work?
To understand how hearing aids and cochlear implants help kids hear better, let’s look at how ears process sound. In normal hearing, when there is a sound, a person’s outer ear captures the sound’s vibration and sends it through the ear canal to the middle ear. There, the eardrum and tiny bones vibrate, causing the creation of fluid in the cochlea to stimulate the tiny hair cells inside it. Those hair cells send signals to the auditory nerve that carries them to the brain.
Hearing aids: Hearing aids are like miniature, complex computers that pick up various sounds and adjusts them to the exact level needed to match the wearer’s specific hearing loss pattern. A hearing aid is comprised of a microphone, amplifier and speaker. It receives sound through the microphone that converts the sound waves to electrical signals and sends them to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker.
Hearing aids typically cost between $1,000-$4,000 per ear, depending on insurance coverage. There are waterproof varieties available but some care may be required for water exposure and some sports. Usually there aren’t any side effects and they can be removed if a child is experiencing any discomfort.
Cochlear implants: Unlike hearing aids which are wholly exterior and removable, cochlear implants are partially implanted surgically. Electrodes are placed in the ear and the receiver-stimulator is implanted behind the ear. The external part sits behind the ear and looks much like a hearing aid. A microphone picks up sounds, and a speech processor organizes them and sends a signal to a transmitter, which converts them into electrical impulses to the electrodes. The auditory nerve is stimulated and sends impulses to the brain where they are interpreted as sounds.
Cochlear implants can cost up to $100,000, depending on insurance coverage. Some care is required if a child is playing certain sports. The outer portion may need to be removed prior to water exposure. Cochlear implants can cause dizziness and affect MRI scans.
It’s worth noting that many retailers sell over-the-counter (OTC) personal sound amplification products (PSPs) that look like hearing aids. PSPs are not made for those with hearing loss, but are designed to help people hear distant sounds. Parents should never buy these in place of hearing aids or cochlear implants for their children.
Your audiologist will consider several factors, including the degree and type of hearing loss, your child’s physical activity and any other developmental delays, in determining the best treatment option. Whether your child needs hearing aids or cochlear implants, you can be excited your child will be hearing better soon.
This information is provided by the Georgia-based Sounds Waves Pediatric Hearing Aid Program which provides children, ages birth to 19 years, with audiology services and hearing aid devices. The organization operates under the principle that no child should be denied hearing aids due to the inability to pay. Learn more or apply now!