Hearing aids vs hearing implants

The biggest difference between hearing aids and hearing implants is the way they work.

Hearing aids pick up and amplify sounds to a volume which the wearer is able to hear.

Implants need to be surgically inserted under the skin behind the ear and work hand-in-hand with audio processors.

Audio processors pick up sounds from the environment and convert them into digital information for the implant.

The implant then sends electrical signals to the inner ear, where nerve fibres are stimulated and information is sent to the brain.

There are different types of audio processors. They may be clipped onto clothes or rely on magnets for the processor to stay attached to the implant beneath the skin of the user.

Those which use magnets may also have a hook resting on the user's ear for greater security.

In general, hearing aids are recommended for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Hearing implants are recommended for people with severe to profound hearing loss.

Another factor is the type of hearing loss.

When a person's hearing problem arises from the loss of inner-ear hearing hair cells, implants are recommended as they stimulate the hearing nerve directly.

However, hearing aids are more suitable if he has conductive hearing loss - where sound cannot pass through the ear canal effectively.

Official figures are not available, but ear, nose and throat specialist Low Wong Kein said that there are probably 300 to 400 cochlear implant users in Singapore.

Hearing aid users number in the tens of thousands.

Abigail Ng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'Hearing aids vs hearing implants'. Print Edition | Subscribe