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Cochlear implant vs. hearing aid vs. stapedectomy

Last update on Apr, 26, 2023

How are cochlear implants, hearing aids and stapedectomies different?

As you begin your journey to better hearing, you’ve likely found that you have several options to meet your needs. Tools like cochlear implants, hearing aids and stapedectomy surgery can all be meaningful solutions for people with hearing loss, but which will be most useful in meeting your hearing loss needs?

If you’re trying to sort out what’s best for you—cochlear implants vs. hearing aids or a stapedectomy vs. hearing aids— learn more about these solutions and which might be most useful in improving your hearing. 

Differences between Cochlear Implants, Hearing Aids and Stapedectomies

While all are useful tools in addressing hearing loss, cochlear implants, hearing aids and stapedectomies are vastly different treatments that each require their own levels of personal and medical involvement. It’s important to keep this in mind when you’re comparing cochlear implants vs. hearing aids, stapedectomies vs. cochlear implants and hearing aids vs. stapedectomies.

In the case of hearing aids, these devices are fitted by a professional and do not require surgery; stapedectomies and cochlear implants both require doctor’s supervision and surgery, which naturally incur higher costs compared to hearing aids. Each solution involves its own application procedures, has distinct methods of amplifying sound and addresses different degrees of hearing loss.

By understanding the specifics of each method and its best use cases, you can better determine which option could be the most effective in meeting your individual hearing loss needs. Explore the costs, requirements and usages of these popular hearing loss restoration solutions. 

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What is a cochlear implant?

As its name might suggest, a cochlear implant is an implanted hearing device that supports the function of the cochlea. Instead of amplifying sounds so they can be heard through hearing loss like hearing aids, cochlear implants work by stimulating the auditory nerve directly.

These implants consist of two main parts: the external portion behind the ear and the surgically implanted portion under the skin. Cochlear implant parts typically include the following components:

  • Microphone
  • Speech processor
  • Transmitter and receiver
  • Electrodes

A microphone is constantly picking up on sounds from the surrounding environment. The processor, which sits behind the ears, sends sounds to the receiver implanted behind the ear. The receiver then sends signals to the electrodes implanted inside the cochlea located in the inner ear. Here, these signals target the auditory nerve, which the brain processes as sound. Modern cochlear devices include a magnet that holds the external pieces in place on top of the implanted devices, allowing them to be taken off as desired.

Because of the way this technology targets the auditory nerve directly, cochlear implant surgery is most useful for adults and children who have severe to profound hearing loss or are completely deaf and who would not benefit from hearing aids. While hearing through a cochlear implant sounds different from normal hearing and takes time to adjust, having a cochlear implant, especially at a young age, helps people with severe hearing loss develop valuable speech and language skills.

The cochlear implant evaluation process involves a surgical and a therapeutic element to adjust to the device. To begin the process to receive a cochlear implant, the individual will undergo a rigorous audiological evaluation with an audiologist to determine the need for these devices. These tests will review hearing and speech levels.

A physician will then conduct physical exams and scans to evaluate the health and condition of the body and cochlea. Your audiologist will assist in activating and programming the device once it is implanted, as well as in the rehabilitation process to adjust to the new sounds of the implant.

While insurance—both private and Medicare/Medicaid—often covers cochlear implants, some out-of-pocket costs might still be incurred. 

Cochlear implants are designed for anyone who experiences severe to profound hearing loss or deafness that has difficulty  being fully assisted with hearing aids.

Adults of all ages and children as young as 6 months old can be eligible for the procedure. In fact, children can benefit most from the implants, as they are still in the process of learning speech and language and can adjust more easily to the new sounds. 

Along with visits to check hearing, cochlear implants require checkups to ensure that the devices are performing correctly and offering the greatest benefit to the wearer. The internal structures of the devices are designed to last the wearer’s lifetime.

Though implants are often covered by insurance, deductibles might apply, and additional costs might come with the speech-language therapy that follows the surgery. Regular, lifelong visits are part of normal cochlear implant care and maintenance and are necessary to assess, program and test the devices.

Altogether, the cochlear implant cost can range from $30,000 to $50,000; what you pay with insurance will vary widely by plan and where you live. Speak with your audiologist to learn more about the costs involved in the procedure. 

What is a Hearing Aid?

The most commonly known device for hearing loss restoration, hearing aids, are small electronic devices that sit in or on the ear to support hearing. The basic parts of a hearing aid include:

  • Microphone
  • Amplifier
  • Speaker

But how do hearing aids work? It’s a complex process that’s packed into these tiny devices. The microphone picks up sounds in a given environment and transforms them into a digital signal. An amplifier increases the power of the signal and sends it through the inner ear through the receiver. Here, these signals are processed as sound in the brain. While there are multiple styles of hearing aids, all devices contain these same basic elements.

Hearing aids can be beneficial for children and adults who experience mild, moderate or even severe hearing loss that doesn’t warrant a cochlear implant.

The process of getting hearing aids begins with meeting a hearing care professional to determine your current level of hearing loss. In this appointment, your HCP will perform several tests to evaluate what type of hearing aid may be the most suitable for your individual needs.

Once you’ve settled on the right pair of hearing aids, your hearing care professional (HCP) will take you through a hearing aid fitting process to ensure the devices sit comfortably in your ear, as well as a hearing aid adjustment process to program your devices to align with your hearing loss and lifestyle.  It’s recommended to visit your HCP regularly following your initial visit to check your hearing and ensure that your hearing aid programming continues to meet your needs.

Compared to the costs of cochlear implants or a stapedectomy, hearing aids are a less expensive financial investment.

Children and adults are the best hearing aid candidates for mild to moderate and even severe hearing loss. Similar to cochlear implants, hearing aids take some time to adjust to and can be easier for children. Hearing aids can be particularly beneficial for older adults who have developed hearing loss with age, as hearing aids can also help wearers overcome some of the side effects of hearing loss, such as loneliness, social isolation, falls, depression and dementia.

The average cost of hearing aids can range from $1,000 to $8,000 or more, depending on multiple factors. However, that cost sometimes includes professional fitting, a lifetime of aftercare and leading-edge hearing aid technology.

One of the first questions people ask about hearing aids is, “Are hearing aids covered by insurance?” The answer depends entirely on the details of your insurance, but in general, they are often not covered. Speak with your insurance provider to determine the level of coverage provided by your health plan.

Yearly hearing aid checkups are recommended to monitor your hearing loss and your hearing aids’ ability to meet your needs. These visits can also be to reprogram your hearing aids to adapt to any changes in your lifestyle.

Compared to the costs of surgical hearing loss restoration procedures, the continued cost of hearing aids is low. Yearly visits and continual hearing aid maintenance are sometimes included in the initial cost of the hearing aids, and follow-up appointments are free (as with the Miracle-Ear Advantage), cutting down on out-of-pocket fees. Discuss your hearing aid purchase with your HCP to learn about the benefits and associated costs.

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What is a Stapedectomy?

While hearing aids and cochlear implants can apply to a wider group of people with hearing loss, a stapedectomy addresses a very specific type of hearing loss. This procedure is surgery to treat hearing loss specifically caused by otosclerosis, which is a condition that damages the U-shaped bone called the stapes in the middle ear. During this surgery, the damaged stapes are replaced with an artificial device to restore hearing. Because of its specificity, this procedure is for people who are experiencing otosclerosis.

Before receiving a stapedectomy, your healthcare provider will take several steps to evaluate your hearing and prepare before the surgery. These steps may include:

  • Obtaining your medical history to understand how long you’ve had trouble hearing or if there’s a family history of otosclerosis
  • Examining your ears to check for ear infections
  • Performing a hearing test to determine your current range of hearing
  • Getting a CT scan to look at the bones of your ears

The stapedectomy procedure lasts about 90 minutes and isn’t considered a major surgery, as it doesn’t require a general anesthetic. It is also an outpatient surgery, meaning patients go home the same day. Your doctor will advise on when to restart normal activities and how to take medication during your stapedectomy recovery period, which can last one to four weeks. Your hearing will likely improve greatly following surgery, but it might take a bit of time to adjust to your newfound hearing. 

The main indications for stapedectomy are people who experience otosclerosis and have damaged stapes. 

The numerous examinations and CT scans associated with stapedectomy, as well as the surgery itself, can make this an expensive prospect. Including medical consultations, exams, and surgery, a stapedectomy can cost between $7,000 to $15,000 or more. The extent to which insurance covers the procedure will depend on your plan. Discuss your insurance benefits with the provider to determine coverage.

Following your procedure, your surgeon and audiologist will likely schedule numerous post-stapedectomy follow-up appointments to track your recovery and ensure that the stapedectomy was successful and that you can hear more effectively. They will also offer specific stapedectomy aftercare instructions to protect your ears after the surgery.

Recovery looks different for every person, and some may require more additional medical support than others, but these follow-up visits could add to the stapedectomy cost over time. 

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Discover a new way of hearing

There are a vast number of hearing aid features that may or may not be applicable to your lifestyle, but you want to make sure the ones you use the most will be there when you need them. Be sure to talk to your Miracle-Ear hearing specialist to compare all the hearing aid features you need to live your best life. Book an appointment near you.

Can I have a cochlear implant and wear a hearing aid?

Hearing isn’t always the same in both ears, meaning that solutions to restore your hearing might look different in each ear. If you experience a lower level of hearing loss in one ear and a more severe level in the other, you can combine the benefits of hearing aids and a cochlear implant in a treatment process called bimodal hearing. If you’re curious whether it could help you, discuss it with your audiologist to determine its effectiveness in your specific case.

If you have questions about what method of hearing loss restoration is best for you, schedule an appointment at your local Miracle-Ear to test your hearing and learn more.

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