Wondering about children's hearing aids versus implants? Cochlear implants are hearing devices that provide brain access to sound through a surgical procedure. They're typically recommended when your child's brain cannot access all the sounds of speech with hearing aids. In the United States, children's cochlear implants aren't typically inserted before one year of age, although they can be recommended much younger. There are specific audiological and medical guidelines that your pediatric audiologist and physician will share with you if a cochlear implant is recommended.
A cochlear implant actually replaces a part of the inner ear, the cochlea, that's not working properly, and it works by sending electric signals to stimulate the auditory nerve, which carries information to the brain.
A cochlear implant consists of two main parts:
- One part is surgically implanted under the skin and in the inner ear (cochlea).
- The second part, called the speech processor, is worn on the ear like a hearing aid and has a removable magnetic piece that can be connected to the side of the head.
Getting Cochlear Implants
If cochlear implants are recommended for your baby, you'll go to a series of appointments at a cochlear implant center to determine if they qualify. You'll consult with a cochlear implant surgeon, an audiologist, and other professionals, like a speech-language pathologist or educator of the deaf and your early interventionist. There are several cochlear implant manufacturers available in the U.S. Your medical team will provide you with the information you need to make the best choice for your baby. Choosing the cochlear device that best fits your baby's needs is an important one because your baby will wear the cochlear implant throughout their life.
Companies with FDA-approved Cochlear Implants in the U.S.
Bone-Anchored Hearing Systems
Bone-anchored hearing systems may be recommended if your baby's ears have a conductive problem/hearing loss.
These devices are placed on the bone located just behind the ear, called the mastoid bone, and held in place with a headband. The sound travels through the mastoid bone to the auditory nerve and then to the brain, so that your baby can hear.
Bone-anchored hearing aids for children may be recommended for when your baby gets bigger. Bone-anchored hearing aids (BAHAs) consist of two parts, one that's surgically anchored to the bone behind the ear and another removable part that is the actual hearing aid. At that point, a headband is no longer needed, as the hearing aid is always attached right where it's supposed to be.
Remote Microphone Systems
In some cases, whether your baby uses hearing aids, cochlear implants, or bone-anchored technology, additional devices may be recommended. Children's remote microphone systems can help your child hear their best in any listening environment.
In general, remote microphone systems use radio, Bluetooth, or light waves to send sound directly to a receiver that's in the device your child is wearing. A person talking wears a wireless microphone so that their voice reaches your child directly. There are different kinds of remote microphone systems available and your audiologist can help you select what works best for your child.
Personal FM System
A personal FM system is a two-piece device. One part connects to your baby's hearing aid or cochlear implant. The second piece is a wireless microphone worn by you, which sends the sounds of your voice directly into your baby's hearing device and then to your baby's brain.
The FM device helps your baby hear even in noisy environments and when they're not close to you, which includes most of the places your baby will live and play.
Many families use the FM device for car travel, grocery shopping, restaurants, daycare and school settings, or anywhere that background noise and distance from the person talking would make listening more difficult for a new listener. This helps your baby's brain hear the full range of speech and language surrounding them.
Sound Field System
A sound field system, also called Classroom Audio Distribution System (CADS), is a device with a set of loudspeakers and a wireless microphone. This device is also used to help your child access spoken language in noisy environments.
The sound field system is typically used in a classroom setting and can benefit every child in the room. The wireless microphone is worn by the teacher and the sound is presented from loudspeakers anchored to a wall or a shelf. The teacher's voice is amplified throughout the room so that everyone hears clearly. There is often a wireless microphone that the teacher can pass from student to student so that your child has access to the classroom communication of their friends.
Assistive Listening Devices
Many other devices and accessories are available to connect to computers, smart phones, and TVs. There are also permanent systems, like inductive loop systems and infrared systems, that can be installed in commonly used environments, like your home. You'll need to talk with your audiologist or LSL professional to see what the manufacturer of your child's hearing device offers and/or recommends.