Hearing Aids - What Options Are There?

Hearing aids are the most common treatment for hearing loss. But they can be confusing because there are so many styles, features and technologies available in the newest generation of hearing aids.

There are several options that might suit you if you are one of the more than 38 million Americans who have hearing loss to the point where their quality of life is affected. What you choose will ultimately be determined by lifestyle, personal preference, budget, and degree of hearing loss.

Types and Styles of Hearing Aids

All digital hearing aids contain at least one microphone to detect sound and a computer chip that amplifies and processes the sound. They have a speaker that sends the signal to your ear, and a small button battery to power the hearing aid.

The external appearance of a hearing aid can vary considerably. Your choice of style will depend on personal preference and on the recommendation of the audiologist assessing you for your hearing aids.

Hearing aids can be classified as either in-the-ear (ITE) styles or behind-the-ear (BTE) styles. Within each group, there are several different sizes, so some hearing aids will be more visible than others. Let’s look at each style in turn.

ITE Types

Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids

These are the smallest hearing aids available, designed to be as invisible as possible. They fit very deeply into the ear canal and are useful for people with mild or moderate hearing losses.

Every ear canal is different, but in general, they will not be obvious to other people, making them the ideal solution to those who are self-conscious about their appearance.

In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids

This style sits in the lower portion of the concha, the "bowl" of the ear, and tucks into the ear canal. They are comfortable and easy to use, but they will be more visible than the types discussed above. They do have some pros, however. They have been reported more comfortable and easier to use. They have a longer battery life and it is easier to change the battery. They can also be used for any degree of hearing loss, from mild to severe.

Low profile hearing aids

These are designed to tuck into the concha. They can cover the lower half, or all of it. They are easier to handle than smaller models, making them ideal for older people with arthritis, for example. Because they are so large, they can contain more than one microphone, so users can hear in a range of directions, and they may even have volume controls and programming buttons so you can set your hearing aid to cope with background noise, the TV, and other hearing challenges.

BTE Types

BTE types have become more popular as they have shrunk in size to thin tubes that go behind the ear and small tips that go in the ear canal. They are larger than any ITE model and therefore even easier to handle, have a longer battery life, and offer custom features to help with the various hearing challenges mentioned above. They work well with any degree of hearing loss. They also tend to be cheaper than ITE models.

Mini BTEs

These are the smallest, with the tubes fitting tightly behind the ear. Various ear tips can cope with the degree and type of hearing loss.

Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) or receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids

These models have the speaker built into the ear tip, not the main part of the hearing aid, getting the speaker closer to the eardrum for better reception.

BTE hearing aids with earmolds

These are larger and more obvious, but also offer room for more features.

What’s the best hearing aid for you? The answer is the one you will wear and be able to change the batteries for.