Looking for a hearing aid? Hearing aids come in a variety of types and styles, which can be broken into two main categories. We will talk about each type of hearing aid as well as the advantages and disadvantages of them.
If you are thinking of getting hearing aids for the first time, you should know that there are six main types of hearing aids. Each of these types comes in different sizes, styles, and processing power. You will find that some types will suit your needs better than others, depending on a few factors. They include the severity of your hearing loss, your lifestyle, and your preferences for the look and style.
There are two main groups for these hearing aid types — Behind-The-Ear and In-The-Ear models. Behind-The-Ear models have the main unit with the batteries, processor, and other components placed behind your ear. In-The-Ear models have the main unit inside your ear. Each of these groups has three variations, where there are slight differences between them as far as size, power, and functionality.
If you want to know more about the different types of hearing aids, here is a quick guide to help you learn which ones suit your needs.
Behind-The-Ear (BTE) hearing aids are one of the most common types of hearing aids. They are typically the largest type, although advancements in hearing aid technology has led to smaller BTE models than in the past.
The main unit of BTE hearing aids contains all the electronic components. It sits behind your ear with a tube that runs into your ear canal and connects with a custom-fit earmold or dome. The tube carries sound from the main unit and delivers it via the dome or mold in your ear canal. Whether you use a mold or a dome, it is made to custom fit your ear canal so that it fits comfortably but does not block the whole canal. Having the main unit sit behind your ear instead of inside your ear canal makes it useful for people who have specific conditions:
● Chronic ear infections, where having larger units inside your ears can be painful
● Excessive ear wax that can build around units in your ear causing them to be blocked or damaged
● Small ear canals that are impossible to fit full hearing aid units
Even though BTE hearing aids are bigger, they are still made to be less noticeable and more discreet. For example, the tubes that run into your ear canal are clear. The main unit and earmolds come in a variety of different colour tones to blend in with your skin and hair. They also come in more bold and flashy colours if you prefer having something to suit your sense of style and flair.
Because BTE hearing aids are larger, they can house larger batteries and sound processors. This means they can provide more powerful sound amplification for people who have more severe levels of hearing loss. They also typically contain more advanced technology and features. This is the main reason why BTE hearing aids are more common, and suitable to people with all levels of hearing loss. However, because of the size and style, the people who most commonly use BTE hearing aids will be those with more severe hearing loss.
Here is a quick breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of behind the ear hearing aids:
Suitable for all levels of hearing loss, from mild to profound
Good for people who are prone to have ear infections, too much ear wax, and small or narrow ear canals
Easy to handle for people with dexterity issues, such as larger program selection buttons that are easy to operate
Can fit more advanced features and functionality than smaller types
Able to fit larger and more powerful batteries for longer battery life
Available in models with wireless and Bluetooth connectivity to devices
Custom-fit earmolds and domes can be replaced separately
Less susceptible to moisture damage, earwax
Better for children, because the main unit can be reprogrammed as needed and the earmold can be replaced with a larger one as the child grows
More visible and less discreet than other, smaller hearing aid types
May pick up more wind noise than other styles
May not be suitable for people who wear eyeglasses
Blocks up more of your ear, which can make wearers feel plugged up
Receiver-In-Canal (RIC) hearing aids are a variation of Behind-The-Ear (BTE) models. Almost everything that was said about BTE hearing aids above is the same for RIC hearing aids.
There are three important parts of RIC hearing aids: the case or main unit, the earpiece wire, and the earpiece itself. The case of the main unit is what houses parts like the microphone and sound processor that amplifies sound. It sits behind your ear. The earpiece is the dome that is custom fit for your ear canal, and the wire connects the two. The difference for RIC hearing aids is that the dome that is in your ear canal also includes the receiver, or speaker.
RIC hearing aids are typically smaller than BTE hearing aids, because it removes the receiver from the main unit. Instead, it sits in your ear canal. RIC hearing aids are good for people who want something smaller and more discreet than BTE hearing aids but still need more power than other types. It is suitable for people with most levels of hearing loss.
Smaller and more discreet main unit than BTE hearing aid models
Has a more open fit, which provides a more natural sound quality of the wearer’s own voice
Still a bigger size for larger batteries, longer battery life, and rechargeable hearing aids
The most common hearing aid type that has rechargeable battery models
Still typically more powerful sound amplification and advanced technology and features
The receiver can be replaced separately from the main unit
Still more visible and less discreet than other, smaller hearing aid types
Still may pick up more wind noise than In-The-Ear styles
Still not as suitable for people who wear eyeglasses
Smaller units can be harder for people with dexterity issues to use
The receiver in the ear is more prone to damage from moisture and blockage from earwax
Receiver-In-The-Ear (RITE) hearing aids are very similar to RIC hearing aids. They also have the main unit housing the microphone, battery and sound processor. The main unit transmits the sound via a wire connecting the main unit to the dome. The dome also contains the receiver, or speaker, which sends the sound into your ear canal. However, the main difference is that the receiver for RITE hearing aids sits just outside your ear canal and on the concha. The concha is the bowl of the ear next to, but not inside the ear canal.
There are no dramatic differences between RITE and RIC hearing aids in terms of size, appearance, or functionality. But there are good reasons why one or the other may be more suited to your needs. With the receiver just outside your ear canal, it is less prone to moisture damage and ear wax blockage. It may also be better suited to people prone to ear infections.
Less susceptible to feedback from the hearing aids
Less prone to moisture damage, earwax blockage, and pain from chronic ear infections than RIC models
Common to have rechargeable battery models
Smaller units can be harder for people with dexterity issues to use, especially mini-RITE models
Still more prone to damage from moisture and blockage from earwax than BTE models
In-The-Ear (ITE) hearing aids are the second main group of hearing aid types. They have much more distinct differences compared to all the Behind-The-Ear models. Like the name implies, ITE hearing aids have all the components in the ear itself, not behind it.
ITE hearing aids sit in the outer bowl of your ears rather than in the canal itself. In order to fit everything in the ear, these models are smaller. The smaller size means they must use smaller batteries, sound processors, microphones, and so on. That means the batteries don’t last as long, and they have less sound amplification than BTE models. That makes ITE hearing aids less suitable for people with severe levels of hearing loss.
On the flip side, ITE hearing aid models are more discreet, so it’s harder to notice that you are wearing them. There is a wide variety of ITE hearing aid sizes to suit people with different ear sizes and shapes. They are larger and more powerful than the other two varieties of In-The-Ear models. They can still have more advanced features like directional microphones but won’t have as many features as BTE models.
Because of the smaller size, there are usually few if any buttons or external components. The whole unit is in one piece, and you can use a remote control or smartphone app to adjust the programs and volume settings. It is a simple process to put the hearing aids inside your ears like they’re ear plugs and pull them out when you want to remove them.
Smaller and more discreet than Behind-The-Ear hearing aid models
Better suited to people who wear glasses
More comfortable to wear for people who live an active lifestyle, like playing sports or other physical activities
More powerful sound amplification and battery life than other in the ear varieties
Less prone to feedback or interference from wind noise
More comfortable than BTE varieties with only the component In-The-Ear, not having two components behind and inside it
Custom fit to comfortably sit in your ear
More susceptible to ear wax and moisture damage
Less comfortable for people with small or narrow ear canals, such as children
Problematic for people prone to chronic ear infections
Small size can be a problem for connectivity to wireless devices
May pick up more wind noise than smaller custom devices
Only suitable for those with mild or moderate hearing loss
Use depends on the size of the ear canal
Don’t typically come with rechargeable batteries
Not suitable for people with dexterity issues
Completely-In-Canal (CIC) hearing aids are a smaller variation of ITE hearing aids. Instead of sitting in the outer bowl of your ears, they sit completely within your ear canal. By necessity, this means that CIC hearing aids are smaller in order to fit in the more confined space. They also cannot have any manual controls, such as volume wheels or program buttons. You must make adjustments to those settings using a remote control of some kind.
CIC hearing aids are common for people who are using hearing aids for the first time. This is because they are even smaller than ITE hearing aids and have less power, so they are not suitable for people who have more severe levels of hearing loss. However, the smaller size does offer some benefits. Because they fit completely in your ear canal, it can produce a more natural sound. It achieves this by using the natural shape and characteristics of the concha and ear canal.
Smaller and more discreet than even ITE hearing aids
More natural sound and sound quality since it can use the natural shape and contours of your ear canal
Better for people who wear glasses or masks that hook over and behind your ears
More susceptible to ear wax and moisture damage than even ITE hearing aids
Less able to use rechargeable batteries
Less suitable for people with dexterity issues than even ITE hearing aids
Will not contain some features, like directional microphones
Invisible-In-Canal (IIC) hearing aids are the smallest, least noticeable type of hearing aid you can get. They are small enough to fit so far into your ear canal that they are completely invisible unless you are looking directly into the person’s ear. To remove them from your ear, they have a small string or pin that you tug on. Otherwise it would be almost impossible to get them out yourself.
Because they are so small, the battery life is the shortest of all the hearing aid types. That also means that its sound amplification is typically the weakest as well. As a result, it is mostly suitable for people who have mild to medium levels of hearing loss. They are not meant for people with dexterity issues, small ear canals, or chronic ear infections. They must be custom made for each person, to make sure they fit comfortably deep enough into your ear canals.
As a result of their smaller size and amplification, they are best suited for people who are new to hearing aids and maintain a certain lifestyle. Being deeper into your ear canals helps them capture sound more naturally, even compared to CIC hearing aids. If you are self-conscious of wearing hearing aids, they are as discreet as they come. They’re also good for people with a more active lifestyle, as they are the least likely to fall out of your ear.
Smallest and most discreet type of hearing aid you can get
Least prone type of hearing aid to pick up feedback or interference from wind noise
Most natural sound and sound quality since it can use most of the natural shape and contours of your ear canal
Best suited for mild to medium levels of hearing loss
Best for people living active lifestyle, and/or who are new to hearing aids
Not suitable for people with high or profound levels of hearing loss due to less amplification power
Not suitable for people with small or narrow ear canals, chronic ear infections, or dexterity issues
The most likely hearing aid to get moisture damage and blockages from earwax
Not able to use rechargeable batteries, the shortest battery life of any other type of hearing aids
On top of the six main types of hearing aids, there is one other type that has a different functionality. They are called CROS hearing aids, which stands for “Contralateral Routing of Signal”. They are meant for people who have severe hearing loss, including deafness, in only one ear, but whose other ear hears just fine.
CROS hearing aids help you with directional hearing after you lose hearing in one ear. Two ears without hearing loss can pick up sounds from either side of you. That helps you pinpoint the direction that a sound is coming from. It also helps you hear better in a full 360-degree radius around you. When you lose hearing in one ear, you are less able to orient a sound or hear as clearly.
You wear a CROS hearing aid in the ear that is deaf, and it connects to a hearing aid in your other ear. It picks up sound from that side of your body, and routes it using a wireless signal to the other hearing aid. This helps you still hear in more of a 360-degree radius, but also processes it in a way to help you determine the direction.
The reason why CROS hearing aids are treated separately from the six main types is that they can come in both BTE and ITE hearing aid types. This means you can pick a CROS hearing aid in the style and functionality that suits your needs the most.
People who have severe hearing loss, or deafness, in one ear and minor hearing loss in the other can use BiCROS hearing aids. As with CROS hearing aids, the microphone in your ear with profound hearing loss picks up sound and sends it to the hearing aid in the other ear. Also as with CROS hearing aids, you can get them in both BTE and ITE hearing aid styles.
Since your other ear also has hearing loss, it has its own microphone and sound processor in order to amplify sound from the side of your other ear. Both hearing aids are received, processed and amplified separately so you hear them together in a more natural manner.
If you are new to hearing aids, you should know that getting them is not as easy as picking the type that you like the most. There are many factors to consider, including the following:
Your level of hearing loss
The size and shape of your ear
You may prefer having an invisible hearing aid, but it might not be suitable for you. If you have profound hearing loss, or very small ear canals that are prone to infection, then you would not be able to use IIC hearing aids. You may have mild hearing loss and normal ear canals, but if you want rechargeable batteries then you may prefer larger hearing aids.