Types of Hearing Aids
There are many types of hearing aids today, and the style or device is dependent upon the user's individual needs. There are in-the-ear styles as well as behind-the-ear styles. Also, hearing aid technology has advanced, with many new and improved options to choose from.
Styles of Hearing Aids
Hearing aids are available in many different sizes and styles, thanks to advancements in digital technology and miniaturization of the internal components. Many of today's hearing aids are considered sleek, compact, and innovative - offering solutions to a wide range of hearing aid users. When selecting a style of hearing aid, you should consider:
- The degree of the hearing loss
- Power requirements
- Manual dexterity and visual abilities
- Patient budget
- Cosmetics and aesthetics
- Skin sensitivities
- Anatomical and medical considerations
- Invisible-in-The-Canal (IIC) – This style is the newest and smallest custom hearing aid available. These devices fit deep inside of the ear canal to take advantage of the natural acoustics of the ear.
- Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC) – These extremely small custom devices sit deep and entirely inside the ear canal. They usually require a “removal string” due to their small size and the fact that they fit so deeply into the canal. These hearing aids work well for someone with a mild to moderate hearing loss and offer high cosmetic appeal, but are difficult for people who have limited dexterity with their fingers.
- In-the-Canal (ITC) - These hearing aids sit in the lower portion of the outer ear's bowl and are slightly larger than a CIC device. Because of their slightly larger size, ITCs often have a longer battery life than CICs, and they come available with more user options, depending upon the size of ear. These devices suit people with mild to moderate hearing losses.
- Half-Shell - The half shell model fills half of the bowl of the outer ear, and like ITC hearing aids, they allow more options and longer battery life due to the larger size. These devices are ideal for persons seeking a smaller hearing aid and those who may have potential dexterity concerns.
- Full Shell or In-the-Ear (ITE) - The largest of custom hearing aids available, full shell hearing aids fill up the entire bowl of the outer ear. Their size allows the maximum number of controls and features, and they are able to accommodate mild to severe hearing losses.
Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Styles
- Mini-BTE with slim tubes - This type of BTE is often referred to as an "open fit" hearing aid. The small miniature hearing aid sits behind the ear and transmits sound into the ear canal via a thin plastic tube. The tubing connects to a soft tip that sits in the ear canal but doesn’t occlude it. The result is a natural, open feeling as air and sound enter the ear naturally around the tip, while amplified sound enters through the tip. This style of BTE is recommended for mild to moderate high-frequency hearing loss and offers cosmetic appeal due to the small size of the hearing aid.
- Receiver-in-the-Ear (RITE) - RITE hearing aids are similar to the mini BTE. However, with the RITE, the speaker of the hearing aid sits inside the ear canal close to the eardrum versus the main body of the hearing aid going behind the ear. Although it looks like a mini BTE when worn on the ear, the RITE style fits a higher degree of hearing loss (mild to severe), while still providing the "open" fitting.
- Behind-the-Ear (BTE) with custom ear mold – These devices suit people with a wide range of hearing loss, which can be from mild to profound. They are slightly longer in shape and are contoured to sit nicely behind the ear for a sleek, compact look. This style of hearing aid typically offers a wide array of features and options, as well as more control and power than custom models. Additionally, they are connected to the ear canal via custom-made plastic tubing and an ear mold. The ear mold color and style, as well as the wearer's hairstyle, will determine how this style looks on each person.
Hearing Aid Technology
A wide range of technology and a host of features are available in each hearing aid device. The cost of hearing aids generally depends on the technology and the number of features. Today's digital hearing aids are typically offered in various levels, such as basic or entry-level to advanced or premium-level. Within each level, different technology and features are available.
Basic digital hearing aids generally require the wearer to make some manual adjustments in certain listening environments, such as turning a volume control up or down, or pushing a button to change listening programs. In contrast, a premium or more advanced hearing aid responds automatically to changes in the listener's environment, making adjustments based on the signals detected by the hearing aid. However, the hearing aid wearer is not required to make any manual changes.
As the level of the technology increases in hearing aids, so does the availability of advanced features. Examples of some of the advanced features found in today's digital hearing aids include:
- Directional Microphones - This applies preference to sounds in front of the wearer and reduces sound from behind the wearer. This technology has been proven in studies to improve speech understanding in background noise.
- Noise Reduction - This feature determines if a signal contains unwanted background noise and reduces the level of background sound, if present. Because of this feature, background noise is less annoying, and the hearing aid wearer's listening comfort is improved in noisy situations.
- Feedback Management - Reducing or eliminating bothersome whistling that may occur with hearing aid use, this feature is optimal for many people with hearing loss. Because of this feature, the hearing aid wearer's comfort is improved.
- Wind Noise Reduction - This feature reduces the noise created from wind blowing across the hearing aid's microphone(s). This is designed to improve comfort for people who spend a lot of time outdoors.
- Data Logging/Learning - This is the ability of the hearing aid to track and learn the hearing aid wearer's preferences in various listening environments. This information can assist the hearing professional in making future programming adjustments and allows the hearing aid to adapt to the wearer's preferences.
- Telecoil/Auto-Telecoil - This feature picks up a signal from a compatible telephone, allowing hearing aid wearers to listen to the telephone without whistling (feedback). Some hearing aids require a push of a button to activate the feature; other manufacturers offer an auto-telecoil, where the hearing aid switches automatically when a telephone signal is detected.
- Bluetooth Interface - This technology establishes a wireless connection between hearing aids and Bluetooth-compatible devices. It is designed to improve wearer convenience and use with devices, such as television, telephones, MP3 players, and computers.