After deciding that you need hearing assistance, the most important decision you’ll make is which type of hearing aid to choose. The right type of hearing aid for your level of hearing loss, comfort, and even budget can make the difference between being happy with your purchase, or feeling like you made the wrong decision.
Only about one in five people who could benefit from hearing aids wear them, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of hearing aid types and give up on your search before it has even really started. We’re here to help break down the options and point you in the right direction.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What are the different types of hearing aids?
- How does each type of hearing aid work?
- Which type of hearing aid is best for a loud room?
- How do I choose the right type of hearing aid?
- What additional features are available?
- Steps to take before you buy any hearing aid type
- Getting used to a new hearing aid
What are the different types of hearing aids?
Hearing aids vary in price, size, special features, and the way they are placed in your ear. Though popularity leans toward smaller hearing aids that aren’t easily seen, these hearing aid types might not be the best option for your type of hearing loss and lifestyle. It’s important to know what all your options are.
A completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aid is the smallest and least visible type of hearing aid available. It is molded to fit inside your ear canal and improves mild to moderate hearing loss in adults. Because of how they nestle in your ear canal, these types of hearing aids are the least likely to pick up wind noise, a common complaint in hearing aid wearers. They use very small batteries that have a shorter life and can be difficult to handle for those with dexterity issues. Because of their size, they often don’t include extra features, such as a volume control or a directional microphone, and they can be susceptible to earwax clogging.
In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids are custom molded and fit partly in the ear canal, which can improve mild to moderate hearing loss in adults. While still less visible, ITC hearing aidsare larger and therefore can include features that CIC hearing aids can’t. However, because of their still small size, ITC hearing aids may be difficult to adjust and are also susceptible to earwax clogging.
In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids come in two styles: a full shell that fills most of the bowl-shaped area of your outer ear and a half-shell that fills only the lower part. Both are available with directional microphones that help with mild to moderate hearing loss in adults. Because they are slightly bigger in size than CIC and ITC hearing aids, ITE hearing aids include features, such as volume control, and can be easier to handle with a larger battery for longer battery life (rechargeable options available). While also susceptible to earwax clogging, ITE hearing aids may pick up more wind noise than smaller devices.
Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of and rest behind the ear. A tube connects the hearing aid to a custom ear mold that fits in the ear canal. The larger of the types and yet still barely visible, BTE hearing aids are appropriate for people of all ages and those with almost any type of hearing loss. BTE hearing aids have directional microphones and are capable of more amplification than other styles, including reducing wind noise. They may be available with a rechargeable battery.
Receiver-in-canal (RIC) and receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) hearing aids are similar to BTE hearing aids that sit in the ear canal but have wiring rather than tubing that connects the piece behind the ear to the speaker or receiver. RIC and RITE hearing aids are typically less visible than BTE hearing aids and also have directional microphones with manual control options. They may be available with rechargeable batteries and are susceptible to earwax clogging.
Open-fit hearing aids are a hybrid of BTE hearing aids with a thin tube, like RIC or RITE hearing aids, and an open dome in the ear, keeping the ear canal open to allow for low-frequency sounds to enter the ear naturally and high-frequency sounds to be filtered through the hearing aid, making it a good option for those with better low-frequency hearing and mild to moderate high-frequency hearing loss. While often visible, open-fit hearing aids don’t plug the ear, often making your own voice sound better to you but may be more difficult to insert into the ear since they are non-customizable.
How does each type of hearing aid work?
All hearing aids use the same basic parts to carry and amplify sounds: a microphone to pick up sound around you, sound processing components, an amplifier to make the sound louder, and a receiver that sends these amplified sounds into your ear.
Many hearing aids are digital and powered with a traditional hearing aid battery or rechargeable battery. Small microphones collect sounds from the environment, then a computer chip with an amplifier converts this sound into digital code. It analyzes and processes the sound based on your hearing loss, listening needs, and the environment around you. The processed and amplified signals are then converted back into sound waves and delivered to your ears through receivers.
Which type of hearing aid is best for a loud room?
No type of hearing aid can restore normal hearing perfectly, but rather they improve your hearing by amplifying the types of sounds that you have trouble hearing. In noisy environments, hearing aids that are molded to fit inside your ear canal — commonly referred to as “occlusion” — block out the most distracting noises that keep you from hearing what’s most important.
CIC hearing aids are least likely to pick up extraneous noises since they are fitted to the whole ear canal. ITC hearing aids fit partly in the ear, leaving room for background noises to sneak in. These hearing aid types often come with a manual volume control for on-the-spot adjustments. ITE hearing aids, both full and half shells, are available with directional microphones to zero-in on voices closest to you, but these types may pick up more wind noises than other hearing aids.
Though the largest of the hearing aids, BTE hearing aids are custom fitted with an ear mold that sits in your ear canal. BTE hearing aids are capable of more amplification than other hearing aid types with directional microphones. The same can be said for RIC and RITE hearing aids.
More specifically, when looking for hearing aids that are best in loud rooms, look for ones with noise reduction and directional microphone features that can improve your ability to hear when you're in an environment with a lot of background noise. (More on additional features below.)
How do I choose the right type of hearing aid?
Your preference for hearing aids will depend greatly on your degree of hearing loss, lifestyle preferences, and cosmetic concerns, in addition to whether or not you have tried personal sound amplification products in the past.
The first step is to evaluate whether your level of hearing loss is mild, moderate, severe, or profound, which would be suitable for CIC, ITC, or RIC hearing aids, or ITC, ITE, or BTE hearing aids, respectively. Additionally, if your hearing loss is specific to low and high sounds, such as both squeaky and booming sounds, CIC or ITC styles are discreet and block out unwanted background noise.
If your hearing loss is limited to high frequencies, as is the case with most age-related hearing loss, RITE styles let in the natural low-frequency sounds while amplifying higher frequencies.
If you have dexterity issues, you’ll want to stick to a larger model, such as ITE or BTE hearing aids. This helps a lot when you have to change the batteries or manipulate features. Similarly, if you are homebound, restricted in daily activities or have cognitive impairments, BTE hearing aids are easiest for a caretaker to assist.
What additional features are available?
Not all hearing aids are created equal, with a range of features available depending on your lifestyle and needs to improve your ability to hear in specific situations.
Starting with the most basic features, noise reduction is available to some degree in all hearing aids, the most popular being wind noise reduction for outside situations. Similarly, directional microphones are aligned on hearing aids to improve sounds in front of you, while reducing sounds coming from behind or beside you. This feature can help to minimize background noise. Also popular, rechargeable batteries can make maintenance and everyday use easier.
Hearing aid technology has come a long way with the addition of telecoils that reduce environmental sounds when talking on a compatible telephone. Telecoils also pick up signals from public induction loop systems used in churches and theaters. Wireless connectivity allows newer hearing aids to interface with Bluetooth-compatible devices, such as cellphones, computers, and televisions. There are even applications that turn your cellphone into a remote control for your hearing aids. Direct audio input is also available to plug directly in to audio from a television, computer, or music device with a cord.
Additionally, some hearing aids now can store several pre-programmed settings for various listening needs and environments, as well as synchronization to adjust volume control or program changes between two hearing aids.
Steps to take before you buy any hearing aid type
Since hearing loss is a medical condition, it is smart to know that the problem you’re dealing with is actually hearing loss due to age or other irreversible factors. An audiologist can rule out other correctable causes of hearing loss, such as earwax or an infection. From there, you have many types of hearing aids available online that can match audiologist-prescribed hearing aids feature for feature at a far more affordable cost.
Hearing aids aren’t designed to last forever, so ask whoever you buy hearing aids from whether the hearing aids you’ve chosen are capable of adjusting volume, in case your hearing loss gets worse over the next five or so years.
Above all, do your research! There are a lot of misleading claims out there about hearing aids restoring your normal hearing or eliminating all background noise, both of which are not 100% possible today. There are also a lot of personal amplification device types, which are not the same as hearing aids. Personal amplification devices are just that - they amplify all sounds - including the ones you don’t want to hear.
Additionally, budget will become a major factor during your research and can be influenced by available features. Costs can range from affordable online solutions, like ZVOX VoiceBuds, for less than $400 a pair to thousands of dollars per hearing aid through your audiologist’s office.
Be sure to look into insurance options, or reach out to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs if you are a veteran.
Getting used to a new hearing aid
Getting used to hearing aids takes time as you get familiar with them. While hearing aids won’t return your hearing to normal, they can improve your hearing by amplifying the sounds you want to hear. You’ll want to get experience using your hearing aids in different environments, such as crowded restaurants or while watching television in the comfort of your own home. Consult with others who have taken a similar journey to hear about their successes and pitfalls, including tips on cleaning and care. Then, take advantage of support offered by the company you bought your hearing aid from, if need be, to ensure your new hearing aids are working as best for you as they can.