Hearing Aid Types and Features with Pictures

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Hearing aids are small devices that fit in or behind your ear and can help you hear sound louder and clearer. They are battery operated and have a microphone that picks up sounds around you. These sounds are electronically processed and amplified, transmitted to a receiver, and converted back into sounds you can hear.

Hearing aid technology has improved dramatically in recent years. Most, including all NHS hearing aids, are now digital. This means that they can be quite precisely personalized to your hearing loss.

Your hearing care professional should discuss which brand they recommend and why, and explain the pros and cons.

  • If you decide to get fitted privately, our guide to best and worst hearing care professionals will help you choose where to go for yours.

The different types of hearing aids

Behind-the-ear (BTE) with earmold

Who it is for: People with mild to severe hearing loss.

Advantages: Suitable for the widest range of hearing losses. The tip fits snugly while the rest of the aid sits behind the ear. The most versatile and reliable type of hearing aid.

The inconvenients: Most visible type of hearing aid. The ear may appear clogged, but the vents in the mold can relieve this and are installed where appropriate.

Open behind-the-ear (BTE)

Who it is for: People with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Advantages: Has a small soft earphone at the end of the tube instead of an ear tip, which will make you feel less wired.
Comfortable (not too heavy on the ear) and less visible than a mouthpiece. It can give you a very natural sound.

The inconvenients: Must be inserted correctly otherwise may come off.

Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) digital aids

Who it is for: People with mild to severe hearing loss.

Advantages: All the benefits of an open-fit hearing aid, but can be fitted with additional amplification. Often smaller than BTE aids because some parts are inside the ear.

The inconvenients: Vulnerable to wax and sweat, which can affect the sound in the receiver.

In-the-ear (ITC) and in-the-ear (ITE) digital aids

Who it is for: People with mild to severe hearing loss.

Advantages: Both have working parts in the earmold, or a small compartment attached to it, so the whole aid fits in the ear. ITC aids are less visible than ITEs, but neither have a part behind the ear.

The inconvenients: Tend to need repairs more often than behind-the-ear hearing aids.

Completely in the canal (CIC) or invisible hearing aids

Who it is for: People with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Advantages: The smallest type of hearing aid. Almost invisible because the work pieces are in the bit; fits further into the ear canal than ITE/ITC aids.

The inconvenients: Unlikely to be suitable if you have frequent ear infections. The ear may seem clogged unless it is ventilated. A small tube is particularly susceptible to clogging with sweat and wax, which can cause temporary malfunction. Can be tricky to use if you can’t manage small switches or buttons. Its degree of concealment will depend on the shape of your ear.

Are small hearing aids better?

Many people think that small hearing aids that fit your ear are more expensive, more modern and “better” – but in fact, any size and type of hearing aid can be the modern, digital type.

Some smaller hearing aids can be difficult to handle if you have poor eyesight or dexterity. They can sometimes be a little more difficult to clean and may be more affected by heat and humidity, as the mechanics of the hearing aid are in the ear canal. They are generally only suitable for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

In our 2020 survey of 1,572 which? members and other adults, only 6% of those who paid privately got “invisible” hearing aids. The most common were open ear hooks, purchased by 49% of our respondents.

Although they appear more discreet, invisible hearing aids are not necessarily more expensive than other types. The appearance of the hearing aid does not affect the cost, because it is the technology that is important. Our guide to hearing aid prices shows how much you can expect to pay, based on the features you need.

Less Common Types of Hearing Aids

Hearing aid with tinnitus masker

These are designed to mask the presence of tinnitus. However, they don’t always provide long-term relief.

Bone Conduction Hearing Aids

These are suitable if problems with your outer or middle ear are preventing sound from getting through. They send sound vibrations through the skull directly to the inner ear. They can be worn with a headband or attached to your glasses and some are surgically implanted (see ‘Implantable devices’ below).

CROS and BiCROS (contralateral signal routing) hearing aids

CROS hearing aids are suitable if you only hear in one ear. They pick up sounds from the non-hearing side and transmit them to your better ear. BiCROS aids amplify sound from both sides and transmit it to the ear that has better hearing.

Audiologists traditionally fitted CROS or BiCROS hearing aids over glasses to hide all the wiring. However, with today’s wireless technology, this is no longer necessary.

Body-worn analog hearing aids

These can be useful if you are visually impaired or find it difficult to use small switches or buttons. Some can be very powerful. They’re not widely available anymore because they’re so bulky (a little box containing the microphone and working parts is attached by cable to an earphone that’s clipped into your mouthpiece, and the box is clipped to your clothes – that’s about about the size of a small cell phone).

Hearing aids custom glasses

It is possible to have your hearing aids and glasses integrated into one unit. However, this is usually not ideal: if your hearing aids need to be repaired or you need a new prescription for glasses, you could find yourself without hearing or visual aids in the meantime.

With some spectacle aids, the frame must be fitted or cut, which means the lenses cannot be returned to their original condition. Once the hearing aid is mounted on the frame, some opticians are reluctant to change the lenses of the glasses because they fear damaging the hearing aid. Also, the hearing aids cannot be removed and worn separately.

Due to low demand, glasses hearing aid technology may be slightly inferior to normal hearing aid technology, even though they cost about the same.

However, one case where spectacle hearing aids can work very well is if you have conductive hearing loss. This is because the bone conductor is mounted on the arm of the glasses and creates pressure on the mastoid bone behind the ear, transferring it directly to the cochlea of ​​the inner ear.

They may also be helpful for people who have mild to moderate hearing loss but cannot wear any devices in or around their ear due to an allergy or infection.

Implantable devices

If a standard hearing aid really isn’t right for you, either because your loss is too severe for you to benefit from, or because you can’t wear one, you still have options, including cochlear implants and bone anchored hearing aids (BAHA).

Cochlear implants are small electronic devices that give you the sensation of sound. They include an outer part worn like a hearing aid and an inner part surgically implanted in your inner ear. The sound of the implant will take some getting used to (the voices sound like Daleks) and you will need to be trained to understand what you hear.

BAHAs are digital bone conduction devices that are mounted on a snap-shaped screw that has been inserted into the mastoid bone behind your ear. BAHAs are suitable for people whose hearing is reduced by middle ear problems, such as infections. Sound is sent directly to the cochlea via the bones of the skull.

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