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Hearing Aid Types

The variety of hearing aid models and types is increasing every year, as the leading manufacturers compete to offer devices that are smaller, more comfortable and packed with the latest technologies and features.

However, before you decide which model fits best, it is necessary to choose a hearing aid type that will fully accommodate your individual needs and condition. It is very important to become acquainted with the advantages and disadvantages of each type and preferably consult with a hearing aid specialist before you make a final decision. As a start, you can take a look at our review of the most popular hearing aid types.

Behind The Ear (BTE)

bteThis is a very wide product category, encompassing the style that most non-users associate with the term “Hearing Aid”. The large, pink banana hanging behind one’s ear, with thick tubing disappearing into a heavy mould, is the archetypal BTE. However, nowadays behind the ear hearing aids can be very small, come in a variety of colours and deliver high quality sound through fine micro tubing. With such an impressive array of options this style is currently the most popular on the UK market.

Advantages: The device’s relatively large size allows the manufacturers to offer a great number of additional features, functions and programs. BTEs offer a minimum amount of feedback and the most advanced devices can perform with an impressive quality even when in challenging listening environments. It is usually suitable for almost all types and levels of hearing loss.

Disadvantages: The BTEs may not appeal to those who are looking for a discreet design, as they can be spotted relatively easy during a face to face conversation. If using ear molds (although most are fitted on micro tubing with silicone domes) their ear molds, which are custom made, need to be regularly replaced when they begin to wear out, in order to ensure a tight fit with the ear, which is essential for sound quality.

Receiver in the canal

An interesting offshoot of the classical BTE that has become increasingly popular is the Receiver in the canal (RIC) which is a product where the body of the device sits behind the ear, but the receiver (speaker) sits inside the ear canal. Connected by a wire encased in plastic, it can have size and performance advantages but can prove expensive to maintain with the receiver position in the canal.

Advantages: Although the RIC is relatively smaller than the classical BTE, it is still able to accommodate a majority of essential features. Its design is very discreet, which makes it hard to notice. The RIC hearing aids are also able to provide a more natural sound with less occlusion than in the ear devices.

Disadvantages: As the receiver is in the ear canal, it can be damaged by the humid and moist conditions. The RIC is also more expensive than the BTE.

In The Ear (ITE)

iteThis self-descriptive term could be applied to everything that is not Body Worn or Behind The Ear. It mainly refers to products, which fill the whole bowl (concha) of the ear of half of it. These options are known as either Full Shell or Half Shell. Still relatively large they can include twin microphones, telecoils, multiple programmes, volume controls and a broad spectrum of functionalities.

Advantages: The hearing aids are custom made for the specific user and are easy to handle due to their size. The ITE hearing aids can accommodate many types of hearing loss and have a relatively large battery with a long life.

Disadvantages: It is very important to clean such a device regularly and properly, as with time the wax and moisture in the ear can damage some of its parts and affect the performance.

In The Canal (ITC)

itcThese hearing aids are designed to fit in the ear canal rather than the ear concha. They tend to be custom made based upon an impression taken from the individual, although there are some that are a standard fit. They are smaller than the half shells or full shells and typically do not have the power, battery life or functionality of their bigger brothers.

Advantages: ITC hearing aids are smaller than ITE’s and are therefore barely visible. If the specific form of the user’s ear canal allows it, they can still accommodate a good set of features, although not typically as many.

Disadvantages: Unwanted feedback is likely to occur, as the microphone and the receiver are situated close to one another. The device can also become easily clogged with ear wax.

Completely In The Canal (CIC)

cicA well fitted CIC should be almost invisible and seated totally inside the canal. By no means, however, is it suitable for all ears. These tiny devices have some limitations but can be very discreet. Inserted and extracted by use of a cord they require nimble fingers as well as the right ear size.

Advantages: They are practically impossible to see during a face to face conversation, which makes them a great choice for people who do not want their hearing aid to be noticeable. CICs are suitable for people with hearing loss in the higher frequencies, due to their localisation in the ear canal.

Disadvantages: The device uses small batteries, which therefore need to be changed more often and can be difficult to handle by elderly people due to their tiny size. Ear wax and moisture can cause potential problems.

Original article date 23/5/2011, updated 27/3/2014

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