Hearing aids benefit a majority of the 48 million Americans who have been diagnosed with hearing loss. They all serve the same basic function – amplifying sounds in order to help you hear more clearly – but the similarities end there.
Hearing aids are available in a wide range of styles and sizes; you’ll need to take into consideration a number of different factors when making a choice, including your lifestyle needs, cosmetic preferences and the type and degree of your hearing loss.
The different styles of hearing aids are listed below.
In The Canal Styles
In the canal hearing aids consist of a custom-molded casing that houses all the electronic components, and are worn inside the ear canal. They include a tiny cord that aids in removal. These devices are virtually invisible, and appeal to those who value discretion. Their small size limits the number of available features and translates to a shorter battery life. People with dexterity issues may find the small controls difficult to adjust. These hearing aids are best suited for individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Within this category you will find, from smallest to largest:
- IIC (Invisible In the Canal) hearing aids.
- CIC (Completely In the Canal) hearing aids.
- ITC (In the Canal) hearing aids.
In The Ear Styles
In the ear (ITE) hearing aids fit partially in the ear canal, but the faceplate extends to the concha (bowl-shaped portion) of the ear. The electronic components are contained within a molded plastic shell, but the volume control is located on the exterior portion of the device for easier access. In the ear devices are more visible than in the canal types, but their larger size translates to additional features and longer battery life. These hearing aids are made for those with mild to severe hearing loss.
The two types of in the ear hearing aids are:
- ITE (In The Ear) hearing aids.
- RITE (Receiver In The Ear) hearing aids. The electronics are housed in a casing that fits behind the ear (similar to the BTE style below), but the receiver is separate and fits in the concha of the ear.
Behind The Ear Styles
Behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of your ear and sit behind the ear. They transmit amplified sound to an ear mold that is placed in the ear canal. BTEs are larger and more visible than other styles, but offer unparalleled versatility, longer battery life and easily adjustable external volume and other controls. These devices are especially popular with children and the elderly, and are appropriate for all types of hearing loss.
There are two styles available:
- BTE (Behind The Ear) hearing aids.
- Open Fit hearing aids. These are smaller than conventional BTE devices and do not come with an earmold. This leaves the ear canal “open” to allow sound to enter unimpeded, eliminating occlusion (a plugged-up feeling). The result is more natural sound. This type is especially beneficial to patients with high-frequency hearing loss.
The latest innovation in hearing aids is extended wear devices (Lyric is the first such brand on the market) that are designed to be worn continuously for up to 120 days. Truly disposable, these hearing aids do not require battery changes and are meant to remain in place while the user participates in normal activities including exercising, showering and sleeping.
Cochlear implants are designed to help severely to profoundly deaf adults and children who get little or no benefit from hearing aids. They work by stimulating the auditory nerve directly. Cochlear Implants receive sound from the outside environment, process it, and send small electric currents near the auditory nerve. These electric currents activate the nerve, which then sends a signal to the brain. The brain learns to recognize this signal and the person experiences this as “hearing”. The cochlear implant somewhat simulates natural hearing, where sound creates an electric current that stimulates the auditory nerve. However, the result is not the same as normal hearing. Your audiologist will be able to tell you if your hearing loss may warrant a cochlear implant and he/she will refer you to an otolaryngologist (ENT) to determine your eligibility for an implant. If you might be a candidate, you will undergo a hearing aid trial before determining if you are a candidate. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, we recommend attending our Cochlear Implants Support Group to learn more about the challenges, risks, and benefits of a cochlear implant.