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Hearing Aid Styles, Explained

Hearing aids can help to address hearing loss for almost all people who have it, but they are not all the same. Several hearing aid styles are available to address diverse types of hearing challenges. The hearing aid style best for one person may not be right for another, so how can you know which is best for you? Read on to find out.

What are hearing aids?

Hearing aids are battery-powered or rechargeable devices that combat hearing loss. They amplify sound for the wearer, making it easier to hear and process sounds in a wide range of scenarios. Hearing aids either fit inside the ear canal or lie just outside the ear.

How do hearing aids work?

Hearing aids use a microphone to capture incoming sounds. The microphone then transmits these sounds to the amplifier, which makes them louder before they reach the speaker. Finally, the speaker directs these louder sounds toward your ear for auditory processing.

Common hearing aid features

In addition to amplifying sound, hearing aids may include several state-of-the-art features such as:

Conversion of incoming sounds to digital signals to reduce feedback and background noise

Directional microphones that focus on amplifying sound originating from where you’re facing, which helps with understanding conversations

Multi-channel equalizers that allow you to switch your hearing aid settings depending on your location and the decibel levels around you

Wireless connectivity via Bluetooth™ and telecoil connectivity for use with smartphones, laptops, televisions, and hearing loops in large venues and religious locations

Binaural processing so your two hearing aids can communicate with each other and balance their incoming signals for a more realistic hearing experience

Automatic programming and artificial intelligence that respond to and adjust incoming audio to fit your listening habits

Who uses hearing aids?

Some may assume that hearing aids are exclusively for the elderly, but they can be valuable tools for anyone at any age who experiences hearing loss for a wide range of reasons. Across all ages, one in every eight people experiences at least some amount of hearing loss, and all these people may be candidates for hearing aids. Hearing loss can result from regular exposure to everyday noise such as high-volume headphone usage or sudden exposure to loud noises such as fireworks or jet flyovers. It can also accompany traumatic brain injuries or diseases and illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, influenza, mumps, and rubella. Additionally, people who experience tinnitus may use hearing aids to hear better over the intrusive sounds that tinnitus presents.

Are hearing aids rechargeable?

Although traditional hearing aids are not rechargeable, many newer models contain lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that recharge just like a smartphone or a pair of wireless headphones. Many come with a dedicated case for charging them. Each charge, on average lasts for about one day of use. These batteries cannot be removed without the help of a hearing aid specialist.

Traditional hearing aids may be outfitted with button batteries that are rechargeable. Consult the battery brand’s specifics for more information.

How long do hearing aid batteries last?

Disposable zinc-air button batteries last between three and 20 days. Rechargeable, removable batteries can last six months to one year, and the non-removable batteries inside rechargeable hearing aids can last as long as five years.

How many different hearing aid styles are there?

The two major categories of hearing aid styles are in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids and behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids. There are four additional subtypes of ITE hearing aids: Invisible in the canal (IIC), completely in the canal (CIC), in-the-canal (ITC), and low-profile. BTE hearing aids have two subtypes too: Receiver in the ear (RITE) and behind the ear with earmold.

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid styles

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid styles sit entirely inside the ear canal. These types of hearing aids are less detectable to others. The subcategories of ITE hearing aids are divided based on how deeply in the ear canal they are placed.

Invisible in the canal (IIC) and completely in the canal (CIC)

IIC and CIC hearing aids are very similar. The only difference separating these styles of devices is that an IIC hearing aid is inserted so deep into the ear canal that it’s all but impossible to see from the outside, whereas CIC hearing aids are inserted a bit closer to the ear canal’s opening and can often be seen — but only slightly.

Both IIC and CIC hearing aids are supremely discreet and have high sound quality due to their proximity to the inner ear. However, their small size can prove challenging for people with dexterity issues, as these tiny devices are removed by gently tugging on a small string that is left outside the ear canal. The small size and in-ear location of these devices can also pose challenges for Bluetooth connectivity and avoiding ear wax and moisture exposure.

In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids

Whereas IIC and CIC hearing aids are placed deep in the ear canal, ITC hearing aids are placed closer to the outer ear but are still in the canal. ITC hearing aids are thus larger than their IIC and CIC counterparts and somewhat less discreet, though they’re still discreet compared to many other hearing aid styles.

Since ITC hearing aids are larger than IIC and CIC hearing aids, they tend to have longer battery life and additional features including manual controls and directional microphones. ITC, IIC, and CIC hearing aids may all struggle with Bluetooth connectivity and ear wax and moisture exposure, but only ITC hearing aids may cause their wearers to feel plugged up.

Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid styles

Whereas ITE hearing aid styles sit inside the ear canal, behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids extend from the ear canal to a portion of the device that’s placed behind the ear. There are two major subcategories of BTE hearing aids.

Receiver in the ear (RITE)

Receiver in the ear (RITE) hearing aids, also known as receiver in canal (RIC) hearing aids, are open-fit models with the speaker located in the ear and the microphone and processor behind the ear. The speaker sits in the ear canal via an insertable ear dome that can be as discreet as IIC and CIC hearing aids. A thin wire connects the speaker to the behind-ear microphone and processor.

A major advantage of RITE hearing aids is that they comprise the vast majority of rechargeable hearing aid styles. RITE hearing aids also tend to excel at Bluetooth and phone connectivity, with telecoil options common in these models. Additionally, your hearing aid specialist can often replace or repair the speaker portion of an RITE hearing aid at their office instead of shipping it to the manufacturer. However, RITE hearing aids may experience similar moisture, ear wax, and dexterity issues to IIC and CIC hearing aids, and the behind-the-ear portion of RITE hearing aids are more conspicuous.

Behind the ear with earmold

Behind the ear with earmold hearing aid styles include the most adaptable, versatile models on the market. The custom-fitted earmold occupies a large portion of the outer ear, and as with RITE hearing aids, a large, visible portion of the hearing aid sits behind the ear.

Behind the ear with earmold hearing aids can be used to address all degrees of hearing loss and are less prone to earwax and moisture damage. Their large size allows for easy wireless connectivity to external devices. Perhaps most importantly, the earmold can easily be replaced and modified to accommodate changes in hearing loss.

As with RITE hearing aids, behind the ear with earmold hearing aids aren’t as discreet as ITE styles since part of the hearing aid lies outside the ear. Like ITC hearing aids, they can make users feel plugged up. And unlike RITE hearing aids, the behind-the-ear portion of behind the ear with earmold hearing aids can limit the space behind the ear available for glasses arms.

Low profile hearing aid styles

Low profile hearing aids both sit in the ear canal and are large enough for uncomplicated insertion and removal. There are two subcategories of low profile hearing aid styles: half-shell models occupy half the bowl (the non-cartilage, non-earlobe part) of the outer ear, whereas full-shell models occupy nearly the entire bowl. 

Whether half-shell or full-shell, low-profile hearing aids are uncomplicated to insert and remove compared to other ITE styles. Their larger size also allows for more features such as Bluetooth connectivity and enhanced user controls. As with larger hearing aids, low profile styles aren’t discreet and can make users feel plugged up.

Open-fit hearing aid styles

Open-fit hearing aid styles include any hearing aids that do not completely block the ear canal. RITE hearing aids are the largest subcategory of open-fit hearing aid styles.

Some hearing aid users may prefer open-fit styles to other options since open fits don’t entirely block the ear canal, so the sensation of being plugged up or perceiving one’s own voice as though from underwater may be minimized. Open-fit hearing aid styles can also perform better when it comes to producing localized sound near the ear and eliminating feedback. They also tend to be discreet. However, open-fit hearing aid styles may struggle to accommodate directional microphones and noise-reducing and audio compression technologies.

How do you know which model is right for you?

You can’t know which model is right for you until speaking with a hearing aid specialist and trying the hearing aid in question. 

Whereas many hearing aid specialists sell a limited number of hearing aid brands, at I Love Hearing, we sell almost any brand you can name. At our practice, you can always try your hearing aids before you buy them. Once you’ve decided which hearing aid is right for you, we’ll fit your hearing aid and send you on your way. And if you ever have hearing aid concerns or need repairs, we’re happy to see you again and fix your hearing aids on-site. Contact us today to book an appointment – with five offices in Manhattan and the Long Island area, we’re easy to reach.