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What are the Different Types (Styles) of Hearing Aids?

August 22nd, 2017 | 5 min. read

By Mark Nichols, MD

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Hearing aids are tiny electronic devices you wear behind or in your ear. People with hearing loss are able to listen better because the aids make some sounds louder and/or clearer. If you have hearing loss, a hearing aid can make it easier for you to communicate and participate better in your daily activities.

It doesn't matter if you're in a noisy or quiet situation, a hearing aid will help you hear better, and there are many hearing aid styles to choose from. But, surprisingly, a lot of people who could benefit from using a hearing aid don't bother to use one.

There are three basic parts of a hearing aid. These include:

  • A microphone

  • An amplifier

  • A speaker

The microphone picks up the sound so the hearing aid can receive it. The microphone takes sound waves and converts them into electrical signals while sending them to the amplifier. The amplifier then raises the signals' power and uses the speaker to send them to the ear.

You may have considered getting a hearing aid, but perhaps you're concerned the way it will look or if it will even help you hear better. Hearing aids vary in many aspects, including size, cost, and special features. Learning about the different types of hearing aids you have available to you may help ease your concerns.

Different Types of Hearing Aids

The type of hearing aid you and your Houston ENT & Allergy doctor decides upon is based on the severity and type of your hearing loss, your listening needs, and your lifestyle. Below is an overview of the different types of hearing aids available to you.

In-the-Canal (ITC) and Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC) Aids

Here's a brief description of both.

In-the-Canal (ITC) Aids

ITC hearing aids are custom molded and fit partly in the canal of your ear. An ITC hearing aid can help adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.

ITC hearing aids:

  • Are less noticeable in your ear than bigger styles.

  • Include features you wouldn't be able to fit on CIC aids, but adjusting them may be difficult due to their smaller size.

  • Are more sensitive to your earwax clogging up the speaker.

Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC) Aids

CIC aids are molded to fit inside the canal of your ear. They are good for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.

A completely-in-the-canal hearing aid:

  • Are the tiniest and least noticeable type.

  • Use smaller batteries that can be hard to handle and have a shorter life.

  • Are less inclined to pick up wind noise.

  • Have no extra features like a directional microphone or volume control.

  • Are also more susceptible to earwax clogging the speaker.

In-the-Ear (ITE) Aids

A shell holds all parts of ITE aids and fills in the outer part of your ear. These aids are bigger than ITC aids and CIC aids and make it simpler to handle than small aids for some people. You wear these aids in your air and they're typically custom fit from an impression the hearing care doctor takes during your hearing aid consultation. You're able to get them in several skin tones so they blend in with your outer ear.

Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Aids

BTE aids sit on top of your outer ear or behind it with tubes routing the sound through an ear tip not blocking your whole ear canal opening or a custom-fit earmold down to your ear canal. Styles of BTE aids also come in different designs and various colors so you can match them to your skin tone and hair color.

A small plastic case holds most parts of the aid and rests behind your ear. The case connects to the ear mold. BTE aids are simple to clean and handle and they're fairly sturdy.

Behind-the-Ear Aid: Open Fitting

There's a new type of BTE aids which are open fitting. These are tiny, open-fit aids that completely fit behind your ear with a narrow tube inserted into the canal of your ear. This enables the canal to stay open. Because of this, they may be a great choice if you're experiencing earwax buildup since earwax is less likely to damage this type of hearing aid. Additionally, the perception of your voice doesn't sound like its "plugged up."

Receiver-in-Canal Aids

RIC aids are the same BTE styles but with a speaker built into the ear tip rather than the hearing aid's main body. The hearing aid speaker rests in your ear canal, but the processor and microphone sit behind your ear in a tiny case. A thin wire connects them. It's a larger ear tip to accommodate the speaker; however, because of moisture damage or earwax, it may malfunction. Often, you can simply replace the aid rather than go to the manufacturer to have it repaired. These hearing aids also offer listening and cosmetic advantages.

Extended Wear Hearing Aids

The hearing specialist places extended wear hearing aids in your ear canal nonsurgically. You wear them for a few months at a time before you remove them. The design of the aids is made with soft material that fits into the curves of your ear. You wear them continuously and when you need to; replace them with a new device. If you're an active individual, these hearing aids are ideal for you because they're made to protect against earwax and moisture and may be worn while showering, exercising, etc.

Middle Ear Implants

Middle ear implants are hearing systems that the hearing professional implants in the space behind your eardrum. They vibrate your middle ear structures mechanically and consist of two parts: an implanted portion and external portion.

Light Driven Hearing Aids

These aids transmit sound by using light. They're a great alternative to standard hearing aids if you want your hearing aid to produce a more natural sound. They offer a better, richer sound that's more complete.

Light driven hearing aids are very stable and they're customized strictly for you. Through surface tension, they sit on your eardrum. An ENT doctor adds mineral oil (a drop) into your ear to create this surface tension, however, you'll have to continue to apply this tiny mineral oil drop each week to keep this surface tension.

Hearing Aids Methods of Processing Sounds

There is a number of hearing aid styles, but all hearing aids differ in the way they work, depending on what electronics are used. Analog and digital are two of the main electronic types. Both analog and digital hearing aids are used today, with digital hearing aids becoming increasingly more common.

Analog. Analog aids form electrical signals out of sound waves. These electrical signals are amplified. Adjustable analog hearing aids are custom built for your needs. The manufacturer programs them based on audiologist recommended specifications. Programmable analog aids offer more than one setting or program.

Using a computer, your audiologist may program the aid and you're able to change this program to produce various listening environments from a noisy restaurant to a quiet, small room, to a huge open area like a stadium.

Digital . Digital aids form numerical codes from sound waves, like a computer binary code, before they amplify them. Since sound pitch or loudness information is included in the code, you're able to program the aid to amplify some frequencies more than other frequencies. Your audiologist adjusts the aid to your specific needs because of this flexibility.

Special Hearing Aid Features

Hearing aids are also available with special features, which include:

  • Noise reduction capabilities

  • Rechargeable batteries

  • Remote controls

  • Wireless connectivity

  • Environmental noise control capabilities

  • Directional microphones

  • Direct audio plug in/inputs

  • Telecoils

  • And more.

If you’re considering a hearing aid due to hearing loss, be sure you visit a hearing specialist, such as those at Houston ENT & Allergy. By having your hearing loss assessed, your hearing audiologist can determine what type of hearing aid you would benefit from the most. Consult with them and learn all the facts before making your choice. Your hearing is something you’ll be living with, so you want to ensure your choice of hearing aid is comfortable and suit your needs.

For an appointment to get your hearing checked at Houston ENT & Allergy or to talk about getting a hearing aid, give us a call us at : 281-649-7000 or complete our online form.

Author: Mark Nichols, MD

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Mark Nichols, MD

Mark Lynn Nichols, M.D., received his Bachelor of Science degree with Honors in Pharmacy in 1983, prior to his entering the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, where he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine with Highest Honors. Following his Internship in General Surgery, and Residency in Otolaryngology at UTMB, Dr. Nichols did a Fellowship in Otology-Neurology at the Ear Research Foundation, in Sarasota, Florida. He is a member of several professional associations, and is a Diplomat of the American Board of Otolaryngology.