There is an old adage that “the best hearing aid in the world is the one you’ll wear” and this is very true. There are a range of options to choose from.
Analogue or Digital?
Analogue hearing aids amplify electronic signals while digital aids use a tiny computer to process sound. This enables them to be programmed to meet the exact pattern of someone’s hearing loss much more accurately, as well as enabling programmes which can be chosen for different sound environments, like a busy restaurant, or for listening to music. Most hearing aids these days, including NHS ones, are digital.
Behind the Ear (BTE) Hearing Aids
BTE aids have an ear-mould that fits your ear exactly, to which sound is relayed from a processor worn behind the ear. Some have a smaller, soft earpiece that sits in your ear at the end of a narrow tube. These can be less noticeable, and give a more natural sound, but they are only suitable for less serious hearing loss.
Receiver in the ear (RITE) hearing aids
RITE hearing aids have a unit that sits behind the ear (like BTE but usually smaller) but parts of the device, particularly the loudspeaker, are actually in your ear. As the sound travels less far from the speaker they can offer a “smoother” sound than traditional BTE aids. They also tend to be less conspicuous.
RITE aids can also be made with an open fit, which does not completely plug up the ear, and reduces occlusion. There is some evidence they may also be of help to people with tinnitus.
In the Ear (ITE) hearing aids
These are contained entirely within your ear. They are therefore less visible. They are less able to incorporate directional microphones. For more severe hearing loss the ITE will need to be contained in a full shell, which fills the whole ear concha.
In the Canal (ITC) hearing aids
Like ITE but for less severe hearing loss so the aid only fills half the external ear. Still less conspicuous and may deliver a more natural sound as it leaves the ear bowl more open and more able to collect sound in the natural way
Completely in Canal (CIC) or Invisible in Canal (IIC) hearing aids
These are a fairly recent innovation. They sit entirely within the ear canal and are therefore invisible. Some may be worn permanently and only removed for maintenance, by an audiologist. They require fitting by a specialist and are likely to be most suitable for less severe hearing loss.
Photos courtesy of Age UK.