Hearing aids can help people who have lost some of their hearing. Different types of hearing aids are available to suit varying needs and preferences.

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This article discusses the hearing aid types available, how they differ, and their features. It also looks at how to choose hearing aids and where to get them.

Hearing loss can occur due to damage to or loss of the small sensory cells in the inner ear, also known as hair cells. Causes of this include aging, congenital irregularities, and physical trauma.

The loss of these hearing cells makes it harder for people to hear and distinguish sounds.

Learn more about hearing loss here.

A hearing aid is a small electronic device that sits either behind or inside the ear. It amplifies sounds so that the hair cells are triggered more effectively, making hearing easier.

A hearing aid consists of three parts:

  • a microphone
  • an amplifier
  • a speaker

The hearing aid receives the sound through the microphone, transfers it to the amplifier to increase the volume, and sends it through the ear canal using the speaker.

There are five main types of hearing aids. They are differentiated based on how much of the hearing aid is contained within the ear or ear canal and how much of it is external.

There are also digital and analog models, which can apply to all five types of hearing aids.

Digital vs. analog

Digital hearing aids convert sound waves into digital signals and produce an exact duplication of the sound. They use a computer chip to analyze the environment for speech and other sounds.

Digital hearing aids allow people to hear more complex sounds with background noise easier. Most hearing aids are now digital.

Analog hearing aids simply make a sound wave louder. They amplify all sounds to the same extent, which can make differentiation difficult. Analog hearing aids sometimes have different settings for quiet or loud environments.

Analog hearing aids are becoming less common as digital technology advances.

Behind-the-ear

With behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids, the hard plastic case that contains the electronics sits behind the ear, with a small wire connecting it to a plastic earmold that fits inside the outer ear.

The microphone and speaker sit in the earmold. Sound travels from the microphone to the electronics and back to the speaker in the earmold and into the ear.

BTE hearing aids are suitable for people of all ages with mild or profound hearing loss. However, they might feel too bulky for some people.

Mini BTE

Mini BTE hearing aids are useful if a person still wants the device to sit behind the ear but does not want their entire ear plugged by a mold.

A small narrow tube requires insertion into the ear canal to transmit the sound, but the canal remains partially open.

This type of hearing aid is suitable for people who experience earwax buildup or who do not like the sound of their voice being muffled. This can happen with the earmolds.

In-the-ear

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids sit completely inside the outer ear, without anything sitting behind the ear. All the electronics are contained within a small case inside the external part of the ear.

ITE hearing aids are suitable for people with mild-to-severe hearing loss. They are not appropriate for young children, however, because the molds have to be replaced as the ear grows. Most people will wait until they stop growing before getting an ITE device.

Some ITE hearing aids include a telecoil feature that can connect to a telephone or sound system to help users hear those devices more clearly.

Middle ear implants

Middle ear implants (MEIs) require surgery to place the aid on one of the small bones in the middle of the ear.

Instead of amplifying the sound traveling to the eardrum, MEIs move the bones to strengthen the sound vibrations, making it easier to trigger the hair cells and detect sounds.

In-the-canal and completely-in-the-canal aids

These hearing aids are small enough to fit partially or completely inside the ear canal. These are not very visible.

People tend to like them for their discrete cosmetic appearance, but their small size can sometimes make them difficult to adjust.

Choosing a hearing aid will depend on the severity of a person’s hearing loss, but most aids will suit most types of hearing loss. An audiologist can advise people on where to get the right hearing aid for their needs.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders recommend considering the following questions when choosing a hearing aid:

  • Which features will I need most?
  • Do I care about the appearance of the device?
  • What is the total cost of the hearing aid?
  • Will the benefits of newer technology outweigh the higher costs?
  • Is there a trial period to test the hearing aids?
  • How long is the warranty, and what does it cover?

There are many brands offering hearing aids for purchase online, including:

Other companies and brands are also available. People can compare online reviews to choose the best hearing aid provider for their needs.

A doctor can also offer recommendations or advice. Anyone who is unsure about which type of hearing aid would suit them or where to get one should speak with a doctor for guidance. The doctor may also refer the person to an audiologist.

There are many types of hearing aids available in digital or analog models. The main variations depend on where the hearing aid sits in relation to the ear.

The best fit depends on many factors, including the severity of a person’s hearing loss, their cosmetic preference, and price point.

People can speak with a doctor for recommendations and advice on the best type of hearing aid for their needs.