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.
This article discusses the hearing aid types available, how they differ, and their features. It also looks at choosing 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
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 differ depending on how much of the hearing aid sits within the ear or ear canal and how much 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.
- May suit: people of all ages with mild to profound hearing loss
- Pro: comfortable to wear
- Con: may feel too bulky for some people
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.
- May suit: people who experience earwax buildup
- Pro: does not muffle the sound of the wearer’s voice
- Con: may be easier to misplace than larger models
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.
- May suit: people with mild to severe hearing loss
- Pro: one of the most discreet options available
- Con: not suitable for children and adolescents as they are still growing
In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids sit completely inside the outer ear, without anything sitting behind the ear. All the electronics are in a small case inside the external part of the ear.
ITE hearing aids are suitable for people with mild to severe hearing loss. However, they are unsuitable for young children because the molds need replacing as the ear grows. Most people 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
- May suit: people with profound hearing loss
- Pro: people with MEIs may hear less feedback than those with other hearing aids
- Con: requires surgery and may not be as discreet as other options
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
- May suit: people with mild to moderate hearing loss
- Pro: this type of hearing aid is very discreet
- Con: often has a shorter battery life
These hearing aids are small enough to fit partially or completely
People tend to like them for their discreet cosmetic appearance, but their small size can sometimes make them difficult to adjust.
Below is a comparison of the different types of hearing aids.
|Type of hearing loss||Pros||Cons|
|BTE||mild to profound||easy and comfortable to wear||may be too bulky|
|Mini BTE||mild to severe||does not muffle the wearer’s voice||may be easier to misplace than larger hearing aids|
|ITE||mild to severe||discreet||not suitable for children|
|MEI||profound||less feedback than with hearing aids||requires surgery|
|ITC and CIC||mild to moderate||discreet||shorter battery life|
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 someone on where to get the right hearing aid for their needs.
- 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 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.
Below are some frequently asked questions about hearing aids.
How long does it take to get used to a hearing aid?
The rate at which people become used to a hearing aid varies.
Some people may take several weeks to feel comfortable wearing a hearing device. A person’s audiologist can provide help and advice to make the transition smoother.
Can hearing aids damage hearing further?
An audiologist should decide which hearing aid best suits a person’s situation and set up the hearing device for them.
A person may find their hearing is more muffled if they have not set up the hearing device correctly. If they notice a change in their hearing, the person should contact an audiologist as soon as possible.
Will a hearing aid restore hearing?
A hearing aid cannot restore hearing but can make it easier for a person to hear everyday sounds and understand and communicate more easily with others.
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 budget.
People can speak with a doctor for recommendations and advice on the best type of hearing aid for their needs.