Gone are the days when a hearing aid was the size of a cigarette pack, with wires dangling all over the place and tangling with everything you wore. Today’s hearing aids are compact and convenient, and come in a wide variety of styles, types and even colors.
Hearing aids can be separated into several main categories, each with its own pluses and minuses. Choosing the best one for you depends on your type and degree of hearing loss, your lifestyle, and what you can afford to spend.
Behind the ear aids (BTE) are just that; they fit behind the wearer’s ear. These hearing aids work for most types of hearing loss, and are used quite commonly. They’re larger than in-the-ear types. Sound is transmitted from the electronic component behind the ear into ear canal via plastic tubing. Sometimes wearing BTE hearing aids can be difficult for users who also wear glasses, so some manufacturers offer BTE hearing aids that are integrated into glasses frames.
Receiver in canal (RIC) hearing aids are similar in appearance to BTE models; someone looking in from outside probably won’t be able to tell the difference. The difference lies in the technology. Instead of the receiver being in the part of the unit that fits behind the ear, it’s in the ear bud. This separates the receiver and the microphone more than in BTE models, which results in less potential for feedback squeal. These also can be integrated into glasses frames.
In the ear (ITE) hearing aids are custom fitted for each user. They require a little adjustment period, as the user must learn to insert them properly. After that, however, they’re easy to put into the ear and easy to use. The electronics are easily adjusted with your finger, without having to remove them from the ear. They’re generally used for mild to severe hearing loss.
In the canal (ITC) hearing aids are smaller, more compact versions of the ITE style; as technology advances, the same technology will fit into smaller spaces. These generally are used for mild to moderately severe hearing loss.
Completely in canal (CIC) are the smallest units available. They’re used only for adults, whereas the others may be used for children as well. They’re not suitable for all users, however; whether they’ll work for a particular person depends on the type and degree of hearing loss. Some of these are so tiny that you can’t even see them.
Body worn hearing aids still are available if you look hard enough. They are not the big, bulky units your grandfather used, but now are lightweight and compact, and only a couple inches in their largest dimension.
As technology has developed, the options available on hearing aids have broadened. Some models are available in bright colors, some have digital displays, and still others are waterproof. Many offer some degree of noise suppression to filter out potentially annoying environment or background sounds. Quite a few have electronic features designed to ease use with land line or cellular telephones, or in concerts or movie theaters. With the plethora of other electronic devices in our lives, some manufacturers even offer “gateway” solutions that interface hearing aids with Bluetooth, TVs, cell phones, iPods and MP3 players.