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Updated onMay. 24, 2022

Types Of Hearing Aids

Key Takeaways

  • Hearing aids come in three basic types
  • With each type of hearing aid, there are a variety of subtypes that have different features
  • The type that is right for you will depend on your activity level and degree of hearing loss
male doctor applying hearing-aid to senior woman

As most of you already know, there are many types of hearing aids. If you’re someone who has difficulty hearing, it’s important you choose the right hearing aid style. The type you choose should be based on your unique hearing needs (whether you are experiencing moderate hearing loss to profound hearing loss), as well as other factors, like if you have trouble hearing low frequency sounds or have any communication disorders. With all the types of hearing aids that are available, it may seem overwhelming and almost impossible to make a choice. Here’s how the different types of hearing aids add up to one another, as well as which is the best hearing aid for each type of hearing loss.

What are the main types of hearing aids?

There are three basic types of hearing aids: behind-the-ear (BTE hearing aids), inside-the-ear (ITE hearing aids), and receiver-in-ear (RIC hearing aids). All hearing aids have a microphone to pick up sound, personal amplifiers to make that sound louder, and a receiver that transmits sound into the ear.

ITE hearing aids come in three subtypes: completely in-the-canal (CTC hearing aids), in-the-canal (ITC hearing aids), and in-the-ear (ITE hearing aids). Keep reading to discover more about how each one works.

All hearing aids have a microphone to pick up sound, personal amplifiers to make that sound louder, and a receiver that transmits sound into the ear.

  • Completely in-the-canal hearing aids fit deep into the ear canal and usually cannot be seen from the outside. They have to be custom made for a specific person’s ear canal. They can be used for mild to moderate hearing loss, but no more than that.
Pros
  • They are very discreet because of their placement. Since they are custom fit, they are more comfortable than other types of hearing aids. Feedback is kept to a minimum because of their placement, and they are easy to keep in place.

Cons
  • Since they are so small, some people have problems taking them out and putting them in. Their battery life is also shorter than other hearing aids. Likewise, since they are smaller, fewer features can be fit inside the shell. Also worth noting is that moisture and ear wax can build up inside the area that the hearing aid covers.

  • In-the-canal hearing aids fit into the outer ear canal of the ear. Like CIC hearing aids, they must be custom made. They can be used for a variety of different degrees of hearing loss, from mild to profound.
Pros
  • They are almost as discreet as CIC hearing aids, and since they are larger, they are easier to remove. Like with CIC hearing aids, they are custom fit and more comfortable than other types of hearing aids. Their larger casing means they can have more features and a longer battery life than completely in-the-canal aids.

Cons
  • Like with completely in-the-canal hearing aids, moisture and ear wax buildup can become a problem while wearing these styles of hearing aids.

  • In-the-ear hearing aids fit into the concha, the outer hollow area of the ear. They can be used for a variety of different degrees of hearing loss, from mild to profound (just like in-the-canal hearing aids), and many different electronic features can fit inside the shell.
Pros
  • They are more discreet than hearing aid types that fit outside the ear, and are often better-suited for those who wear glasses.

Cons
  • They are susceptible to moisture problems and can make your ear feel plugged up.

Behind-the-ear hearing aids are the style of hearing aid that most people think of when they think of hearing aids. They consist of a microphone, amplifier, and receiver in a case that fits behind the ear. This type of hearing aid can be used for all levels of hearing loss. There are two different fittings for BTE hearing aids: open fit and closed fit. Open fit hearing aids use a thin plastic tube to direct sound to the ear canal, while closed fit hearing aids use ear molds that fit into the concha to direct sound into the inner ear.

Pros
  • They are easy to insert and adjust. Because of their large size, they can fit many useful features in their casing, like the best Bluetooth hearing aids, and they also have a long battery life.

Cons
  • Since they are so large, they are more visible than other types of hearing aids. They are also susceptible to wind. Closed fit hearing aids are less affected by the sound of wind but are also more visible.

Receiver-in-canal or receiver-in-the-ear hearing aids are similar to both BTE hearing aids and ITC hearing aids. Like BTE hearing aids, they have a case that sits in the back of the ear, and like ITC hearing aids, they have a receiver that sits inside the ear canal or the concha. This type of hearing aid can be used for all levels of hearing loss.

Pros
  • Because the receiver sits in the canal, the casings of RIC hearing aids are smaller than BTE hearing aids (and thus less visible), and because they have an outside casing, they can contain more features than the average ITC hearing aid. Since sound can escape the ear canal, people with difficulty hearing have fewer problems hearing the volume of their voice in the aid.

Cons
  • The receiving end is vulnerable to problems with moisture. The clear tubes mean that some users have a more difficult time locating these types of hearing aids than other models.

Digital vs analog hearing aids and pros and cons of each

All of the above types of hearing aids come in two further categories: digital and analog. Most of the newest hearing aids today are digital, but conventional analog hearing aids still exist. Some of the best cheap hearing aids are analogs. The main difference between the two is how they process sound. Analog hearing aids pick up sounds from around you and reproduce them through a loudspeaker. Digital hearing aids convert all sound waves into electrical impulses and amplify and transmit from those.

Analog Hearing Aids

Pros
  • They are usually cheaper.

  • Since they have fewer components, they are simpler to operate.

Cons
  • They are usually much larger than digital hearing aids

  • They cannot filter out background noise as well.

Digital Hearing Aids

Pros
  • They are smaller than analog hearing aids.

  • They adjust sounds so background noise is filtered out.

  • They have more available features than analog hearing aids.

Cons
  • They are more expensive than analog hearing aids.

  • They can be more complicated to operate.

Rechargeable vs non-rechargeable

Hearing aid batteries come in two kinds: rechargeable and non-rechargeable. Non-rechargeable hearing aid batteries are made of zinc and are activated when the sticker on the back is removed. There are four different sizes that are marked by color: blue, orange, brown and yellow. Battery life ranges from three to twenty days, depending on the model of hearing aid and what features are used. Rechargeable hearing aid batteries are charged at night in a charging station. Some models of rechargeable hearing aids can also take non-rechargeable batteries if the charge runs out.

Hearing Aid, concept of health care

What hearing aid is best for me?

When choosing from types of hearing aids, two things should be considered: hearing loss level and fitness level. “There is not one specific type or style that is best for a particular hearing impairment. Several factors affect the selection, including dexterity, degree of hearing loss, and lifestyle. Three main styles or form factors are in use today: behind-the-ear (ITE), receiver-in-canal (RIC) or in-the ear (ITE). All three can be recommended for most hearing losses, however as the hearing loss becomes more severe, most patients are fit with BTE or RIC devices,” said Dr. Tom Powers, an audiologist who consults with Hearing Industries Association. CIC and open fit ITE hearing aids are intended for use by those who have mild-to-moderate hearing loss. ITC, closed fit ITE, and BTE hearing aids work better for those with more profound hearing loss. People with difficulty hearing who are homebound or have a low activity level may do better with BTE hearing aids, since they are large and easy to place. If you are more active, ITE and ITC hearing aids may be better for you because they sit more snugly in the ear canal and are less likely to become loose.

BTE Hearing Aid Models

ITC Hearing Aid Models

RIC Hearing Aid Models

What’s the difference between cochlear implants/middle ear implants/brainstem implants and hearing aids?

For those with profound hearing loss or what is considered total deafness, hearing aids may not be enough to hear sound. In that case, a cochlear implant may be considered. Hearing aids merely amplify sounds already heard, but a cochlear implant takes sounds and converts them into electronic signals that are delivered directly to the auditory nerve. The nerve then sends those signals to the brain, which interprets them as sound. Cochlear implants consist of two components – the processor, which is worn behind the ear like a hearing aid and turns sounds into signals, and the receiver, which is implanted under the skin of the ear and inside the inner ear. An uncommon alternative is the brainstem implant, which works in a similar way to the cochlear implant, but the receiver is implanted near the brainstem instead of in the inner ear. It is typically used if either the cochlea or the auditory nerve is missing or malformed.

 A middle ear implant is an alternative to a hearing aid that implants a receiver into the skin which is attached to the cochlea. It moves the bones of the inner ear so sound can be amplified. Unlike a cochlear implant, it is not suitable for those with profound hearing loss. It is best for people who have difficulty hearing and are allergic to most ear molds, have malformed ears, or a closed ear canal.

Bottom Line

Choosing a hearing aid from the many types of hearing aids depends on several things, such as level of hearing loss, activity level, and shape of the ear or ear canal. Those with mild to moderate hearing loss can choose from the smallest ITC models to larger RIC and BTE options with more features. If difficulty hearing is more severe, BTE models may be the only option. Digital hearing aids can provide a better sound, but they can also cost more. If you’re having trouble choosing, see if you can try several models to see if the fit and amplification are right for you before purchasing. If your hearing loss is significant, an audiologist may be able to give you advice on which one to choose.

Frequently Asked Questions

Digital hearing aids, because of their ability to filter sound, are considered the best for tinnitus. However, any type of hearing aid can help reduce tinnitus by amplifying sounds the user wants to hear, thus making the brain focus on other types of sounds.