Hearing Aid Product Guide
Hearing aids are no longer considered a sign of “old age.” Advances in hearing aid technology have resulted in much smaller, less noticeable devices that offer considerable improvements over those previously available.
Because each patient is an individual with specific needs and concerns, a wide variety of hearing aid styles, sizes, technology and price ranges are offered. Our audiologist has expertise in the most technologically advanced digital hearing aids, and well as more basic digital hearing aid options.
In general, the lifespan of a hearing aid is about 3-5 years. There are many uncontrollable factors that may make your hearing aids no longer suitable for you, including:
- Physical changes in the shape of your ear
- A change in hearing
- Excessive ear wax or moisture in your ear canal
- Inability to repair a damaged hearing aid
Even with proper normal use, the need for repairs may occur.
Styles of Hearing Aids
Hearing aid styles may be broadly classified as “standard” and “custom.” Standard hearing aids include behind-the-ear (BTE), mini-BTE, and receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) devices. These products are designed to fit most ears and usually require some customization of the earpiece and the connection of the device to the earpiece. Custom hearing aids include in-the-ear (ITE), in-the-canal (ITC), and completely-in-the-canal (CIC). These products require a custom-molded shell that houses the electronics. Standard and custom hearing aids come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.
While body and eyeglass style hearing aids were regularly used 40 – 50 years ago, they comprise only about 1 percent of all hearing aids marketed today. Instead, most individuals choose ITE (approximately 30 percent) or BTE (approximately 70 percent) style hearing aids. This transition in style, use and preference is occurring for a number of reasons, including the reduction in the size of the components, durability and cosmetic concerns on the part of the consumer.
The BTE style hearing aid is housed in a small curved case which fits behind the ear and is attached to a custom earpiece molded to the shape of your outer ear. Some BTE models do not use a custom earpiece; instead the rubber tubing is inserted directly into the ear. The case is typically flesh colored, but can be obtained in many colors and/or patterns.
- BTEs may be the most appropriate choice for young children, as only the earmold needs to be replaced periodically as the child grows and the ear changes in dimension.
- Typically, BTEs are the most powerful hearing aid style available, and may be the best option for persons with severe-to-profound hearing loss.
- FM and direct auditory input is routinely available as an optional or standard feature.
- Non-occluding earmolds may be used with BTE hearing aids, if a medical condition exists or if the patient reports a “plugged” sensation when wearing other hearing aid styles.
- Directional microphone technology is available with most BTE styles and models.
- Larger battery sizes used in BTEs may be easier to handle than smaller styles for those who have difficulty seeing or using their hands.
The ITE style hearing aid fits directly into the external ear. In-the-ear styles include in-the-canal (ITC) and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) styles. The circuitry is housed primarily in the outside portion of the ear. Because the parts are smaller (including the microphone, receiver and battery), it is possible to make hearing aids small enough to fill only a portion of outer ear (ITC) or fit deeply into the ear canal (CIC). All three of these styles have typically been considered to be more modern and cosmetically appealing. However, modern BTE hearing aids have become smaller and at times are less noticeable than some ITC hearing aids.
Other features of in-the-ear instruments include:
- More secure fit, and easier insertion and removal than with BTEs
- Improved cosmetic benefits with smaller styles (CIC, ITC)
- Less wind noise in the smaller styles than with BTEs
- Directional microphone technology available for most styles, excluding CICs
- Deep microphone and receiver placement with CICs may result in increased battery life and high frequency amplification compared with other styles
- All components are integrated into a one-piece shell, which may be easier to handle and operate than for BTE styles
Brief Guide to Modern Hearing Aid Technology
Many hearing aids have user controls (e.g. toggle switch, volume control wheel, push button or remote control) that enable the wearer to adjust a variety of hearing aid parameters, including:
- Turning the hearing aid "on" or "off"
- Changing the volume
- Switching to the telecoil
- Switching between omni- and directional-microphone settings
- Switching to a different pre-programmed memory
Source: Gus Mueller, Ph.D. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
Ruth Bentler, Ph.D. University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa