Hearing aids come in all shapes and sizes and with so many options to choose from, it can be a bit daunting to know which is the right option for your hearing needs.
Below, we have put together an extensive beginners guide to the different types of hearing aids available. This will help you to truly understand the options you have for your hearing loss and put you at ease.
To find the right hearing aids for your requirements, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our audiologists at our clinics in Horsham, Seaford and Chichester. As an independent clinic, we have access to the latest brands and can offer you the right hearing aids to suit your needs, lifestyle and budget.
The history of hearing aids
When we think of hearing aids we think of the large cumbersome, old fashioned ‘beige bananas’ sitting behind the ear. Although these may have appeared unsightly, they were a great improvement on the even older body worn hearing aids. These boxes were secreted somewhere on the upper torso with very prominent thick wires leading to an earpiece. Predating these portable devices were transportable large hearing aid devices that sat on a table with headphones worn by the recipient or cleverly built into a listening chair.
The earliest examples of these early electronic devices date back to Victorian times from the 1890s onwards. Prior to electronic devices were hearing trumpets or horns or simply cupping a hand to the ear.
Battery technology has improved the design and efficacy of hearing aids and they are now much more discreet and even the most powerful hearing aids, for profound hearing losses, can be considered small.
Hearing aids can even be invisible and the best example of this is the unique Lyric hearing aid which is truly invisible when worn. This is due to its placement deep in the ear canal, just 4mm from the ear drum. This results in a more natural sound and is totally invisible and the least cumbersome of any hearing aid in the world today.
Along with the advancement in hearing aid technology is the improvement in hearing care. We know more recently, the importance of treating hearing loss the same as any other medical ailment as it has such an impact on our overall well being. Especially our mental health and the stress untreated hearing loss puts on our cognitive load which can lead to all sorts of issues including dementia.
What is a hearing aid?
All hearing aids are electronic devices that amplify sounds to enable the wearer to hear speech better and communicate more easily. Although hearing aids come in a variety of styles, shapes and sizes they all perform the same function of amplifying sounds to bring them into a range where the wearer can hear them. Hearing aids are classed as medical devices and regulated in most countries.
Types of hearing aids available
The larger the in the ear hearing aid, the greater the need due to the severity of the hearing loss or the manual dexterity of the recipient using it. The smaller the hearing aid, the milder the hearing loss or the desire for it to be as invisible as possible.
This is true with behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids but one important element to consider is the amount of things your hearing aid can perform. The shift towards tiny hearing aids behind the ear continues to grow because it can become your personal assistant as it connects with your mobile phone opening up a world of connectivity and improved results for speech enhancement.
Invisible hearing aids
A lot of companies, manufacturers included, use the term invisible to describe their hearing aids. This is a bit of a falsehood and what should be said is, ‘invisible’ from a certain angle. There is only one completely invisible hearing aid when worn from all angles, which is the Lyric hearing aid. It is implanted in the ear where it remains for two to three months at a time before being replaced with a new device.
The advantages are:
- A completely hidden device
- Natural hearing
- No daily insertion or removal
- Can be worn in the shower
- You go to bed hearing and wake up hearing
- No batteries to change
- No cleaning of the device is required.
The Lyric hearing aid is only available through extensively trained Lyric partners who use microscopes and carefully assess the suitability of the ear to cope with extended wear devices.
It fits a wide range of hearing, from mild to moderate but is not suitable for severe to profound hearing losses.
Find out if you’re eligible for Lyric invisible hearing aids using our quick questionnaire.
Invisible in the canal hearing aids
Invisible in the canal hearing aids are the next smallest type of hearing aid and when viewed straight on or from behind are indeed invisible. An advantage of their discreet design and appearance is that nothing is behind the ears so cannot tangle with masks or glasses. They use the very latest processing technologies and deliver a tailored level of sound.
Due to their size they are restricted to mild to moderate hearing losses and do not have the ability to connect to other devices
In the canal hearing aids
An in the canal hearing aid is slightly larger and can therefore accommodate a more powerful amplifier, increasing their range of fittings to include people with mild to severe hearing losses. Some will have the ability to connect to peripheral devices like a partner mic or a phone via bluetooth. Adjustments to volume, tone of sounds and programme changes can be made via a free downloadable App on a mobile phone.
In the ear hearing aids
Generally this means a hearing aid that fits in the outer part of the ear known as the concha. Some smaller models may be referred to as a half shell. The advantage is an extended fitting range to include very severe hearing loss.
As there is more space a lot can be packed into these modern marvels. They literally are like little computers in the ear and use the latest processing capability, can connect to a wide range of wireless bluetooth devices like partner or table mics, mobile phones, TV streamers and share information from ear to ear.
In the ear (ITE) hearing aids are of course more visible but they can deliver much more information than their counterparts which results in improved hearing, especially in noise.
You can also make adjustments to:
- Tone of sounds
- Plus, programme changes via a free downloadable App on a mobile phone.
There are a couple of manufacturers that also offer a rechargeable option for custom made, in the ear (ITE) hearing aids.
Receiver in the ear hearing aids
Receiver-in-the-ear hearing aids, also known as receiver in canal hearing aids, are the fastest growing segment of hearing aid technology. The receiver is actually the speaker unit fitted into the ear canal which is connected to the hearing aid processor behind the ear by a tiny, virtually invisible, wire.
All manufacturers put most of their resources and research and development into these styles because they produce the best benefit outcomes. These include:
- They connect effortlessly with other bluetooth devices and can be easily controlled by an App on a mobile phone.
- The wearer has the greatest individual control with the ability to change programmes, raise and lower volume and even change the tone of the sound.
- Receive telephone calls directly through the hearing aids whilst the microphones pick up your voice. You never need to pick up your phone to answer calls, just a simple tap on the side of the ear will answer the call.
- They act as a personal assistant, asking the time, the weather, directions. Even order flowers or translate phrases.
- Connect to any bluetooth device and multiple devices at the same time.
- Enhanced hearing in noise which can be further enhanced with the free mobile App or partner mic, table mic and TV streamer.
- Listen to music on the go, watch films with audio directly through your hearing aids.
- No more fiddly batteries as these types of digital hearing aids now come with rechargeable options too.
Behind the ear hearing aids
Behind the ear hearing aids are generally considered for severe to profound hearing losses or for someone with poor manual dexterity.
These are the largest hearing aids and the most commonly used in the NHS. However, the very latest technology is only available privately.
Like the receiver in the ear models, behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids have the space to pack in all the latest technology and are wireless and bluetooth enabled. They’re easily controlled with buttons on the hearing aids or through the free mobile App. The wearer has control over programme settings, tone and volume control, along with all the enhanced speech in noise that can be obtained with Partner and table mics and TV streamer.
The same benefits of a personal assistant and ease of use with the App.
Custom made hearing aids, is like saying tailor made. Impressions are taken of the ear and the hearing aid is made to the exact shape of the ear so it fits like a glove. This term covers all in the ear hearing aid styles from the smallest invisible in the canal hearing aid to the full shell hearing aid. It is a great advantage to have a perfect anatomical fit to ensure comfort for all day wearing.
Top hearing aid features to consider
If the desire is to have a hearing aid that does everything, then the receiver in the ear devices are the best choice as they are packed full of all the available features.
The top of these are partner or table mics which greatly reduce listening effort and enhance speech understanding in noise. The ability to stream TV directly into the hearing aids without the need for an interface or anything worn around the neck is an extremely popular benefit. It means the television can be at any level but the wearer hears it perfectly matched to their hearing needs.
How to get hearing aids fitted
The first step is a full diagnostic evaluation, this includes:
- Medical and lifestyle information is gathered followed by a series of tests to determine the shape of the individuals hearing range called an audiogram.
- Speech discrimination tests to assess the ability to understand speech, including a speech in noise test by playing a series of sentences with increasing levels of background noise. The score will reveal how well you can hear in the presence of noise. This is the most significant area where people complain they cannot hear.
- Once we have gathered all the relevant diagnostic information, a full explanation is given using on screen information to indicate the impact the hearing loss has on the ability to hear and what we can improve with amplification.
The most suitable types of hearing corrective devices will be discussed and the different styles available. Once we have agreed the best options together, we may be required to take impressions of your ears using a soft putty-like material. These will be sent for processing and an appointment will be made for the fitting of your new hearing aids.
During the fitting, a few further tests are performed with the hearing aids in situ to demonstrate their efficacy and an aftercare plan agreed with follow up appointments during the trial and assessment period.
Book with South East Hearing Care Centres
South East Hearing Care Centres are a well established and highly respected hearing healthcare provider in Sussex, with nearly 25 years of excellent service. Each of our clinics are AIHHP centres of excellence and fully equipped with the latest state-of-the-art diagnostic and verification equipment.
We are extremely proud of the superb reviews we receive daily and the long term relationships we build with our clients. You couldn’t come to a more trusted provider and we encourage you to experience our superior service, expert knowledge and sympathetic approach to restoring your hearing, allowing you to enjoy an improved quality of life.
What our clients say
Two members of my family have just received excellent advice and treatment at the Chichester Centre.
My husband for ear plugs advice and my 12 year old son, who has been suffering with excessive ear wax building up for the past year or so and being told by GP that can do nothing except keep putting drops in.
Within 15 minutes he had his ears safely unblocked, using micro suction and washing, something the GP said was not available. My son is like a different child and can actually hear again.
Thank You!Mr J Llewellyn – Chichester patient