What Are Hearing Aids?

By: Florida Medical Clinic | On: April 12, 2016

Hearing loss can happen at any age. Trauma, injury from noise, illness, inherited conditions and age can all lead to hearing loss. Hearing aids are a reliable solution to improve how well the wearer can hear sounds, but they cannot restore normal hearing.

Hearing aids function as sound amplifying devices. They are designed to capture, amplify and funnel sound into the ear canal. There are many styles of hearing aids, but all have similar components.

Hearing aids typically contain:

  • A microphone(s) to pick up external sounds
  • A processor to convert, adjust and amplify sound
  • A miniature loudspeaker to send the sound into the ear canal
  • A battery to power the device

The type of hearing aid used depends on the severity of the hearing loss, type of hearing loss and the wearer’s lifestyle.

Types of Hearing Aid Styles

Hearing aids can be categorized broadly into two groups: in the ear (ITE) and behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids. Both groups include hearing aids which fit a wide range of hearing loss.

In-the-Ear Hearing Aids

This type of hearing aid rests either inside the ear canal or on the outer ear bowl. Their small size makes them less noticeable than behind-the-ear styles.

Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) and In-the-canal (ITC)

  • Improves mild to moderate hearing loss
  • The smallest hearing aids available, fitting either partially or completely into the ear canal for the best cosmetic option
  • Least likely to pick up wind noise
  • Susceptible to ear wax clogging the speaker
  • CIC may not include features such as volume control or directional microphone
  • ITC usually includes volume control and other features, but may be difficult to adjust due to the small size

In-the-ear (ITE)

  • Improves mild to severe hearing loss
  • May also be called “low profile” hearing aid
  • A small device, but more visible than CIC or ITC
  • May pick up on wind noise
  • Parts of the hearing aid are contained in an outer shell which rests in the bowl of the ear
  • Custom made in two styles – “half shell”, which fills the lower part of your outer ear, and “full shell”, which fills most of the bowl of your ear

Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aids

What are hearing aids?In this type of hearing aid, the case which contains most of the electronics rests behind the ear, and hooks over the ear to keep it in place. An attached tube holds the earpiece in the ear canal.

Behind-the-Ear

  • Suitable for all ranges of hearing loss
  • Good for children, as they are sturdy, easy to handle and easy to clean
  • May pick up more wind noise than in-the-ear styles
  • The largest type of hearing aid, although new technology and “mini” styles are streamlined and barely noticeable
  • An “earmold” is custom made to fit in the ear canal

Receiver-in-the-Canal or Receiver-in-the-Ear

  • For these styles, the receiver can either sit in the canal (RIC) or in the ear (RITE)
  • Similar to behind-the-ear styles in appearance
  • Instead of tubing, a wire connects the earpiece to the hearing aid
  • Susceptible to ear wax clogging the speaker

Mini Behind-the-Ear

  • Also called “Mini BTE”
  • Fits behind the ear like a normal BTE hearing aid, but is much smaller
  • “Open fit” styles are less visible and use a thin tube to connect the hearing aid and ear canal; they also do not plug the ear canal and can be more comfortable to wear

How are Hearing Aids Fitted?

Hearing aids are generally fitted at an audiology department. Your audiologist or hearing aid specialist will help you determine the right choice for you, taking into account your lifestyle, preferences and the type and severity of hearing loss.

When choosing a hearing aid, you may want to consider:

  • What type and style is best for you and your lifestyle?
  • Does the hearing aid fit comfortably?
  • How is the hearing aid cleaned?
  • Is the hearing aid easy to repair?
  • How often does the battery need to be replaced?
  • Are other accessories required?

Your audiologist will first run tests to determine the lowest and highest sounds you can hear, as well as identify what volume becomes uncomfortable. If necessary, earmold impressions will be taken, and your chosen hearing aid will be ordered. At your next appointment, your audiologist will verify the sound levels to be programmed into the hearing aid and adjust them as necessary. They will also make sure your hearing aid fits comfortably. Lastly, your audiologist will discuss the care and maintenance of your device, and review how to insert and adjust your hearing aid.

Your audiologist is always a source of ongoing support for any questions or concerns you may have.