Hearing aids: How to choose the right one

Many types of hearing aids exist. So which is best for you? Find out what to consider when choosing a hearing aid. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Perhaps you've thought about getting a hearing aid, but you're worried about how it will look or whether it will really help. It may help ease your concerns to know more about:

  • The hearing aid options available to you
  • What to look for when buying a hearing aid
  • How to break it in

Hearing aids can't restore normal hearing. They can improve your hearing by amplifying soft sounds and reducing loud background noise.

Hearing aid styles

All hearing aids use similar parts to carry sounds from the environment into your ear and make them louder. Hearing aids vary a great deal in price, size, special features and the way they're placed in your ear.

The following are common hearing aid styles, beginning with the smallest, least visible in the ear. Hearing aid designers keep making smaller hearing aids to meet the demand for a hearing aid that is not very noticeable. But the smaller aids may not have the power to give you the improved hearing you expect.

Completely in the canal (CIC) or mini CIC

A completely-in-the-canal hearing aid is molded to fit inside your ear canal. It improves mild to moderate hearing loss in adults.

A completely-in-the-canal hearing aid:

  • Is the smallest and least visible type
  • Is less likely to pick up wind noise
  • Uses very small batteries, which have shorter life and can be difficult to handle
  • Doesn't contain extra features, such as volume control or a directional microphone
  • Is susceptible to earwax clogging

In the canal

An in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid is custom molded and fits partly in the ear canal. This style can improve mild to moderate hearing loss in adults.

An in-the-canal hearing aid:

  • Is less visible in the ear than larger styles
  • Includes features that won't fit on completely-in-the-canal aids, but may be difficult to adjust due to its small size
  • Is susceptible to earwax clogging

In the ear

An in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid is custom made in two styles — one that fills most of the bowl-shaped area of your outer ear (full shell) and one that fills only the lower part (half shell). Both are helpful for people with mild to severe hearing loss.

An in-the-ear hearing aid:

  • Includes features such as volume control and directional microphones that are easier to adjust
  • Is generally easier to insert
  • Uses larger batteries, which are easier to handle and last longer
  • Is susceptible to earwax clogging
  • May pick up more wind noise than smaller devices
  • Is more visible in the ear than smaller devices

Behind the ear

A behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid hooks over the top of your ear and rests behind the ear. A tube connects the hearing aid to a custom earpiece called an earmold that fits in your ear canal. This type is appropriate for people of all ages and those with almost any type of hearing loss.

A behind-the-ear hearing aid:

  • Traditionally has been the largest type of hearing aid, though some newer mini designs are streamlined and barely visible
  • Is capable of more amplification than are other styles
  • May pick up more wind noise than other styles

Receiver in canal or receiver in the ear

The receiver-in-canal (RIC) and receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) styles are similar to a behind-the-ear hearing aid with the speaker or receiver in the canal or in the ear. A tiny wire, rather than tubing, connects the pieces.

A receiver-in-canal hearing aid:

  • Has a less visible behind-the-ear portion
  • Is susceptible to earwax clogging

Open fit

An open-fit hearing aid is a variation of the behind-the-ear hearing aid. This style keeps the ear canal very open, allowing for low-frequency sounds to enter the ear naturally and for high-frequency sounds to be amplified through the hearing aid. This makes the style a good choice for people with mild to profound hearing loss.

The open-fit behind-the-ear style has become the most popular. An open-fit hearing aid:

  • Is less visible
  • Doesn't plug the ear like the small in-the-canal hearing aids do, making your own speech sound better to you
  • Is difficult to handle due to small parts and batteries
  • Often lacks manual adjustments due to its small size

How they work

Hearing aids make sounds louder so that you can hear them better. Small microphones collect sounds from the environment. A computer chip converts the incoming sound into digital code. Then it analyzes and adjusts the sound based on your hearing loss, listening needs and the level of the sounds around you. The signals are then converted back into sound waves and delivered to your ears through speakers.

Mar. 31, 2011 See more In-depth