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Hearing aid types: what are your options?

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A common and effective treatment for hearing loss is to wear a hearing aid. There are several types of hearing aids, and each one has its own benefits.

The best hearing aid for you will depend on many different factors, such as what kind of hearing loss you have and how it affects you. This decision should always be made during a consultation with a trained audiologist, but it’s important to understand the options available to you.

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What are hearing aids?

Hearing aids are very small electronic devices that sit in or around your ear to help you hear better.

They don’t fix your hearing, but they can make sounds louder and clearer. In addition being able to listen and hear more clearly in both noisy and quiet environments, you will be able to communicate with people more easily.

Only one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid uses one. However, if you experience hearing loss, the chances are that a hearing aid will really make a difference in your everyday life.

How do hearing aids work?

Essentially, all types of hearing aids essentially work in the same way: to mimick the function of the auditory system.

Hearing aids are usually powered by small batteries, sometimes rechargeable batteries. They are made up of three main components:

  • Microphone  this part of the hearing aid picks up sounds from the environment and converts them into electrical signals.
  • Amplifier  this part takes those signals, processes and adjusts them, making them louder.
  • Speaker (also called the receiver)  this part of the hearing aid receives the amplified signals as sound waves and sends them to your ears.

Hearing aid types

The different types and styles of hearing aids can be loosely grouped according to whether any of the components are housed in a casing that hooks over the top of the ear, or not.

The two main categories are behind-the-ear hearing aids and in-the-ear hearing aids.

Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids

woman talking with friend wears behind the ear hearing aid

With this type of hearing aid, the electronic elements are contained in a plastic casing that hooks over the top of your ear and sits behind it.

  • Receiver in the ear (RITE) and receiver in canal (RIC)

This type of hearing aid also has a casing that sits behind your ear, which contains the microphone and amplifier components. The receiver (speaker) is positioned at the entrance to your ear.

  • Open-fit

This is similar to a RITE hearing aid, with the microphone and amplifier housed in a casing that hooks around your ear. The receiver (speaker) sits inside the case and is connected to very thin, narrow tubing, and fits inside your ear canal. The tubing enables the ear canal to stay open.

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids

With this type of hearing aid, there is no external casing that hooks around the top of your ear. Instead, all of the components of the hearing aid sit completely in the outer ear at various depths.

  • In the ear (ITE) full shell hearing aids

This type of hearing aid contains the electronic elements in a plastic casing that’s custom-made to fit the conchal bowl (also called the concha or bowl) of your outer ear.

  • In the ear (ITE) half shell hearing aids

This is a smaller version of the full shell ITE hearing aid, sitting just at the entrance to the ear canal so it’s less noticeable. Again, this type is custom-made to fit your ear.

  • In the canal (ITC) hearing aids

This type of hearing aid contains all the components in a very small plastic case, which is positioned in the entrance to the ear canal. These hearing aid types are custom-made to fit the size and shape of your ear canal.

  • Completely in the ear canal (CIC) hearing aids

These are similar to ITC hearing aids, but the tiny case is pushed into your ear canal. Like ITC aids, they are custom-made to fit each individual. They are unobtrusive and barely noticeable.

  • Invisible in the canal (IIC) hearing aids

As the name suggests, these discreet hearing aids cannot be seen from the outside because they sit deeper in the ear canal.

types of hearing aid styles
We can help you find out which hearing aid style will work for you
We'll match you with a local audiologist
Written by:
Allie Anderson is a health writer and editor with many years of experience creating accurate, evidence-based content for consumer and professional audiences. Allie is passionate about making medical information as accessible as possible, empowering people to make informed choices about their health and well-being. Allie holds a first-class honours degree in Linguistics from University College London, a Russell Group institution that’s ranked in the top 10 universities globally. She trained as a journalist with the UK’s NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) and after working as a news reporter for local newspapers and B2B titles, began writing about health. Published in medical journals, peer-reviewed magazines for healthcare professionals and a broad range of consumer titles, Allie has covered all manner of health and medical topics throughout her career, most recently focusing on hearing health and hearing loss. Allie has conducted in-depth research into the mechanisms underpinning hearing and has developed an understanding of the nuanced impact hearing loss can have on individuals and their loved ones.
Reviewed by:
Audiologist Ana Paula de Lima Rodrigues (Audiology and Speech Therapy BSc) is extremely passionate about providing exceptional care, advice and support for people with hearing loss. Ana trained at the University of Vale do Itajai in Brazil in 2001 and currently works in London where she is registered with The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
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