Middle-aged woman wearing a hearing aid and smiling

Guide to Choosing the Best Hearing Aid Styles

Published: August 12, 2020

Updated: March 23, 2022

Guide to Choosing the Best Hearing Aid Styles

Purchasing a hearing aid can be a daunting task due to the variety of hearing aid styles available on the market. When presented with several options it may be tempting just to go for the cheapest one. So, what is the difference between a budget hearing aid and a top-end hearing aid? How should you choose between hearing aid models? The question essence is then: how to choose the best hearing aid?

One expensive vs two affordable hearing aids

This is a question most hearing health professionals receive from users with a set budget- should they purchase two budget hearing aids or one expensive hearing aid? The answer is always the same: If you have a hearing loss in both ears you need two hearing aids. Getting one hearing aid is like buying glasses with a lens only on the one side- it just doesn’t make sense!

The benefits of two hearing aids

  • They will help you hear much better in noisy environments than one hearing aid will. The reason for this is that many hearing aids have a feature in them where the hearing aids communicate with each other to determine where a noise source is coming from and therefore apply noise reduction. By purchasing one top-end hearing aid, you lose a lot of the features of the hearing aid.
  • They will help you to understand where a sound is coming from. This is important for general awareness of your surroundings, but also for safety reasons. If you are crossing the road and a car is approaching, it’s important to know from which side the car is coming from. 
  • Lastly, only having a hearing aid in one ear means you only get the benefits of amplification for the brain on one side. The hearing and your ability to discriminate speech may still deteriorate on the other side. The moral of the story is to always purchase two of the best hearing aids you can afford.

Challenging listening situations

Deciding on different technology levels of hearing aids depends a lot on the environments you often find yourself in. The more challenging your listening situations are, the more features you need in a hearing aid

A challenging listening situation is defined as:

  • Communicating in situations where a lot of background noise is present (such as a restaurant, club or shopping mall)
  • Being in situations with poor acoustics (usually wide-open spaces that can cause an echo such as a hall)
  • Where more than one person is speaking at the same time (e.g conference, lunch hall, stadium)

If you are retired and living alone, you may think that a budget hearing aid will work well for you. However, you may be in challenging listening situations daily. This may be going to church (poor acoustics), visiting with grandkids (more than one speaker), or going out to restaurants. Remember that with a budget hearing aid you may still have difficulty communicating in these situations and a hearing aid with more features might suit your needs better and offer you a higher quality of life. 

Styles of hearing aids

Depending on your hearing loss, you may be a candidate for many different styles of hearing aids. Some hearing aids go behind your ear and some are invisible in the ear hearing aids. Your hearing health professional will advise you on which style will work best for your hearing loss.

Behind the ear (BTE)

These hearing aids go behind your ear and can either be fitted with a thin tube and a dome or a mold made from your ear, depending on how severe your hearing loss is. These hearing aids are usually easy to clean and a bit bigger than some other styles.

Receiver in the canal hearing aids (RIC)

These hearing aids are smaller than BTE hearing aids, and usually with less battery consumption. They also go behind the ear and have a wire (receiver) going towards the ear canal.

Completely in the Canal (CIC)/ Invisible in the Canal (IIC)

These are the smallest hearing aids on the market and can provide the user with an invisible solution for their hearing loss. The cons of this type of hearing aid are usually no connectivity and high battery consumption.

In the Ear (ITE)/ In the Canal (ITC)

These hearing aids are a bit bigger than CIC hearing aids and use a bigger battery. They can, however, have more connectivity options, depending on the brand of hearing aid.

Features

Once you have decided on a style of hearing aid, you can decide on which features are important for you. Here is an overview of the different features you may find:

Connectivity

Some hearing aids can connect directly or via a Bluetooth device to your phone or other electronic devices. 

Rechargeability

Some hearing aids work with batteries while others can charge like a phone. Rechargeable hearing aids are more expensive but much easier to handle, as you don’t need to change batteries. You also save money on batteries in the long run.

Automatic functioning

Top-end hearing aids usually have an automatic program built into your hearing aid. This means your hearing aid will assess your environment and adjust accordingly. For example, the hearing aid can decide if you are in quiet, noise, or music. Some hearing aids have many different environments they can distinguish between, taking away the need to adjust your hearing aid often.

Noise reduction

Almost all hearing aids have some features built in to reduce background noise. These features can be very sophisticated in some models, allowing you to hear speech from right around you, while still maintaining a natural listening environment. This means you will be able to enjoy music or the television without distortion, but still be able to maintain a conversation. 

Bandwidth and channels

This is the way that the hearing aid processes sound. A hearing aid with bigger bandwidth and more channels will give you a much more natural sound quality.

Hearing aids are not a one size fits all solution- the model and style of hearing aid that works for a friend or family member may not be appropriate for your hearing loss or needs. Your hearing health professional will be able to recommend which style they feel is best suited to your unique needs. How to choose the best hearing aid may not be as difficult as you thought.

Image of post writer Nadia van Eyssen.

Written by Nadia van Eyssen

B. Communication Pathology Audiology

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