The Pros and Cons of Disposable & Rechargeable Hearing Aid Batteries
When it comes to choosing a hearing aid, there are a few decisions to be made. Do you go for that hearing aid in leopard print or should you stick with the safe brushed silver look? Apart from deciding whether you want to look like you have a tiny feline lounging behind your ear, another factor to consider is whether you want a hearing aid device that is designed with rechargeable batteries or disposable batteries.
There is a surprising amount to know about hearing aid batteries, from how to optimize the battery life to how to dispose of a button battery safely. As with most things, both disposable and rechargeable batteries have pros and cons, and you may find one suits your lifestyle and needs better than the other. It’s also important to know that hearing aids are designed to work with either a disposable battery or rechargeable battery – not both! It’s not typically recommended to try and interchange them willy-nilly as a different battery may not fit properly or may compromise the performance of the device.
Disposable Hearing Aid Batteries
Disposable batteries for modern hearing aids come in the form of zinc-air button batteries. They look like little shiny buttons of candy (hence the need to know about safe storage and disposal) and come in various color-coded sizes to power different types of hearing aids.
There are currently more options for hearing aids with disposable batteries compared to devices with rechargeable batteries. That being said, manufacturers are bringing out more rechargeable options.
Assuming you have the nimble fingers for it, a button battery can be easily changed by the user as soon as the current battery runs out of juice. This means if your hearing aid dies in the middle of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in C minor, you can quickly switch it out for the fresh battery waiting in your wallet in time to catch the drop to A-flat major.
This brings us to another advantage of a hearing aid with button batteries – the batteries are small, light, and easily portable and you can always carry a spare wherever you go. As a side note, button batteries should not be carried around loose in your pocket or bag as contact with other metallic objects can cause the battery to short circuit.
Button batteries are also relatively cheap and easy to find. They can be purchased online, at a convenience store or a drugstore, a grocery, or, of course, your local hearing aid center.
Users with hearing aids running on disposable batteries change, on average, a hundred batteries each year. That’s a lot of little buttons. These button batteries can be taken to a recycling center but for those that find their way into the regular trash and taken to landfill or incinerated, this has implications for our environment as toxic metal waste can leak into the soil and waterways.
Button batteries that are not appropriately stored or discarded can also find their way into little tummies eager for a taste of shiny silver candy. US poison control centers report over 3500 annual cases of children swallowing button batteries, an accident that can cause severe injury.
While it may be an advantage that button batteries can be changed by the hearing aid wearer, this can also be a disadvantage as the tiny batteries can be fiddly and their packaging difficult to open. People with arthritis or a hand entirely comprised of thumbs may find some difficulty handling these little buttons, especially if they have to do this a hundred times every year.
The lifespan of a button battery ranges from 3-7 days for the smallest battery up to 20 days for the largest. This can depend on environmental conditions, such as humidity, and how you use your hearing aid, such as the volume or the amount of streaming you do. If you’ve not been keeping track of how long and how intensely you’ve been using the current battery in your hearing aid, you may find it drops out at the least convenient moment (think A-flat major).
Rechargeable Hearing Aid Batteries
New generation lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are much more reliable than the older nickel metal hydride and silver zinc batteries, which have now more or less been phased out by all leading hearing aid manufacturers. Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are used in high functioning hearing aid devices such as the Signia Pure Charge & Go X and the Oticon Opn S.
Environmentally-minded users will be pleased to know they’re not throwing out a hundred little button batteries every year. Where a disposable battery may need to be discarded in as few as three days, the average lifespan of a lithium-ion rechargeable battery is five years before needing to be changed to a new one.
Hearing aids equipped with rechargeable batteries have a high IP rating, meaning the casing is tightly sealed to be resistant to dust and moisture. In addition to reducing maintenance issues and improving device performance, this means no button batteries being mistaken for candy (unless the entire hearing aid is mistaken for candy, which is not unheard of).
As you would hope, rechargeable hearing aids are designed to be easily and conveniently recharged. For most hearing aid models, this means simply nestling the aids into their charging ports and leaving them be overnight. Most hearing aids are fully recharged after as short as a five-hour snooze in their charger and can provide power for more than 24 hours, depending on usage habits. Wearers with limited dexterity in their hands may much prefer this to wrestling with a tiny button battery every week.
Although rechargeable hearing aids are gaining in popularity, there are still fewer options to choose from compared to those powered by disposable button batteries. If your heart is set on a leopard print behind-the-ear device, you may need to settle for a disposable battery hearing aid.
The ability to recharge the hearing aid can be a big plus but it also ties you to relying on the charger, which is much less convenient to carry around than a spare set of button batteries. This also means if your charger unexpectedly kicks the bucket overnight or a disappointed toddler searching for button battery candy decides to secretly unplug your charger, you may have to go without your hearing aids for several hours until they can be powered up again.
The secure housing of a rechargeable battery is an advantage in keeping the hearing aid free of contaminants but also means that you won’t be able to change the battery yourself. At the end of a lithium-ion battery’s 4-6 year lifespan, the hearing aid must be sent back to the manufacturer for a new battery to be installed.
The type of battery will not likely be the ultimate determining factor in choosing which hearing aid is right for you, but it can be a consideration, particularly if you have a penchant for attending classical concertos. The decision on which hearing aid will work with your degree of hearing loss and your lifestyle is best done in collaboration with your local hearing aid specialist.