How To Choose the Right Hearing Aid

IIC, CIC, ITC, ITE, BTE, RITE, RIC… OMG!!

Choosing the right hearing aid can be overwhelming and frustrating, as demonstrated from this baffling list alone. Add to it the number of hearing aid manufacturers claiming their products provide the clearest sound, the longest battery life, are the most discreet, the easiest to use, and/or are the most comfortable and your head begins to spin. A consultation with a hearing specialist and a hearing aid trial will be the most helpful but here are a few factors for consideration to get you started.

Hearing Aid Types and Styles
It is important to begin by having your hearing loss properly tested and diagnosed by a qualified specialist as the severity of the loss will guide your choice of hearing aid. Some aids, such as CIC (completely in the canal), IIC (invisible in the canal), and ITC (in the canal) are best suited for mild to moderate hearing loss while ITE (in the ear) and BTE (behind the ear) hearing aids cater for more progressed forms of loss. A variation of BTE aids known as open-fit is designed with a very thin tube entering the ear, leaving the ear canal open rather than “plugged up” with a speaker. As this design permits natural low-frequency sounds into the ear, open-fit BTE aids are best suited for patients with high frequency sound loss while low frequency hearing remains intact. Some hearing aid manufacturers also offer aids with specialized tinnitus therapy features.

Though ear shape may not be as unique as a fingerprint, it does differ from person to person. Most ears are able to accommodate aids that fit into the ear canal, such as CIC, IIC, and ITC, with a few exceptions. ITE aids fit into the outer ear, either filling the entire bowl as a full-shell or just the lower half as a half-shell. Hearing aids that are inserted into the ear canal require higher maintenance and cleaning as earwax can block the speakers so may not be suitable for particularly ear-waxy ears. RIC (receiver in canal) hearing aids experience the same problem due to the speaker portion sitting inside the canal while connected to an external BTE unit by a thin wire.

Consider Your Lifestyle
Because the point of a hearing aid is to improve your quality of life by restoring at least part of your hearing, it makes sense to choose one that is well suited to your lifestyle needs. One factor to consider is how easy the device is to handle – the smaller the aid, such as those that sit in the ear canal, the fiddlier, can be difficult to manage for those with limited manual dexterity.

Think about the things you enjoy doing – does the hearing aid need to be waterproof so that it doesn’t fizz out when you go swimming or sweat at the gym; are you often in outdoor conditions with a lot of dust or wind, making a dust-proof housing useful or a CIC or IIC aid the best, as these pick up the least wind noise unless Mother Nature blows air directly down your ear canal (unlikely). Different styles and models of hearing aids will also contain varying levels of technology. The smaller, more discreet styles such as CIC, IIC, and some ITC models have little space for volume controls or additional features such as directional microphones and advanced environmental noise reduction capabilities. If connectivity is important to you because you like to tune in often to devices such as television, sound systems, and your smart phone, consider a hearing aid that provides Bluetooth, FM, and telecoil connectivity. Because hearing aids containing more features are likely to be larger to accommodate the hardware required, you’re likely to find BTE and RITE (receiver in the ear) or RIC aids to be more suitable than the smaller styles.

For the tech-savvy, certain models and manufacturers also offer additions such as remote control of the aids with a handheld unit, connectivity to clip-on microphones for situations such as listening to a presentation from the back of the room, mobile phone apps, and adaptors to connect into older TVs and landline phones which are not already “smart”-enabled.

How Will I Look With a Hearing Aid?
The idea of a hearing aid can be pretty off-putting to many people, partly because of denial of their hearing loss but also because being seen with a hearing aid can make them look “old”. CIC and IIC are the smallest and most discreet aids available; IIC aids are custom-made to hide totally out of sight in the ear canal while CIC aids are visible at the entrance of the canal. Although the inconspicuous nature of these aids is attractive to some, less attractive are the limited features available due to size, as discussed earlier. Luckily, many BTE models, including RIC and RITE aids, have been designed to be as unobtrusive as possible while still containing all the bells and whistles. Although an external unit is still required to sit behind the ear, these are often small and slim and are colored to blend in to a variety of skin or hair tones.

How Much Do Hearing Aids Cost?
More bells and whistles means more dollars and cents. Hearing aids in the USA can range from $1000 to over $4000 – and some people might need two. While Medicare does not contribute to the cost of a hearing aid, some private insurers may cover the costs in part or in full. An open discussion with your hearing loss specialist will help you determine the best hearing aid for your budget while still addressing all your hearing loss, appearance, and lifestyle concerns.

The process of navigating your way around hearing aids can be daunting for a novice wearer. Speaking to your hearing specialist and asking for a trial will help you to determine if the aid is suitable for your needs. Give yourself time to adapt to the sound experience as a hearing aid will not provide you perfect hearing as it was prior to the loss but with time and proper guidance from a professional, the right aid can help to restore your quality of life.

References
Hearing aids: how to choose the right one. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hearing-loss/in-depth/hearing-aids/art-20044116
Key factors to consider when choosing hearing aids. https://www.mountelizabeth.com.sg/healthplus/article/choosing-hearing-aids
How to choose the right hearing aid for you. https://www.oversixty.com.au/health/hearing/how-to-choose-the-right-hearing-aid-for-you
Hearing aid styles. https://www.melbourneaudiologycentre.com.au/hearing-aids/purchasing-the-right-hearing-aid-solution/hearing-aid-styles/
How to choose the right hearing aid for you. https://hearingaidcomparison.com.au/article/choosing-the-right-hearing-aid/
Hearing aid prices. https://www.healthyhearing.com/help/hearing-aids/prices