For people experiencing hearing loss, the decision to invest in hearing aids can be difficult. Many may fear that hearing aids will create discomfort they are not prepared to handle, and for others, the visual appearance of hearing aids may simply be too embarrassing among co-workers or friends.

Both concerns are diminished once they are presented with the choices available in hearing aid technology. Essentially, hearing aids come in two categories: Inside the ear and outside the ear. Advances in technology have helped make hearing aids slimmer and barely detectable, no matter where they are on your ear. This depends on a number of factors: Lifestyle, comfort, the dimensions of your ears, and even price.

Here is a rundown of the choices available to first-time hearing aid users and why – or why not — to buy.

In-the-Ear (ITE) Hearing Aids

As the name suggests, ITE hearing aids are housed inside the concha, the exterior part of the ear that ends at the beginning of the ear canal. These are visible hearing aids that are best suited for people suffering from mild to severe hearing loss.

  • Advantages: Longer battery life, easy to operate.
  • Disadvantages: Greater visibility.

In-the-Canal (ITC) Hearing Aids

This type of hearing aid is the next step from the ITE in terms of visibility and customization. The ITC fits half the concha and is primarily supported inside the ear canal, which means it is only partially visible. The ITC also features smaller batteries than the ITE.

  • Advantages: More discreet.
  • Disadvantages: Shorter battery life, can be more difficult to operate.

Completely-in-Canal (CIC) and Invisible-In-Canal (IIC)

Once again, the name says it all: These hearing aids are fully inside the ear canal. The CIC model has a nylon strand “handle” outside the ear that helps the user remove or insert the unit. A subgroup of the CIC is the IIC, which is completely invisible, but only works for certain kinds of ears. Before purchasing, it is recommended that a trained hearing care professional measure and evaluate the ear to determine if it’s right for the IIC.

  • Advantages: Cosmetically discreet, terrific for active lifestyles like playing sports, and they feel more natural than hearing aids that are outside the ear canal.
  • Disadvantages: Less power than larger models that are more visible, which means they could be problematic for people suffering from profound hearing loss. Also, these have the shortest battery life, which requires more frequent replacements. 

Receiver-In-Canal (RIC) Hearing Aids

The receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aid is housed behind the ear. A small tube runs over the ear and into the ear canal where it sits, much like an antenna, or receiver, picking up air and natural sound. The RIC is also known as the receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) or canal receiver technology (CRT); all three terms reflect the basic concept of transmitting sound a very short distance. For moderate to minimal hearing loss.

  • Advantages: The user doesn’t have the feeling their ears are “plugged up,” longer battery life, near-invisibility in the ear.
  • Disadvantages: The behind-the-ear unit is vulnerable to moisture or other outside elements. There is also the potential of them falling and getting lost.

Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Hearing Aids

These too involve a receiver positioned behind the ear with a small tube connected to an earmold sitting  inside the ear canal. Because the tube runs the furthest inside the ear canal, as opposed to the RIC, these are considered the best choice of behind-the-ear receivers for people suffering from profound hearing loss. 

  • Advantages: A greater sound experience, a longer battery life, great for sports.
  • Disadvantages: Larger than RIC hearing aids, less discrete.

Listen Up

As technology advances, hearing aids are becoming smaller and more nimble. Even BTE hearing aids are beginning to be offered in multiple sizes. While cosmetics and lifestyle are obvious factors for anyone facing this choice, what could ultimately be the deciding factor is the size of the ear itself: No ear is the same, which means no hearing aid will fit comfortably in every ear. To determine which hearing aid is right for you, connect with a hearing care professional who can work with you to match the right hearing aid that looks good, feels great and most importantly, helps you hear better.

About the Author:

Pauline Dinnauer is the VP of Audiological Care at Connect Hearing, which provides industry-leading hearing loss, hearing testing and hearing aid consultation across the US.