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Hearing Aids > Types

There is a variety of hearing aid types, commonly distinguished by fit. The four primary types of fit are known as BTE (behind-the-ear), ITE (in-the-ear), ITC (in-the-canal), and CIC (completely-in-the-canal). More recently, several other types have emerged, including OTE (over-the-ear), RIC (receiver-in-the-canal), and IIC (invisible-in-the-ear).

BTE hearing aids are comprised of two parts: the main casing, which sits behind the ear, and the plastic ear mold, which sits in the inner bowl of the outer ear. The main casing contains the microphone, battery, and digital processing parts and connects to the ear mold via a hard plastic tube called an ear hook. This ear hook also contains the wire that transmits amplified sound waves from the processing unit in the main casing to the ear mold. From a fit perspective, the most important component is the ear mold, which has to rest snugly in the inner bowl of the outer ear to prevent whistling and noise interference, as well as any build-up of earwax and fluid.

Although it is typically larger than other hearing aid types, the BTE is versatile and can be effective for the full range of ear sizes and configurations, as well as a broad spectrum of hearing impairment levels, from mild to profound. The latest BTE designs are quite small, streamlined, and surprisingly inconspicuous.

The BTE is the traditional design harking back to the 1960s, which allowed the bulky electronics of the sound amplifier to be housed in a separate casing that remained outside of the ear and connected to the earpiece via a wire. To this day, BTE-style designs provide the most powerful amplification available on the market.

The OTE and RIC styles of hearing aids are both extensions of the BTE design. The OTE also has a casing which sits outside of the ear, but instead of a stiff ear hook, it uses a softer micro poly-tube to connect the casing to the ear mold. In addition, the ear mold itself is smaller or even reduced to a single thin wire, allowing for an open fit and eliminating the plugged-up feel of a traditional ear mold. The RIC takes this concept even further by utilizing a thinner connector and an in-the-canal transmitter in place of an ear mold. The result is a discreet device, with a tiny casing largely concealed by the ear lobe and a clear, thin plastic running into the opening of the ear.

As mentioned, the BTE was the first device in which all of the components fit either on the outside or inside of the ear. The next advance was a device in which all of the components fit entirely inside the ear. Appropriately enough, this hearing aid type was called the ITE (in-the-ear). Once the electronic components and the battery were made small enough, it became possible to have all of the functional elements in a single unit, which was then shaped to fit into the inner bowl of the outer ear.

ITEs are custom designed to fit the particular ear shapes of their users. Although ITEs are visible to others, they do not extend beyond the ear. As ITEs are larger than many other hearing aid types, they can be more straightforward to handle as their casings are directly accessible and, in most cases, volume and other controls are built right into the outward facing portion of those casings.

The traditional ITE design fills the entire inner bowl of the outer ear and is known as a "full shell". There are smaller units available which only fill about half of the inner bowl of the outer ear. This design is known as a "half shell". The half shell ITE is less conspicuous and allows more of the outer ear to remain exposed. It also eliminates the “plugged up” feel and corresponding occlusion effects of a full shell. However, there may be some trade-off with respect to power output and control accessibility.

In terms of functionality and amplification power, ITEs are comparable to BTEs. ITEs can be useful in a wide range of settings and effective for a broad spectrum of hearing impairment needs. Individuals living with hearing impairment at all levels except the most profound will generally be able to find an ITE device to meet their needs.

The next level from ITEs in terms of miniaturization is ITC hearing aids, which fit partially inside of the ear canal itself. ITCs are even less visible than half shell ITEs. In fact, from certain angles, ITCs are all but invisible. In addition, due to their compactness, ITCs can be more comfortable to wear and easier to use with a telephone receiver. The downside of ITCs' smaller size is their relatively lower power output. Generally, ITCs are only appropriate for mild to moderate hearing loss.

Some individuals have unusually small ears and narrow ear canals. In those cases, there may be a physiological inability to accommodate the size of an ITC hearing aid. This is becoming less of an issue as hearing aids are becoming progressively smaller, but it can still present a problem for certain hearing aid models. In those situations, if a less visible hearing aid option is still preferable, the half-shell ITE may be the best solution.

The smallest of all available hearing aids are CICs and related designs which fit entirely inside of the user's ear canal. CICs represent the ultimate level of miniaturization and concealment. These units are virtually invisible from the outside, reduce background noise and wind interference, and offer unparalleled comfort when the need arises to utilize external audio instruments, such as telephone receivers and headphones.

The only way for an outside observer to detect the presence of a CIC is to look directly into the user's ear. However, with the advent of models which sit even farther inside the ear canal known as IICs (invisible-in-the-canal), the hearing aid has become virtually undetectable. For those individuals who would feel self-conscious knowing that their hearing aids are visible to others, CICs and IICs offer a cosmetically acceptable alternative.

However, despite their benefits, CICs and IICs also have several drawbacks. Because of their small size, these devices are not as powerful in terms of sound amplification and may be of limited use to individuals whose hearing loss is substantially worse than moderate. In addition, CICs and IICs house smaller batteries, meaning that they must be replaced more frequently. Finally, these devices do not have external controls given their relative inaccessibility inside the ear canal. As a result, they must be controlled by an external controller. Generally, this accomplished via a remote control, although some of the latest models also offer voice-activated control features.

The variety of hearing aid types provides consumers with a range of choices. While this gives the consumer a lot of options, it can also make it more challenging to select the optimal product. Further complicating the picture are the dozens of different features and brands that are available.

These are the common types of hearing aids - we present accompanying illustrations below. Please also explore other topics available on our site. In the meantime, if this information has been helpful to you, we would greatly appreciate it if you would support us by recommending our site to other users on Google. You can do so by simply clicking this button:

The illustration below depicts the four primary hearing aid types to provide a visual context for the explanations presented above.

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